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‘Positive’ group close to control of Valley council

A group of people unhappy with the status quo who ran together on a “Positive Change” slate in the 2009 Spokane Valley City elections are a single seat away from total control of the council after Tuesday’s election.

One race is still too close to call. Election night totals showed Ben Wick 20 votes ahead of Marilyn Cline in the race to replace Councilman Bill Gothmann. “It is a very tight margin,” Wick said. “It could go either way.”

Councilman Dean Grafos, who handily won re-election Tuesday with 55.5 percent of the vote, was the only original Positive Change member on the ballot. “I think it’s an affirmation that we have the support of the community,” Grafos said.

Councilmen Chuck Hafner and Arne Woodard were both appointed to the council this year and were supported by the Positive Change candidates on the council in their bids for election. On election night Woodard was ahead of challenger Dee Dee Loberg with 51.6 percent of the vote and Hafner, who did not have a challenger on the ballot, received 95 percent of the vote. There were 554 write-in votes against Hafner.

Cline campaigned with the Positive Change candidates and shared several of the same campaign donors with Grafos, Hafner and Woodard. Chief among the donors were businessman and developer Jack Pring and real estate broker Gordon Curry, who donated hundreds of dollars to each of their campaigns.

Spokane Valley Proposition 1, which would have changed Sprague Avenue and Appleway Boulevard to two-way traffic between University Road and Dishman-Mica, was decisively defeated with a 82.5 percent no vote. Business owners along the route have been complaining for years that one-way traffic hurt their business while commuters tended to favor the current one-way couplet. Grafos pushed to have the issue put on this year’s ballot.

“I think it is settled now,” Grafos said. “I think the people have spoken on that.”

The wins did not come cheaply. Overall the council candidates spent more than in the 2009 election. The priciest contest was between Grafos and challenger John Carroll. Grafos raised $24,218 in campaign contributions and spent almost all of it on newspaper, radio and billboard advertising. Carroll raised $8,215 and his campaign has $2,000 debt. The other races were more low-key, with incumbents and challengers alike raising between $2,600 and $8,000.

In 2009 the winners weren’t necessarily the best funded. Councilwoman Brenda Grassel only raised $1,100 but beat incumbent Diana Wilhite, who raised more than $14,000. Former State Sen. Bob McCaslin, who was one of the Positive Change group, collected less than $5,000 and beat incumbent Richard Munson, who had more than $14,000 in campaign donations.

Gothmann, who is retiring, has been the lone voice against the Positive Change council members on some issues. Gothmann supported Wick and said he believes Wick is the best candidate, but also said the council will be effective no matter who wins. “I have to say this,” he said. “I really think the present council has gone a long way from campaigning to governing. I think they’ve made some good decisions.”

Gothmann said that while the Positive Change candidates campaigned together, they don’t necessarily vote identically. “I think its seven individuals,” Gothmann said.

If Wick does win, Gothmann said he is confident Wick can be effective. “I think he will be heard by the rest, just like I am now,” he said.

Putting the similar Positive Change campaign platform aside, the council members are also remarkably similar in other ways. Five council members are men. Almost all are current or former business owners. Five of the seven are over age 58. The oldest, Hafner, is 79.

Wick, who works as an IT system administrator, does not own his own business. At 29, he is also younger than the other council members by several decades. Cline, a community volunteer, is 66.