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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Why Verner lost: Part 2. A volunteer campaign short on cash

Verner concedes

Jonathan Brunt - The Spokesman-Review

Just before conceding, Mayor Mary Verner published a scathing comment on Facebook about her opponent’s campaign which she said is a “turning point for the way campaigns are conducted in Spokane.”

“David Condon’s race for a non-partisan local office was woven into a … larger partisan domination strategy with out-of-town consultants, push polls and shrewd positioning of issues in collaboration with media mouthpieces. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on the campaigns, while more and more people have fallen into joblessness, homelessness, hunger and despair,” she wrote.

But was this campaign that much different than the other three to elect a strong mayor?

When it comes to the amount of money, no. Dennis Hession raised nearly as much as Condon in 2007. John Powers spent more than Condon in 2000.

When it comes to out-of-town consultants, no. Verner apparently is referring to Stan Shore, an Olympia-based consultant who was hired by Condon. But he also worked in each of the previous three mayoral campaigns on behalf of Hession, Jim West and John Talbott.

When it comes to partisan politics, yes. The state Republican Party’s decision to contribute more than $60,000 to Condon in the final days of the campaign is unprecedented. (And could still lead to an investigation into election rules. A complaint filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission will be considered for a possible investigation after Thanksgiving, PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson said Thursday.)

But party involvement in city races isn’t new. Councilman Steve Corker, a Verner supporter, has noted that parties started getting involved in nonpartisan local elections about a decade ago when the Democratic Party assisted Powers, and Tom Keefe, the former Spokane County Democratic Party, chair argues that it was Democrats who worked to turn the Condon-Verner race into a partisan battle.

“I think (the result) was a victory of substance over personal attacks. The Democratic Party made a huge mistake in trying to make this a partisan political race.”

Keefe, who backed Condon and appeared in a Condon TV ad, pointed to a mailer that criticized Condon that was sent by the Inland Northwest Leadership Political Action Committee.

“I think it turned people off and ended up energizing people to do what the state Legislature wanted years ago, which is to have a non-partisan mayoral election,” he said after results were posted on election night.

(Of course, comments made by the state Republican Party executive director at the GOP's contribution help make a case for Democrats that Republicans are more to blame for the partisan nature of a nonparitsan race.)

Verner proved four years ago that a volunteer campaign could lead to victory for Spokane mayor. But that may not be as easy for an incumbent with a busy job against an opponent who can campaign full-time, is experienced in campaigns and political strategy and stays on message. (Some of Hession’s ads, one of which questioned Verner for missing a key vote when it turned out Verner was absent from the meeting because of the death of her mom, backfired.)

The mayor raised only about $130,000 for her campaign, not much more than Ben Stuckart did for his campaign for City Council president.

Condon’s money allowed him to dominate the TV airwaves, and Verner’s lack of cash stopped her from answering Condon on TV in an effective way.

Asked at a news conference, which you can listen to above, if she would change anything, she said: "Of course, I would." But she declined to give details.

"I'm not really going to start itemizing because, really, what's the point?"

Reporter Kevin Graman contributed to this report.

Jonathan Brunt
Jonathan Brunt joined The Spokesman-Review in 2004. He is the government editor. He previously was a reporter who covered Spokane City Hall, Spokane County government and public safety.

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