To the cynical voter, the crowded field of candidates running to represent northeast Spokane on the City Council could be seen as a list of rejects.
Each of the six has run for public office and lost – some multiple times and by wide margins.
On the other hand, most of the candidates have long records of community activism and service with neighborhood councils and other groups. About half have operated their own business.
The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 16 primary will advance to the November general election, with the winner replacing City Councilman Bob Apple, who can’t run for a third term in the nonpartisan seat because of term limits.
Most of the hopefuls are well-known in Spokane politics.
Likely the most known is Mike Fagan, an organizer of the Spokane Patriots, a group that split from the Tea Party of Spokane. He is a co-director along with Tim Eyman of a group that places initiatives aimed at limiting taxes on the state ballot. He drew fame in Spokane for protesting U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt’s decision to run for a fourth term, which was contrary to a pledge Nethercutt had made. Fagan showed up to Nethercutt campaign events in a weasel costume.
John Waite, owner of a comics and game store in downtown, also gained fame with a costume. His photo of himself dressed as a character from a video game made waves on the Internet and landed on a Seattle Weekly blog earlier this year. He is critical of party politics and holds the unique distinction of being a speaker last year at both the Tea Party of Spokane’s Tax Day rally and the Spokane edition of Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity.” Waite said soon after he announced his bid that he considers his run a “test to see if an independent can actually win.”
Donna McKereghan has long been active in neighborhood, city and state affairs. She lobbied the City Council unsuccessfully last year to pass a resolution asking the Legislature to create a list to allow people to opt out of receiving bulk mail. She testified during a hearing earlier this year about electronic cigarettes. She supported the rules that were put in place, but warned against making them stricter. The e-cigarettes helped her stop smoking, she said. She also filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging that the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when she applied for a job. The U.S. District Court in Spokane in 2007 and an appeals court in 2009 ruled against her case.
Gary Pollard has led the Riverside Neighborhood Council for years and has served on numerous committees that involve the affairs of downtown.
Luke Tolley also has a long resume of civic involvement, including as president of the Hillyard Neighborhood Council, despite being the youngest candidate for the seat.
Apple has endorsed Fagan. The Spokane Regional Labor Council has backed Tolley. City Councilwoman Amber Waldref, who also represents Northeast Spokane, says she will wait until after the primary to publicly back anyone. Like Waldref, many of the groups who often publicly back candidates are waiting at least until after the primary to make recommendations in the race, including both main political parties, the Spokane Home Builders Association and the Associated Builders and Contractors.
One of the candidates, Chris Bowen, declined to participate in a Spokesman-Review candidate questionnaire. During his unsuccessful run for state Legislature in 2008 and earlier this year, he dodged questions about his past employment and about a theft charge he faced in 2002. Records show that he was charged with third-degree theft in a case that originated with Eastern Washington University police. Most of the records from the case have been destroyed, but a court docket indicates that a Cheney Municipal Court judge deferred a ruling on the charge for six months and Bowen, who pleaded not guilty, was placed on probation. The case was dismissed in March 2003.
Bowen was fined $300 during his 2008 run for Legislature by the state Public Disclosure Commission for violating campaign finance law. He is under investigation currently for new alleged campaign violations. Bowen said in an interview in March that he was willing to spend $25,000 of his own money to win the seat. He also predicted victory.
“At the end of the day, this is my seat,” Bowen said.
Two of the candidates have declared bankruptcy: McKereghan in 2003 and Fagan in 1997.
Fagan said his bankruptcy was the result of “a catastrophic medical event which was not covered by insurance at the time.”
“I am financially stable, responsible and have become ever more frugal as a result,” he said in a Spokesman-Review candidate questionnaire.
McKereghan has said the decision to file for bankruptcy was one of the most difficult decisions she’s had to make. At the time, she was a single mom with a teenager and an elderly mother in her home. She also had significant student loan debt.
She said the experience is one that would help her as a council member.
“Making the hard decisions … the ones that you least want to do, whether you want it or not, that’s what you got to do, is something a City Council member has to do,” she told The Spokesman-Review in 2007.