The troubled candidacy of Mark Hamilton came to an end Friday.
A Superior Court judge ruled that Hamilton failed to meet residency requirements for a Spokane City Council seat and prohibited his name from appearing on the general election ballot in November.
With the ruling, incumbent Councilwoman Amber Waldref is now unopposed in her re-election bid, the first time in at least 40 years a council candidate has not had an opponent. Her name will still appear on the ballot, in case a challenger mounts a write-in campaign as Hamilton hinted he might do as he left the courtroom.
Waldref said the race “definitely will be less aggressive” and called her lack of opposition a “weird luck of the draw,” but noted she’ll continue campaigning.
“I think it’s always good to have voters be able to choose between candidates, but voters need to have qualified candidates to choose from,” Waldref said after hearing of the ruling. “I appreciate that people came forward and challenged the eligibility because I think it’s important to live in the district and follow the rules.”
The ruling by Judge Ellen Kalama Clark came after a half-hour of legal arguments and about 15 minutes of deliberation.
“Mr. Hamilton’s own evidence is contradictory,” Clark said. “He did not meet the burden of proof to show he met the residency requirement.”
The Spokane City Charter requires candidates to be a resident “of the appropriate council district … for the one year immediately preceding the time of filing as a candidate.”
Hamilton has claimed to live at 217 E. Pacific Ave. since May 2012, when, he said, he bought a house with the intent of running against Waldref. But on June 20, 2012, Hamilton informed the Spokane County Elections Office that his address was 321 W. White Road, which is outside city limits. In last November’s election, Hamilton voted again as a registered resident on White Road.
It wasn’t until Jan. 14 that Hamilton changed his address with the elections office to the one on Pacific Avenue.
With this string of dates, Clark said, the evidence didn’t support Hamilton’s contention he was a Spokane resident.
Hamilton’s lawyer, Dustin Deissner, declined to say if Hamilton would appeal.
Despite significant questions about Hamilton’s candidacy, he has been able to raise sizable amounts of campaign cash. According to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission, he has spent $5,200 of the $8,300 he has raised.
Contributions have come from Spokane City Councilman Steve Salvatori, council candidate and former state legislator John Ahern, Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase and former Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders, among others.
Waldref has raised more than $26,000.
Carol McGirk and Cathy Gunderson, supporters of Waldref and residents of Spokane’s northeast district, first brought the complaint against Hamilton after an article appeared in The Spokesman-Review questioning his claims of residency.
Frank Malone, who represented McGirk and Gunderson, said before the hearing that he thought the ruling would go against his clients.
“Judges are very reticent to decide elections,” he said. “You really don’t want that. Bush versus Gore. I still think about that.”
But in court, Malone showed no restraint in making his case.
“Mr. Hamilton contends there were a lot of transients (at the Pacific house). He may be right,” Malone said. “He would have been one of those transients because he had no legal right to live there.”
In his defense, Deissner countered Malone was “nitpicking.”
“The decision should be made by the voters and, with all due respect, not by a Superior Court judge,” Deissner said.
Spokane County Auditor Vicki Dalton was a defendant along with Hamilton. After the ruling, she said the county doesn’t have the ability to enforce residency requirements and Hamilton could have remained on the ballot and even been elected, if no one had challenged his eligibility.
“When it comes to governance, the citizens play an important part in that process,” she said. “The judge was very clear, concise and thorough with her ruling. That adds to case law … and it helps clarify what (residency) means.”
Hamilton, who left the courtroom quickly after the decision, said he was considering continuing as a write-in candidate.
“A write-in campaign would probably work,” he said. “There are enough resources behind me. … I really believe I would win.”