Not even a year ago, Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart was stymied by a conservative majority on the city’s legislative body on votes concerning tax issues, urban growth and protections for City Hall employees. In about three weeks, Stuckart and a liberal bloc of five out of seven votes could be unstoppable.
Stuckart announced Monday the five finalists for the District 3 City Council seat left vacant with the resignation of Steve Salvatori, a fiscal conservative who moved to Texas last month because of work. It may be no surprise that the top five, who were chosen from a list of nearly two dozen applicants, are also Stuckart’s top five choices, according to a tally sheet handed out to media.
Those top five applicants are:
• Adrian Dominguez, an epidemiologist with the Spokane Regional Health District and an adjunct professor at Eastern Washington University. He was appointed last week to the city’s new independent police ombudsman commission but said he would resign that post if selected for the council seat.
• Julie Griffith, director of Money Management International. She also worked at the nonprofit Community-Minded Enterprises for eight years.
• Eric “EJ” Iannelli, chairman of the Emerson-Garfield Neighborhood Council and a freelance editor who has served on the boards of Main Market Co-op and Project Hope.
• Melanie “Kitty” Klitzke, the Eastern Washington program director for Futurewise, a growth management advocacy group that seeks to reduce sprawl and protect natural environments. She also sits on transportation committees at the city and county levels.
• Karen Stratton, a clerk in the city clerk’s office who first came to City Hall as a senior adviser to Mayor Jim West, though she went on to work as executive assistant to Mayor Mary Verner. Her mother, Lois Stratton, was a legislator in Olympia as a Democrat from 1979 to 1993, when she launched an unsuccessful campaign to become Spokane mayor.
Within hours of Stuckart’s announcement, the right-leaning Spokane Home Builders Association sent out an email blasting the choices as being out of step with the voters’ choice of “a fiscally conservative, small business champion.”
Michael Cathcart, the association’s director of government affairs, said later by phone that he hoped the council would choose either someone in Salvatori’s mold or a “centrist, compromise candidate.”
“Now there’s no need for compromise,” he said, listing tax and land use issues as potential targets of a City Council that soon will be controlled by a veto-proof liberal supermajority. A liberal-leaning 4-3 bloc took control of the council following last fall’s municipal elections and, based on the political leanings of the finalists, is expected to swell to a 5-2 majority, which would be enough to override mayoral vetoes and to approve tax increases under a ballot measure approved last year.
“At this point, it’s a done deal,” Cathcart said of the council’s choice.
Stuckart disagreed. His mind is open concerning the five candidates and his primary criteria are simple, he said.
“Somebody that can come in and work hard for the city immediately,” he said. “Somebody that’s going to be willing not to just to step in for a year and a half and quit. I want somebody that’s willing to be here for the long haul with all of us that will run a campaign. I think that working hard for the city and being able to run a campaign go hand in hand.”
Lastly, Stuckart hasn’t been shy in saying he wants someone who agrees with him, even if the liberal-conservative divide on the council is an imperfect way to demarcate members.
“I can only speak for me, but I want somebody who shares my value system,” he said Monday.
The last time the council filled a vacant seat was 2007, when Mary Verner left to take her place in the mayor’s office. Instead of choosing a liberal like Verner, the council chose Mike Allen, a conservative who lost his re-election bid to Jon Snyder two years later, then ran for the other District 2 seat in 2011 and won.
Allen said he was an apolitical blank slate when he was appointed.
“When I applied, I was just interested in serving in government,” he said. “What they were looking for was somebody with budget experience.”
Still, Allen said all the candidates for Salvatori’s seat are strong and deserve respect. He disregarded calls of political balance simply because it was too late – this time around anyway.
“They already have one,” he said of a liberal majority. “The reality of it is the public will have a chance to weigh in again next year. I’ll let the system sort itself out.”
The five finalists will be interviewed publicly by the council on Aug. 13 beginning at 12:30 p.m. in the lower level of City Hall. The council will make its final choice Aug. 25.