October 16, 2010 in City

Tucker faces toughest challenge

Three-term incumbent prosecutor defends work as office manager
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Malone
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

After unseating the incumbent in 1998, Steve Tucker has attracted progressively more opposition in his bid to remain Spokane County prosecutor.

No candidates challenged him in 2002 and he easily defeated Democrat Bob Caruso in 2006. This year, Tucker was challenged in the primary by two former deputy prosecutors – Chris Bugbee and David Stevens – and prevailed.

In the Nov. 2 general election, Tucker, 59, faces Democrat Frank Malone, who believes he has the formula to unseat the former Washington State Patrol trooper.

“I’ve got the management experience and the programs to change the prosecutor’s office,” Malone said. “Those programs will change how the prosecutor office functions. We will have better communication with the public and better internal organization.”

Replied Tucker, “I’ve been managing the office. I don’t think (Malone) has any idea about managing 140 people.”

James Sweetser, the incumbent Tucker ousted in 1998, said he likes both Tucker and Malone personally. “They each have their own strengths.”

But each also has weaknesses, Sweetser said.

“Frank is 67,” he said of Malone. “I don’t know if he has the experience or the drive to make the necessary changes to get the prosecutor’s office working effectively to best prosecute criminals and protect the community.”

Malone, a private attorney who handles mostly low-profile criminal and civil cases, scoffed at Sweetser’s suggestion that he can’t do the job.

“I’m out there sign-waving. I’m energetic,” he said.

Sweetser said Tucker – who makes $145,000 a year – tends to delegate his authority to others to make tough decisions. “One good thing about Steve is that he is not a controversial figure because he’s never around to make a comment,” Sweetser said.

When he was prosecutor, “My style was to be out in front and be accountable for the decisions that were made,” Sweetser said. “I didn’t get re-elected, so maybe that’s not the right approach.”

Chief Deputy Criminal Prosecutor Jack Driscoll, who has worked in the prosecutor’s office for 26 years, said he likes Tucker’s management style, which includes giving almost all high-profile criminal cases to his deputies to prosecute.

“Steve is a great boss,” Driscoll said. “Steve trusts people more to do their job and be professional enough to do their own job … and gives you the support to do it.”

Malone said he believes Tucker is “undermanaging the office and I think (voters) understand that. People around the courthouse understand that. Observers outside the courthouse understand that.

“What you need is a midpoint between under- and overmanagement. And that’s where I’m going to be.”

Tucker’s financial support has had a boost since he finished second in the August primary to Malone. In late July, Tucker had received about $9,800 in campaign contributions; that number has swelled to $16,424 as of this week, including several contributions from his employees, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.

Malone had received $7,000 by late July and his contributions had climbed to $9,639 by this week, according to the PDC.

Malone said he believes the Aug. 17 primary revealed Tucker’s weakness; the current prosecutor received about 26 percent of the vote.

“To me that’s a 74 percent disapproval rating,” Malone said.

But after the primary, Bugbee and Stevens – who echoed some of Malone’s criticisms of Tucker during the campaign – said they would support Tucker.

“I hope those votes will come to me and then everything will be good,” Tucker said. “I’ll be relieved when this is over.”

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