Citizens should expect more of the same from Mayor David Condon in the next four years as he embarks on his second term as Spokane mayor - the first time that’s happened since the 1970s.
“I didn’t run a first term acting like I was waiting around for a second term,” Condon said in an interview Friday in his seventh-floor office in Spokane City Hall. “We were very bold in what we were doing. There wasn’t a thought that, well, we better hold off until a second term. There isn’t, in essence, a second foot that drops in a second term because we were waiting on anything.”
Condon on Tuesday became the first Spokane mayor since Mayor David Rodgers to win a second term. Rodgers was re-elected in 1973, one year before Condon was born.
Although Condon said he doesn’t have major new initiatives to announce with the start of a new term, another four years will enable him to finish some of the projects the city started in his first term. Among them: the voter-approved revamping of Riverfront Park, repaving and remaking streets under the voter-approved street levy, and the massive upgrades to the city sewer infrastructure aimed at cutting pollution in the Spokane River.
“People will literally see a transformed city over the next four years,” Condon said.
Voters gave Condon, who became mayor after working on the staff of Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, overwhelming support for a new term at the same time they re-elected Council President Ben Stuckart and increased the liberal majority on the City Council to 6-1.
It is a division of government that gives significant power to the council majority, which can override Condon’s vetoes as long as the group doesn’t lose two votes.
But Condon said his ability to govern remains intact, and he noted that despite all the talk in his first term of division and battles with Stuckart, he has only vetoed one piece of legislation so far (a 2014 vote that would have blocked the extension of water and sewer service to some areas outside city limits).
“In the area of policies there are significant differences,” he said. “The implementation and management of the city is still clearly under the mayor.”
Despite major clashes with the council early in his term, opposition to Condon from council members subsided as they worked closely in support of the street levy, the sewer plan and Riverfront Park. None of the current liberal members on the council endorsed Condon’s opponent.
“There’s some real benefits to having the same person as mayor for two terms as opposed to starting over every four years,” said Councilman Jon Snyder, who is the longest-serving member of council. He pointed to the major changes to sewer infrastructure among the projects that will benefit from continuity at the top level of City Hall.
Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley was hired in 2003 by then-Mayor John Powers, the first of the city’s strong mayors, who were given control of the everyday operations of city government by voters in 1999. Cooley has continued to lead the financial operations of the city under the next four mayors, and he backed the re-election bids of all of the mayors he’s worked for.
He said City Hall, with its annual budget approaching $1 billion, is too complex to constantly shake up management without consequences.
“If you have five different mayors in a nine-year period, it is hard to deliver the outcomes to move the community ahead,” Cooley said. “The things you’re being asked to accomplish are not short-term objectives.”
Despite agreement among council members and the mayor on many of the significant spending initiatives that will improve city streets, sewers and parks, there will be clashes on regulatory policy.
Snyder said one of his top priorities for next year is approving rules that will require at least some employers to offer paid sick leave. The council debated the issue earlier this year but held off until after the election.
Condon said he will put more focus on job creation in his new term as a way to improve the income of Spokane residents and says city infrastructure construction is one tool he supports to help boost median wages in Spokane. He opposes the sick leave policy.
“That’s a mandate,” Condon said. “I believe employment law has traditionally been at the state level. I don’t believe we should be doing that city by city.”
Condon also opposes any effort for the city to raise its minimum wage, but Stuckart said even after Tuesday’s election, that any council effort to raise the minimum wage is “not on my radar.”
The mayor ran for re-election showcasing reform in the Spokane Police Department and highlighting increased police staffing. But concerns about the department have grown in the past two months with Condon’s decision to fire the police chief he hired, Frank Straub, and an alleged sexual assault of a police officer by another police officer.
He said he has full confidence in interim Chief Rick Dobrow and the other police administrators he’s hired who remain. He argues that improvements to the department have not been undone by recent turmoil.
“Public safety is definitely the top priority of this city,” Condon said.
The last remaining conservative on the City Council, Mike Fagan, said he’s unfazed by the results. He says one of his top priorities is to improve communication with constituents. But he also wants the council to revisit strengthened code enforcement rules and the city’s ban on shoveling snow into the streets.
“The city throws all this snow and ice up on your sidewalk,” Fagan said in an interview in his City Hall cubicle on Friday. “How would you as a citizen respond?”
He added that he expects to be quoted more in the media once the other Republican-leaning member, Mike Allen, leaves the council at the end of the year “if the media is doing their job.”
Overhearing Fagan in the cubicle next to his, Snyder teased Fagan.
“That’s the silver lining, Mike.”
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