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Thursday, June 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Northeast council race is the one to watch

Ballots went out at the end of last week for the Aug. 6 local primary election. Spokane City voters will find several competitive and crowded races for council. Mayor, council president and three council seats all are up for grabs. The most important and interesting race is for District 1, Position 1, which covers the northeast third of the city. It features seven candidates, and the winner has the potential to bring an important element of diversity to the council.

But what sort of diversity? The seven candidates fall into three groups. Two (Michael Cathcart and Tim Benn) would bring policy diversity. Two (Jerrall Haynes and Naghmana Sherazi) would bring social diversity. And the remaining three are a hodge-podge who are well-intentioned but don’t match the other four’s appeal.

The current holder of that seat is Mike Fagan, the only conservative member of the council. He is term-limited from running for the seat again and is instead running for council president.

Policy diversity

Some progressive partisans might cheer a council without Fagan or any other right-of-center voice on it. We, however, believe that most voters recognize the value of policy diversity and the robust debate it engenders. When all members of the council skew toward one end of the political spectrum or the other, no one asks the hard questions about policies and acts as a check before a vote. Group think becomes a very real danger.

Fortunately, the District 1, Position 1 race features two candidates who, though not as conservative as Fagan, want to support local businesses and foster economic growth.

The first is Michael Cathcart, one of the strongest candidates for this or any local office this year. He is executive director of Better Spokane, a pro-business economic development nonprofit. But he’s not a one-trick candidate. He knows the ins and outs of local and state politics having served as director of government affairs for the Spokane Home Builders Association and as a legislative aide in the State Senate. He also has served on city committees and task forces, notably ones studying housing affordability, infill and land use.

Cathcart sees dealing with quality of life issues as essential to encouraging employers to bring new living wage jobs to the city. During the campaign, he has prioritized tackling increased crime and drug addiction that have hindered the city in recent years.

The other candidate with business sense is Tim Benn, who co-owns a daycare. While he would be a solid addition to the council, he doesn’t have the same depth of knowledge about cross-city issues as Cathcart.

Social diversity

Two candidates would bring a different and equally important type of diversity to council. The current council is all-white, and Jerrall Haynes or Naghmana Sherazi would change that. Sherazi, a Muslim, would also add religious diversity to the council. Progressives who don’t want any conservative voice on council would do well to back Haynes, with Sherazi a close second.

Both have endorsements from major unions, but Haynes has a broader pool of supporters in general. That’s not surprising given that he currently serves on the school board. Indeed, with that background he could help increase collaboration between the two elected bodies.

During council deliberations, either would expand conversations to include the lived experience of people of color in this community. That’s especially important for the northeast part of the city, which faces challenges that people who live south of the river or even in northwest might not fully appreciate. For example, to cite one statistic that Sherazi invokes, life expectancy in northeast is more than a decade less than on South Hill.

Vote by Aug. 6

Election Day is Aug. 6. All ballots must be mailed by then, but if you’re close to the deadline, the best bet is to drop yours off before 8 p.m. Election Night. County elections officials have placed drop boxes at the elections office and at libraries throughout the community.

This is the primary election, and the top two vote getters will advance to the November general election.

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