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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Realtors’ investment in Spokane elections pays dividends

The Association of Washington Realtors bet big on Spokane’s primary election.

It paid off.

Advocating for change at every level of city government, the realtors threw their support behind political novices at an unprecedented level in the months leading up to the primary.

After results rolled in on Tuesday night and more votes were counted Wednesday, each candidate in the city of Spokane backed by the realtors’ independent campaign expenditures appeared to have moved forward to the general election.

Those expenditures totaled $175,044.

To put that level of spending in context, the direct campaign spending of every candidate for mayor, City Council president and all three City Council districts totaled $487,669.94 in the primary, according to the most recently available data from the Public Disclosure Commission.

If the Realtors association were a candidate for office, it would have spent more money on the primary election than any other candidate in Spokane in 2019.

“We’re definitely pleased with the results of last night,” said Tom Hormel, chair of the WA Realtors PAC and a member of the Spokane Association of Realtors’ government affairs committee.

Hormel said the realtors association has been “absolutely clear” that its priority is backing candidates who “can work with everyone to find solutions” to improve housing affordability and availability in Spokane.

“There needs to be choice and availability, and the only way to fix the pricing problem is to have more supply. It’s economics 101, supply and demand,” Hormel said.

The Federal Election Commission defines an “independent expenditure” as one that pays for advertising that “expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate and which is not made in coordination with any candidate or his or her campaign or political party.”

Those on the receiving end of the Realtors’ support include mayoral candidate Nadine Woodward, a former television news anchor who walked away from Tuesday night’s primary election with a sizable lead over her closest competitor, sitting City Council President Ben Stuckart.

Woodward stressed on Tuesday that the independent expenditures are just that – independent.

“It’s not like it’s coming my way, and I’m accepting it and spending it. That’s why it’s called ‘independent expenditures,’ ” Woodward said.

The Realtors reported $93,632 in independent expenditures in support of Woodward, including digital advertising and direct mail advertising.

The Realtors also boosted Cindy Wendle, a candidate for Spokane City Council president with no prior political experience, providing $60,351 of independent support. Wendle appears to have won second place over two-term City Council member Mike Fagan, who had the benefit of name recognition and political experience but was vastly outspent.

Wendle said while her message “must resonate with them,” she has not coordinated with the Realtors association at all. She was pleased that their advertising “stayed positive.”

“That doesn’t mean they buy me,” Wendle said. “I have a pretty independent mind. I base my decisions on facts.”

Andy Rathbun secured the second spot in Tuesday’s race for District 3 of the Spokane City Council. The Realtors PAC reported spending $11,445 in support of his campaign.

District 1 candidate Michael Cathcart, who benefited from $9,616 in independent campaign spending by the Realtors’ PAC, also appears to have moved on to the general election.

Hormel declined to specify the Realtors’ strategy heading into the general election.

“We have endorsed these candidates, we will continue to support them,” Hormel said. “To what level, I guess we’ll see.”

Though they agree the city is in the midst of a housing crisis, Hormel has criticized Stuckart’s approach to solving it. Previously, he’s highlighted Stuckart’s opposition to a 94-home development near the intersection of U.S. Highway 195 and Cheney-Spokane Road.

Hormel also lamented the City Council’s adoption of a new law in 2018 that paved the way for Browne’s Addition to form a historic preservation district overlay zone.

Stuckart also “keeps talking about” the city’s multifamily tax-exemption program, which offers tax incentives to developers of four units or more of new or rehabilitated housing, Hormel said.

“That’s not the only answer, that’s one piece of the puzzle,” Hormel said.

Stuckart noted he’s won the endorsements of developers like Jim Frank of Greenstone Homes, the developer of Kendall Yards, and Rob Brewster of InterUrban Development, the developer of Spokane Central Market.

“They’re the people who are actually getting projects done,” Stuckart said. “I do understand planning, and I do understand what our community desires.”

Woodward has also advocated for more housing development in Spokane, particularly downtown, which she sees as a potential boon to the economy. She’s also expressed an openness to partnering in development outside the city limits.

“If the city can play a role as far as offering services and infrastructure – but it has to be a win-win for both sides – I’d be open to that as well,” Woodward said in July. “We need to start getting a little bit more creative.”

Stuckart has criticized Woodward for that approach, but she stands by it. Though she’d prefer to see new development within city limits, Woodward said that “we just don’t have the property for it.”

“We have to build houses, and if that means (building) outside of our city boundaries, I’d like to be creative,” Woodward said.

Stuckart said the Realtors’ involvement in the race is “shortsighted,” and said he’s running on a platform of revitalizing neighborhood business centers.

“I think they want to spread out, and I don’t think that’s healthy for our community. If the Realtors run the table in this election, we’re just going to have sprawl,” Stuckart said. “We’re going to be in a mess of hurt for the next 100 years if we revert back to not concentrating on our neighborhoods and instead concentrate on spreading outside of the city.”

Hormel warned that the homeless population in Spokane could “triple” if housing isn’t addressed, but also noted that Realtors wouldn’t benefit from unlimited development.

“Realtors don’t want unchecked growth. There’s got to be a buyer for the house. It doesn’t help us to have houses sitting there empty,” Hormel said.