Spokane Mayor David Condon gained his first challenger Tuesday in his race to be the first re-elected mayor since the era of Expo ’74.
Shar Lichty, an organizer with the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, said Monday she is running for Spokane mayor, declaring that she is “one of the people” and drawing a contrast with Condon, whom she called the “millionaire mayor.”
Lichty, who enters the race a month ahead of the official candidate filing date but well behind Condon’s impressive fundraising totals, said it will be a difficult race but she had faith that she could connect with voters.
“He’s not a voice of the people,” Lichty, 48, said of Condon. “He represents a few, like fellow millionaires and bigger business. The working-class families and small businesses are not being recognized and heard.”
Dave Moore, chairman of the Spokane County Republican Party, expressed little concern about Lichty’s challenge.
“Never heard of her,” he said, quickly switching to praise for Condon. “I think his performance has been outstanding. I sit back and look at the battles he has had to fight and he’s been a lone wolf, with the council and the council president.”
Moore said the party would do all it could to secure Condon’s re-election, but said Condon was popular enough to make the way easy.
“I can’t say I’ve seen a better mayor and I think most people agree with me,” he said.
Lichty said there had been “improvements” under Condon’s administration, but said they were prompted by public pressure and done reluctantly.
“The improvements he’s made in office don’t come from his leadership,” she said. “They came from great pressure from the public that forced his hand where he could no longer ignore the issue.”
Lichty pointed to recent upheavals at City Hall over mayoral pay as an example.
When Condon released his 2015 budget proposal last fall, it included pay increases for his position and a majority of his cabinet. City Council publicly criticized the proposal. Raises for Condon’s cabinet were ultimately approved by the council, but after facing stiff public pressure, Condon had said he wouldn’t take a $7,000 pay increase.
Lichty said this reversal showed Condon’s style of leadership, pointing to his recent call for a public vote to set up a Salary Review Commission to determine mayoral compensation.
“He’s painting it as if the voters would get to decide the mayor’s pay, which is not true. The voters get to decide if a commission gets to decide,” she said. “I find it to be typical of what I call his pretty propaganda packages to pacify the public.”
Lichty took aim at Condon’s budget-making policies in general, suggesting they favored the powerful.
“His budget approach is a clear example of these policies, his trickle-down economics approach to things,” she said. “Cutting positions at the bottom to give raises at the top just makes no sense. It’s not how I was raised. It’s not how you do things.”
In Condon’s 2013 budget, the first he crafted as mayor, Condon cut 93 positions from the city’s payroll. The following year, almost 40 positions were eliminated at the city, but those were primarily due to a shift in solid waste duties to the county.
Lichty said her priorities were “building a local, robust economy” to “keep the youth here,” though she didn’t provide specifics on how to achieve this.
She also said she would “fully implement” the Blueprint for Reform, a wide-ranging platform of cost-saving and justice-oriented improvements to the region’s criminal justice system.
Lichty suggested her politics were learned after she left her husband of 17 years in what she called a “domestic violence marriage.”
“The hardest thing I ever did was leave. It was also the best thing I ever did. Everything from that day forward has just made me a stronger and better person, a more compassionate person,” she said. “It’s been about 11 years of freedom.”
She acknowledged her lack of elective experience, but was quick to say she is “qualified to do this job. I’m certainly more qualified than Condon was when he got into it.”
Condon worked on the staff of U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, including as district director and deputy chief of staff, from 2005 until 2011, when he announced his bid for mayor. He served in the U.S. Army for about a decade after earning his bachelor’s degree in finance from Boston College.
Lichty has been with PJALS since 2009 and graduated from Eastern Washington University with a degree in social work in 2010. Before then, she worked for nine years as a para-educator with special-needs students for the Deer Park School District. She moved to the area in 1994 from Southern California and has lived in the city of Spokane since 2005.
She said she’s not a stranger to campaigns. She spent 11 months working on the effort to approve Referendum 74, the 2012 statewide ballot measure that legalized same-sex marriage.
“That was one of my proudest moments, that night when we won,” she said. “The next year, states began passing legislation for the freedom to marry.”
Jim CastroLang, who leads the Spokane County Democratic Party, said Lichty is an impressive candidate but declined to endorse her this early in the campaign season.
“Shar’s a very, very talented person, and very committed. When she commits to something, she’s all in,” he said. “But to beat an incumbent mayor, it takes a lot of money and it takes a lot of effort.”
CastroLang said he thought a candidate would have to raise $200,000 to beat Condon, while Lichty said she planned to raise $150,000. According to the state Public Disclosure Commission, Condon has raised $243,784 so far.
Despite such a financial hurdle, CastroLang said Condon could be defeated.
“There are a lot of people who want to unseat the current mayor,” he said. “He doesn’t stand for our values at all.”
Still, CastroLang said Condon does have strengths as a candidate.
“He has done some good things for our city government, and the public feels like they have some sense of him,” he said. “But with the right person and the right campaign, those are small hurdles to overcome.”