Phillip Tyler, a prominent community activist whose work became clouded by his ex-wives’ allegations of domestic violence in the 1980s and 1990s, announced Tuesday he’s running for Spokane City Council president and doesn’t want his campaign to be about the past.
“I am pleased to announce my campaign for the City of Spokane position of Council President, and offer my campaign theme, ‘Positively Spokane,’ ” Tyler said in a news release. “I believe that Spokane’s unique challenges will be solved by Spokane’s unique citizens. My theme also is my commitment to running a positive campaign.”
If elected, Tyler would replace sitting Council President Ben Stuckart, who is running for mayor in 2019. As of Tuesday, no other candidates have announced an official campaign for council president. City Councilman Breean Beggs said Tuesday he was considering a run but has not made a decision.
In a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, Tyler said he was motivated by high voter turnout in the recent midterm elections, in which he saw many first-time candidates in Spokane and nationwide winning elections.
Although the position is nonpartisan, Tyler, who is a Democrat, said he wanted to bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats by introducing ideas from both sides of the aisle.
“My campaign imagery is purple for a couple of reasons,” he said. “One, we live in the Lilac City. And, I want to operate under a red and blue agenda.”
Earlier this year, Tyler was the subject of multiple domestic violence allegations brought forth by three of his ex-wives in an Inlander story that referenced divorce filings, police reports and interviews with friends. The 51-year-old responded to the allegations in a 10-minute-long video posted to his Facebook, where he categorically denied ever physically abusing any women.
Still, the Spokane chapter of the National Organization for Women issued a searing statement, saying Tyler’s alleged behavior was “deeply concerning, brutal and toxic.”
Several community leaders, including Mayor David Condon, police Chief Craig Meidl and fire Chief Brian Schaeffer issued a joint statement following the allegations, saying they supported “giving victims a voice.”
Jessa Lewis, who this year lost the race against Republican Jeff Holy for a seat in the state Senate, posted on Facebook Tuesday morning that Tyler’s announcement had her “concerned.”
“It is incredibly hard for victims to come out with their stories of assault or abuse,” she wrote. “Your survival instincts tells you to bury it and just move on. Your shame tells you it’s your fault. I believe these women who are again thrust into the public discourse.”
Lewis said she believes “people can change, but this is not what we have here.”
Tyler said Tuesday he stood by his original statement made in March but declined to comment further. He said he hoped his run for office wouldn’t focus on that part of his past.
“I don’t want this to be about that,” he said. “I want this to be about our future looking forward.”
Kate Burke, who in March said Tyler “betrayed our trust and the trust of women in our community,” said Tuesday her thoughts were with the women who Tyler is alleged to have abused.
“I really can’t imagine what the victims are feeling like today and what they’re going through,” Burke said. “I stand with women and I stand with the victims of domestic abuse.”
Tyler, who led the Spokane chapter of the NAACP for nearly a year, said last year he was stepping down as president of the organization ahead of a planned run for office, either for City Council, mayor or sheriff. Tyler took over the civil rights organization in 2015 after then-President Rachel Dolezal, who now goes by Nkechi Amare Diallo, was outed as a white woman who’d been posing as black for years.
In the time since, Tyler has led and contributed to multiple community activism campaigns, including speaking out against racism when an African-American was the victim of an apparent hate crime late last year.
When his son killed himself last November, he also vowed in an emotional video to advocate for suicide prevention. Around the same time, as the #MeToo movement was gaining momentum, he recruited Condon, Meidl and Schaeffer to join him in a video titled “We Will Rise,” calling on men to take a stand against sexual harassment and assault.
He also joined U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in March on a “pilgrimage” to the South in observance of Black History Month.
Tyler previously applied for a vacancy on the Spokane City Council in 2016. The Spokesman-Review reported then that he was accused of damaging an ex-girlfriend’s apartment in 1992 and that one of his ex-wives had requested a domestic violence protection order against him in 1998.
Staff reporter Rebecca White contributed to this story.
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