Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now
News >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Sheriff says he doesn’t want to be Mayor Ozzie

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich shakes Harold Zaagsma's hand during a walk around Spokane on Friday, August 4, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich shakes Harold Zaagsma's hand during a walk around Spokane on Friday, August 4, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

He must be running for mayor.

That’s the current conventional wisdom with regard to Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.

He must be. He has to be. He definitely is.

If he’s not running for mayor, this line of speculation goes, what explains his increased public profile lately on matters of city politics? Why would he lend his voice and name and byline so vigorously to the fight against Proposition 2 – which would attempt to impose city fines for coal and oil trains that don’t meet certain standards? Why would he have moved into the city of Spokane? Why would he pick a fight over the North Monroe Street renovation?

The sheriff’s supposed candidacies are the biggest focus of political speculation since Lisa Brown ended the least suspenseful silence of the year by jumping into the race against Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

So, Ozzie – you running for anything?

“Yeah,” he says, with a sigh of resignation. “Sheriff of Spokane County.”

Knezovich has been batting away these rumors for a while now, since moving inside the Spokane city limits earlier this year. He has consistently said he’s not interested in other offices, with one notable exception: When it appeared that Cathy McMorris Rodgers was going to be given a seat on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – an appointment in the Trump administration – Knezovich put a finger into the wind, announcing he’d take a run for her seat if she stepped down.

The possibility of an open congressional seat peeled back the curtain on the aspirations of more than one local politician. But Knezovich said his brief flirtation with a House campaign put him off the idea.

He said he was pleased to hear that there was a lot of support for him. But he was told he might have to spend up to five hours a day making fundraising phone calls.

“I went, really?” he said. “Then people started talking about my ‘messaging.’ And I said, excuse me, folks, I have my own message.”

He’s been the sheriff here for nearly 12 years, after all, and it’s also a job with a lot of independence and authority. He doesn’t have to persuade a city council to go along with him, or learn the ropes as 1/435th of the House of Representatives.

At the end of the day, he’s the boss. He doesn’t have to win anyone over, apart from voters, and for someone of Knezovich’s temperament – blunt, steadfast, stubborn, principled, defensive – it’s not hard to believe that he doesn’t want to.

If it seems that his recent forays into city politics are unprecedented, recall that he’s been involved in political issues before. In fact, he’s had an even larger presence in the political sphere of Spokane Valley, where he endorses candidates in City Council races and has become the most outspoken Republican standing in opposition to Matt Shea, the far-right oracle of the American Redoubt. In fact, a lot of political issues in the conservative Valley are divided more along Ozzie vs. Matt lines than Red vs. Blue.

But Knezovich says all of that has not made him inclined to seek other offices.

“I’m just about as disgusted as I can get with politics anymore,” he said. “The only reason I keep doing what I’m doing is I love the job I have.”

Knezovich has jumped with full force into a couple of city issues recently. He has been outspoken in opposition to Prop. 2 – lending his voice to radio ads, and authoring an op-ed in the S-R. He also has stepped into the flap over the North Monroe street project, arguing that narrowing the street would hurt the city’s ability to evacuate downtown in an emergency. (One wonders: An emergency like an oil train explosion?)

The mayor, fire chief, police chief and council president all say the sheriff is wrong about the evacuation question. And I will never for the life of me understand the desire that Monroe remain a cracked four-lane speedway as opposed to a more attractive, useful, walkable part of town – the beneficiary of the kind of changes we’ve seen on South Perry and East Sprague.

But there is strident opposition from some business owners, and beyond that, almost a culture-wars component to some of the pushback – an Agenda 21, bike-lanes-are-communism resistance – and the sheriff has made common cause with the opposition in a way that many have interpreted as a signal of his political intentions.

“He’s definitely running,” one local Facebook post recently asserted, and it’s been one of many.

In fact, as he and Ben Stuckart sparred over North Monroe, it was possible to see it as a preview of a mayoral race. Ben versus Ozzie. Imagine the verbal fisticuffs. But Knezovich insists he’s not going there – and it’s not clear that Stuckart will, either.

Stuckart dropped out of his run against McMorris Rodgers and has withdrawn his filing to run for mayor. He has been dealing with health issues in his family, and said this week he won’t make a decision on his political future until the beginning of next year. (Former Downtown Spokane Partnership head Mike Tedesco has already filed to run for mayor.)

So perhaps the political future is less predictable than it might seem. While one would always be wise to take plans for candidacies with a grain of salt, Knezovich insists he’s not trying to become Mayor Ozzie.

“I’ve only filed for one office,” he said, “and that’s my office.”