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Doug Clark: Thank Mayor Bair for the one-term curse

Now comes that post-election moment for rationally minded pundits to scientifically pick apart how David Condon, a political upstart, made up a Goliath-size disadvantage to knock off a sitting Spokane mayor Tuesday night.

Remember the August primary?

Mayor Mary Verner looked invincible by capturing 59.9 percent of the votes.

Condon squeaked into second with a measly 33.3 percent.

How did he do it?

Those same cool-headed analysts will point to Condon’s drive and dedicated door-knocking. They’ll talk about his cash advantage, his backing by the city’s power elite and his ability to put Verner on the defensive by attacking her on hot-button issues like sky-high water rates, Otto Zehm and other SPD malfeasance.

True, Condon was endorsed by this newspaper, but that’s more often a kiss of doom.

Don’t be fooled by all this reasoning, however.

Verner was scorched toast back in April 2010.

That’s when she defied the fates and common sense by announcing her campaign for a second term.

I tried to warn her then about Spokane’s Curse of the One-Term Mayor.

Would she listen to me?

Heck, no.

None of our other in-and-out mayors did, either.

They all had to learn the hard way that there is a force hanging over the city’s top job that is beyond the realm of human perception.

Need evidence?

I give you Ron Bair, James Chase, Vicki McNeill, Sheri Barnard, Jack Geraghty, John Talbott, John Powers, Jim West and Dennis Hession.

These are the one-term mayors who followed the great David H. Rodgers, the last Spokane mayor to enjoy not only a second term but a 10-year run that ended in 1978.

Now we must add Verner to the list.

Let the record reveal that I was first to identify and authenticate this phenomenon back in 2003.

I plan to have “The Curse of the One-Term Mayor” trademarked. That way I can charge a fee to all the other news outlets and reporters who lately have been parroting our one-term mayoral “curse” or “jinx” as if they coined the bloody phrase.


My friend Andy Dinnison once offered an excellent opinion as to what triggered this civic hex.

He believes it came about when President Jimmy Carter visited the region in the wake of the Mount St. Helens eruption. Mayor Bair, a pint-size former television news anchor with a big-gulp ego, greeted the commander in chief wearing a buffoonish khaki safari outfit and Australian bush hat.

Bair’s dorkish duds, Dinnison reasoned, scarred our metropolis in the eyes of the world and made every mayor to come along a short-timer.

Verner’s just the latest victim although she probably still won’t accept the truth.

“I think you owe me lunch,” she boomed at me when I visited her gathering inside an Indian restaurant on election night.

As the words left her lips, she gave me a wounded look I’ll never forget.

It made me flash on that “Et tu, Brute?” line that Julius Caesar laid on Brutus.

The mayor probably thinks I’ve been overly harsh in some of my criticisms of her in recent weeks.

Messy business, politics.

Honestly, I don’t know if Verner’s choice for a last hurrah was a good one.

There was no TV in sight. Somebody had scrawled the latest depressing mayoral numbers in Magic Marker on an oversized white tablet.

Whatever crowd had been there had thinned considerably by the time I arrived.

This one unrealistically optimistic guy was saying, “It ain’t over till it’s over. It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Yeah, pal. I’m afraid it really is.

What a contrast it was over at Camp Condon, a trendy winery with exposed bricks and beams a la Manhattan chic.

This is how you organize a political event.

No amateur hour white board. There was a large flat-screen TV on a wall to broadcast actual election reports.

There were lights, microphones and a good sound system for speechifying. Campaign signs littered everywhere.

The joint, to be blunt, looked like it had been laid out by professionals who actually knew what they were doing.

Perhaps this difference in professionalism is at the heart of the amazing Condon comeback.

If you don’t buy into the curse, that is.

I may tell Verner this if she takes me up on that lunch.

I hope she doesn’t want Indian food.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Indian cuisine.

But after giving my condolences to the mayor on election night, I’ll probably always associate the smell of curry with sadness and defeat.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at

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