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Shame on those who say shame on Walt Worthy

If you want to start a civic argument with anyone from Spokane, I have a few ideas.

You could …

Say Bing Crosby was a lousy singer.

Claim Expo ’74 was a stupid idea.

Announce loudly at the Bulldog Tavern that the Zags suck.

Or, if you’re really cruising for a bruising, here’s a guaranteed scrap. Look somebody square in the eye and call Walt Worthy a rat.

Yep. That’ll do it.

Worthy, of course, is the guy who put up $40 million of his own cash to not only rescue the Davenport Hotel, but bring it back to its original luster and then some.

Remember the pre-Worthy Davenport? The one-time world-class hotel was empty. It was in such a shoddy state that some cynics suggested razing the grand old structure to install a parking lot.

Worthy ponied up another $30 million or so not long ago to build the Davenport Hotel Tower.

His projects have injected downtown Spokane with tax dollars, jobs and class. Speaking of employment, any guesses what Worthy shells out each and every month for his payroll?

A cool million, he said.

If Worthy ever ran for Spokane mayor, he’d probably win in a walk.

But not everyone holds my opinion.

If you’ve been past the Davenport Hotel or its nearby Tower of late, you might have noticed some people holding a large “Shame on Walt Worthy” banner.

The sign is there at the behest of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters. The union is trying to embarrass (scold?) Worthy for doing business with a Post Falls construction firm that, according to the carpenters’ union, pays “substandard” (translation: nonunion) wages and benefits.

Don’t worry. I’m not about to delve into the arcane world of carpenter pay scales.

The banner has a perfect right to be there. This is America, after all. I’d be the last person to deny anyone’s First Amendment right to speak freely or look foolish.

But here’s what gripes me.

The banner people are also handing out bright-orange leaflets that contain a drawing of a rat chewing up the American flag.

“Shame on Walt Worthy For Desecration of the American Way of Life,” reads the headline.

Far be it from me to jump to any multimillionaire’s defense. But I find this rat imagery highly objectionable.

Worthy is an Air Force veteran. He’s a flag waver, not a flag chewer.

True, he’s a capitalist of the first order. But what he’s done for Spokane transcends mere dollars and cents. More than a few people considered the Davenport a money pit and thought Worthy had lost his mind for taking it on.

Also, Worthy is not the kind of guy to be bullied.

“If they (the union) think they can influence who I pay my money to, they’ve got another think coming,” he said.

The issue behind the banner and informational rat leaflet is a massive business center that Worthy is building in Spokane Valley. Once again, Worthy is using Post Falls-based Specialty Construction, which the carpenters union doesn’t appreciate.

Worthy said he has used Specialty for more than 15 years, never requiring more than a handshake agreement to finish any project.

Worthy said the company pays its employees fairly. I’ll leave the union and the construction company to fight that one out.

Lance Fritze, of the regional carpenters council, defended the rat/flag image. From what I gathered from speaking with him, the rat label is commonly applied to contractors and businesses that don’t pay what a union considers to be standard wages or benefits.

“It isn’t like we’re creating a new definition for Mr. Worthy,” he said.

Say what you will, Lance. But there’s no rational way to take it other than a mean and cheap shot.

For the record: If Walt Worthy is a rat, then I’m wearing a fur suit and going on a cheese diet.

Maybe some of Walt’s ratty ways will rub off on me.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@