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Spokane City Council president race narrows to contest between two very different candidates

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 7, 2019

The picture that emerged on Tuesday night remained essentially unchanged after more votes were counted Wednesday in the primary for Spokane City Council president, setting up a contest between a sitting council member campaigning on his record and a newcomer who believes a reorientation is needed.

Left out, though, will be Mike Fagan, whose time on the City Council is nearing its end after nearly eight years as the body’s most vocal conservative.

An updated tally of primary election votes released on Wednesday offered little hope for the two-term representative of the city’s northeast district, who remains behind City Council member Breean Beggs and challenger Cindy Wendle in the race for City Council president.

With an estimated 17,500 ballots still to be counted across the county, Fagan stood at 9,735 votes, Wendle had received 11,448 votes and Beggs held the lead with 13,006 votes. Phillip Tyler was well behind with 2,427 votes.

Initial results also held true in other city races after more votes were counted Wednesday. City Council President Ben Stuckart still sat in second place behind Nadine Woodward in the mayoral race, while incumbents Lori Kinnear and Karen Stratton held onto sizable leads in their quests for re-election to their respective districts.

Michael Cathcart and Tim Benn are poised to move onto the general election in the contest for Fagan’s seat in the northeast.

Fagan could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Term-limited from representing the northeast district for a third time, Fagan was widely viewed as the council’s most conservative member. He battled the City Council when it sought to prohibit immigration enforcement from the Intermodal Center and frequently decried the connection between illegal immigration and the prevalence of illegal drugs in Spokane.

But in his unsuccessful bid for president, Fagan mostly set those issues aside and campaigned on a promise to address public safety, homelessness and infrastructure.

That leaves voters a choice between Beggs and Wendle in November, and both candidates are likely to court Fagan’s supporters.

Beggs argued that between he and Fagan, more than 60% of voters across the city chose an experienced candidate.

“Mike and I are ideologically different on national issues, but we vote together probably 95% of the time,” Beggs said, noting the two have seen eye-to-eye on a program to pave unpaved streets and worked to prevent the city from joining a new regional emergency dispatch system.

Wendle disagrees with Beggs’ framing of the results.

Moving forward, Wendle said she will continue to preach a nonpartisan message, and criticized Beggs for politicizing a nonpartisan race by describing the city as “blue” following Tuesday’s election.

“That’s exactly what’s wrong with city government right now. This is not about politics, this is about people,” Wendle said. “We need people to just put politics aside and respect us for what our thoughts are, what our concerns are.”

Beggs has accused Wendle of lacking specificity in her campaign platform and tried to elevate himself as a candidate with specific proposals and solutions for Spokane.

“I’ve seen no specifics or really any background that would indicate that she has expertise in those specifics,” Beggs said.

The two have taken a different approach to addressing homelessness, for example. On his campaign Facebook page, Beggs recently shared a nine-point plan to reduce homelessness in Spokane, ranging from improving mental health services to promoting permanent supportive housing.

Wendle’s plan is to “go find the facts,” because she fears the current City Council is “spending a lot of money based on assumptions.” After reviewing the available data on homelessness, Wendle said the city may have a bigger drug issue on its hands than a problem with affordable housing.

“My plan is this: to go find out what really the heck is going on, to work with nonprofits to figure out what our vision is for Spokane,” Wendle said. “This is not just about building shelters, this is about healing people.”

Wendle questioned Beggs’ City Council record, asking, “Why do we have these issues? Why do we have a housing crisis? Couldn’t we have seen this coming?”

If progress has been made under current leadership, Wendle asked why she’s spoken with people afraid to go downtown and mothers afraid to take their children to a park.

“The results don’t show it, the city doesn’t show it, and people are frustrated,” Wendle said.

Though he acknowledged we “still have work to do” and the council is at times frustrated with the policies of the mayor, Beggs said homelessness is a national problem, especially in the West.

“The programs that City Council has funded have gotten thousands of people into housing and prevented homelessness for thousands of people,” Beggs argued.

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