Primary election voters in Spokane didn’t seem eager for a change.
They gave incumbent Mayor Mary Verner a big victory over her opponents and former Mayor Dennis Hession a first-place win for City Council president as they head to November.
Hession faces first-time candidate Ben Stuckart, who leads a nonprofit group dedicated to schools, in his bid to win back the council president position he won in 2003. The winner will lead the City Council and earn a four-year term and $55,000 a year, plus benefits.
There were no obvious Republicans in the three-way primary race for council president, but City Councilman Steve Corker, who came in a close third, had solid support from some key Republican constituencies. Corker shook up the race last month when he announced that he is backing Stuckart, who also is endorsed by the Spokane County Democratic Party.
Corker, like Hession, campaigned on a theme of experience – a point Hession highlighted when asked about Corker’s endorsement.
“I thought it was interesting, because he campaigned heavily on the importance of experience, and he was very critical of my opponent for not having any,” Hession said.
Corker, who met with Hession and Stuckart after the primary to decide which one he would back, said he still believes experience is important, but that with Verner carrying a big lead over her opponent, David Condon, in the primary, it is likely the city will continue to have an experienced mayor.
“The deciding factor was who I felt could best work with the mayor,” Corker said.
Bad blood between Verner and Hession – which was clear when the two campaigned against each other in the 2007 mayor’s race – points to Stuckart as the candidate who works best with Verner, Corker said. Hession said he’s likely to have a better relationship with the mayor because he’s held the office.
Both say they can work with each other.
Verner said last month, “I met with him after he announced, just to have coffee and say we are going to be able to put our past differences behind us and work together in the event that both of us are elected.”
Both Hession and Stuckart support the city’s sustainability plan, the continued use of the Waste-to-Energy Plant and asking voters for a new street bond. Among differing views, Hession said if the economy improves, he would be in favor of asking voters if they are interested in paying for a downtown electric bus line. Stuckart said there are more important priorities that need funding first. Hession said red light camera ticket revenue should be used to help balance the budget; Stuckart prefers the money stay in a fund for traffic safety projects.
Stuckart said it’s time for a change, and in addition to Corker he has the endorsement of council members Amber Waldref and Jon Snyder. He stressed the need to revitalize neighborhoods to help boost small businesses. He touted his experience in the business world at TicketsWest and in the nonprofit world, as the founder of the Communities in Schools of Spokane County and said City Hall would benefit from a leader whose biggest professional achievements are outside City Hall.
“That outside experience would actually serve us well,” Stuckart said. “I believe we should focus on small-business growth, we should focus on industrial growth. We should focus on the university districts.”
Hession has been endorsed by council members Bob Apple, Nancy McLaughlin and the man he hopes to replace, retiring Council President Joe Shogan. McLaughlin said she’s concerned that Stuckart would resort to new taxes to help pay for programs. Shogan said Stuckart doesn’t have enough experience.
“We need strong solid leadership in City Hall, and that’s the reason why I’m running,” Hession said. “I have the advantage having been the council president and having run meetings in my own style, my own way. I would be surprised if you could find anyone in town who would say anything but that I always treated everyone with respect.”