The race may be nonpartisan, but four of the five candidates to be Spokane’s next mayor divided clearly along ideological lines under questioning Thursday night.
Seated to the left both physically and politically at a mayoral forum broadcast by community radio station KYRS, Ben Stuckart touted the city’s progress on social and economic issues while opponents Shawn Poole, Kelly Cruz and Jonathan Bingle championed a cautious approach on combating climate change at the local level and helping the city’s homeless while also enforcing the law.
“Climate change is the number one threat to humankind, not to our community but all of us as a collective humanity,” said Stuckart, in response to one of several questions about the environment submitted by an audience of about 80 people.
“There are people on both sides of this debate,” Poole said, “really smart people, and they’ll tell you there is no such thing as climate change. And there are people that say we are killing this planet. I need more information, quite frankly.”
Cruz and Bingle agreed.
“God did make the Earth, right?” said Bingle, a pastor. “As stewards of the Earth, I do believe we should take care of it. But I’m not in favor of government overreach.”
“It’s always the people on the margins in our community that take the hit, anytime we have these grandiose plans and ideas,” Cruz said. “Because they’re not free. Somebody’s got to pay for that.”
The candidates answered 15 questions on the downtown library’s stage Thursday night in the first public forum for hopefuls vying to replace term-limited Mayor David Condon. Nadine Woodward, a fifth candidate and former TV news anchor, declined a KYRS invitation to appear at the forum, citing a prior campaign engagement. Woodward, who’s questioned patron safety at the downtown library and has advocated assigning a uniformed police officer there to discourage drug use, will appear on an episode of moderator Paul Potocky’s radio show next week.
The other candidates present largely avoided Woodward’s absence, though they thanked each other for showing up to the event.
Bingle, Cruz and Poole questioned the city’s current approach to business recruitment and development, honing in on what they called stalled negotiations to replicate the success of the West Plains Public Development Authority in Spokane’s poorest district, the northeast.
“We do have a great working relationship with the county in the West Plains,” Bingle said. “In the northeast, however, our city right now is arguing with them over revenue sharing in that area.”
Cruz said the arrival of Amazon in the area is going to cause a “wage crisis” in the coming months and that it is incumbent on the city to help businesses compete in a market with rising salaries.
“We’ll have to work with them, whether it’s through economic support that we get through the federal government for economic development to help those businesses move up the ladder and get their people up, that’s going to be a question,” he said.
Poole said he supported the idea of the city helping pay some of the rent for small businesses in town, allowing owners to reinvest that cash by paying workers higher wages.
“With the reduction in the rent they have to pay, they can pay their employees more for the work that they do,” Poole said.
Stuckart said supporting public development in the northeast was important and the city also needed to increase its targeted investments in areas of town, like the East Sprague corridor and Monroe Street.
On homelessness and criminal justice, the candidates again disagreed, with Stuckart saying the city had a moral imperative to help all those in poverty while Cruz, Bingle and Poole contended getting those people into the workforce was paramount. They also split on whether to endorse a new, larger jail for the city, though all agreed the present, aging facility needed to be updated.
Cruz said he supported the plan to build a three-story structure behind the existing jail that would divert people coming in based on needs.
“Primarily, if someone was brought in with a mental health issue or a substance abuse issue, there’s medical staff and a bed,” Cruz said.
Poole said he supported the position of Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich on the need for a new jail, and Bingle noted the jail was outsized when it was built in the 1980s and Spokane County had grown.
Stuckart said the decision would be out of the city’s hands, but City Hall did have a role to play in the justice system.
“The city, the new mayor is not going to have a single decision on whether that’s going to go on the ballot or not,” Stuckart said of a new jail. “But what we can do is treat our municipal system better.” He advocated diverting people with misdemeanors from the county jail and combining the city’s justice services, including prosecutors and defenders, under the same roof.
The five candidates for Spokane mayor have raised more than $240,000 to support their bids in the Aug. 6 primary, according to filings with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission. The top two vote-getters on that ballot will proceed to the November general election.
All five mayoral candidates are scheduled to appear at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the Spokane City Council chambers in the basement of City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. The forum will be taped and broadcasted on City Cable Channel 5 at a later date.