Political newcomer Nadine Woodward’s warning of a city under threat resonated with voters as she bested Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart in the primary election race for Spokane’s mayor.
Both are vowing a tough general election campaign ahead.
Initial vote counts released Tuesday night showed Woodward with 42.27% of the vote and Stuckart with 37.18% in the primary election.
The other three candidates for mayor – Jonathan Bingle, Kelly Cruz and Shawn Poole – lagged behind the two front-runners as of 8:10 p.m., when 31,748 votes had been counted. Poole had received 11.74%, Bingle got 5.97% and Cruz received 2.44%.
Soon after the initial results were announced, Woodward told a crowd of supporters at Barrister Winery that she “couldn’t be happier” and went after Stuckart, saying she couldn’t wait to face him one-on-one.
“I believe that Ben’s outrageous and unrealistic policies will not only threaten our city, but will also change it like we’ve never seen before, and I’m not going to stand by and see that,” Woodward said. “That’s why I retired from a great career, to do something about it.”
As for Stuckart, he did not mention Woodward by name when speaking to several dozen supporters at David’s Pizza near downtown. He congratulated the other candidates for running what he called “an issue-oriented campaign, and being great guys.”
“Tonight, we move into the final three months of communicating that positive vision for the city of Spokane,” Stuckart said in a speech shortly after results were released.
However, when talking to reporters, he went after Woodward, saying her campaign is based on fear and that fear is hard to run against.
“I think she’s based on fear, and I’m based on hope for the future,” Stuckart said. He noted that former Mayor Mary Verner emerged victorious in the 2011 August primary for re-election with 60% of the vote, only to lose three months later to Mayor David Condon, who’s held office since.
Woodward had 13,419 votes as of Tuesday night to Stuckart’s 11,805. Poole had 3,727, Bingle had 1,896 and Cruz had 774.
More votes are expected to be tallied Wednesday.
While that left uncertainty about the final vote totals, it left essentially no room for the outcome to change and sets up what is likely to be a heated race in the general election.
Woodward signaled early that she would hope to win over voters who backed Poole, Bingle and Cruz.
“I had to split the vote with three other people, and we came out ahead of Ben Stuckart,” Woodward said, suggesting that if she can bring their supporters on board, “I think we got this.”
Woodward has promised to “preserve what’s made Spokane so great,” while Stuckart wants to build upon Spokane’s growth and progress in the eight years he’s led the Spokane City Council.
Stuckart will lean on, and be forced to defend, his lengthy history in the public spotlight, while Woodward will have to prove to voters that she is capable of translating a career on television into one as a political leader.
Though Woodward is new to city politics, she is a familiar face to voters. A news anchor in Spokane for nearly 30 years, she worked for KREM before joining KXLY in 2011, and has championed the trust she built with Spokane residents as a longtime broadcaster here.
Stuckart is also a household name, having served two terms as Spokane City Council president starting in 2012.
Although there were three other candidates in the race, Stuckart and Woodward rarely mentioned them during the primary, instead trading frequent criticisms of the other as it became clear they were the front-runners.
That combativeness is unlikely to dissipate as the candidates prepare for the November general election.
Thus far, public safety and homelessness have been the highlight of the election discourse. But other major issues include infrastructure and, as Spokane continues to grow, housing and economic development policy.
Woodward has highlighted the city’s struggles with visible homelessness, promising to take a tougher approach than current city leaders whom she has decried as enabling a lifestyle of homelessness.
She sparked controversy by suggesting that homeless people not be allowed inside the Spokane Public Library, but hasn’t backed down from her comments.
Stuckart has criticized Woodward’s approach to the issue both from a moral standpoint and a practical one. Based on a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, Stuckart has said the only way to enforce the city’s camping laws is to provide enough low-barrier shelters to its homeless population.
Homelessness has been worsened, Stuckart has argued, by the city’s housing crisis.
“He’s saying it’s a housing issue and an unemployment issue. It’s about mental illness and addiction, and until you can define what the issue is, we are never going to do anything to improve it,” Woodward said in July.
Though Stuckart is not an incumbent mayor, Woodward has already attacked him as though he were one, shouldering him with responsibility for city policy over the past eight years.
Stuckart has also worked to shed his reputation as a brash leader.
Both candidates already have considerable financial bonafides heading into the general election, with Stuckart raising $170,000 and Woodward reporting $165,000 in contributions. Woodward has also seen an influx of spending from outside groups on her behalf, primarily from real estate interests in Spokane.
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