In Spokane, where voters routinely chew up and spit out their chief elected officials after one term, Mayor Mary Verner’s primary win Tuesday was rare. But to finish with nearly twice as many votes as her closest opponent, David Condon, is unprecedented.
It’s a story best told by numbers.
Verner has more than 59 percent of the votes in the mayoral primary after Wednesday afternoon’s vote count. Condon, a former congressional aide, has 33 percent and the other three challengers split about 8 percent.
Verner has more votes than all four challengers combined in all but 13 of the city’s 123 precincts. She has 100 or more votes than all four combined in 18 of those precincts.
Spokane hasn’t re-elected a sitting mayor since before Expo ’74, when David Rodgers won a second term. Rodgers and his predecessor, Neal Fosseen, the city’s first mayor after voters adopted a council-manager form of government, both won second terms.
But neither won their primaries when seeking re-election. Both finished second to challengers and had to wage vigorous campaigns to hold on to office.
Rodgers got about 35 percent of the primary vote to businessman Wayne Guthrie’s 52 percent in the 1973 primary.
Now 87, the former mayor said Wednesday he’s inclined to support Condon, who used to work for his daughter-in-law, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. It’s possible to close a wide gap between the two elections, he said, but “it’s a pretty tough thing to do. It can happen. I just don’t know any reason why it should or shouldn’t.”
Most mayors who sought re-election since Rodgers didn’t finish on top in their primaries. A couple – Sheri Barnard in 1993 and John Powers in 2003 – didn’t make it to the general. Two who were narrowly on top in close primary races – Jack Geraghty in 1997 and Dennis Hession in 2007 – eventually lost to challengers.
For Hession, that challenger was Verner, who was less than 1 percentage point behind him in the primary four years ago. Another council member, Al French, was just a few points behind her.
Condon opened his campaign a few months ago by declaring Verner was no David Rodgers. On election night, he tried to put the best face on his showing and invoked another mayor from Spokane’s past, comparing his run to Jim West’s 2003 bid for mayor.
“Just a few years ago, when Jim West ran against the incumbent, he got 31 percent (of the vote) and went on to win,” he said.
Although he was correct on his percentage, he seemed to be missing or glossing over a key point: West was on top of the 2003 field with that 31 percent. Powers, the incumbent, was in third place, with 20 percent.