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Election preview: Crowded 7-member field of candidates seeks to replace Mike Fagan on Spokane City Council

An open seat to represent the northeast part of town on the Spokane City Council has drawn seven challengers scattered in their political ideology and life experiences, but all say their corner of the city needs more attention.

With City Councilman Mike Fagan reaching his term limit and opting to run for city council president, several first-time candidates as well as seasoned political players are vying to join City Councilwoman Kate Burke on the dais representing northeast Spokane. They include a sitting Spokane Public Schools Board of Directors member, a Pakistani immigrant, the director of a pro-business lobbying and education nonprofit, a Spokane Fire Department dispatcher, a day care owner and conservative talk show co-host, a school bus driver and a college student working with the Union Gospel Mission on housing the homeless.

“Burke and Fagan, they are opposite, but they both got elected in the area,” said Louis Lefebvre, 29, the fire dispatcher. “I think that says a lot. It is a very diverse area, you can have very left ideas, and very right ideas.”

Burke, who won a 2017 contest against Tim Benn (who’s running for the seat again this year), has endorsed Naghmana Sherazi. Sherazi, a single mother who immigrated to the United States from Pakistan, says she’s making her first run for office to combat prejudice and to draw attention to the working, low-income families in her district.

“I know Washington state has a state law against capping rents, but maybe that’s the route we need to go,” said Sherazi, 58, who notes that like many in her district she’s renting and living paycheck-to-paycheck. “We have to start building right now, the private and public sector together, we need to have a solution that works for builders as well.”

Sherazi was inspired to run after joining the Peace and Justice Action League and working against Proposition 1, the ballot measure that would have eliminated a ban on Spokane police officers asking people about their immigration status.

Benn, chairman of the Minnehaha neighborhood council and co-host of the Right Spokane Perspective radio show with Fagan, was an initial supporter of that proposition. He’s running for the northeast seat again because he believes the council still is overly concerned with ideological goals, but also to bring a voice of the affected businesses and residents who are now beginning to feel the effects of construction of the North Spokane Corridor highway project, he said.

“Really, I think what I have that the other candidates don’t is history in the district,” said Benn, 41, who’s operated Little Precious Ones day care with his wife out of his home on Euclid Avenue for two decades. “I’ve lived in the district longer than anyone.”

Benn was critical of the City Council for their delayed response to open other options after the closing of the 24/7 homeless shelter, an issue that was also raised by Burke. He supports enforcing drug laws, he said, in response to the rising amount of homeless people living on the streets and more public evidence of drug use in the community.

Michael Cathcart, 33, also said the key to addressing homelessness and crime, particularly in the downtown core, is to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for drug users. That includes repositioning the downtown precinct closer to the areas that need it from its current location at the intermodal center.

Doing so would make Spokane more attractive to businesses looking to relocate, said Cathcart, who is executive director of Better Spokane, a nonprofit that advocates for commercial interests in town.

“You walk by certain areas of downtown, and it just feels unsafe,” Cathcart said. “The city has tried to recruit employers, who see that and say, maybe not right now.”

Jerrall Haynes, 30, said the city already has a blueprint for how to address property crime and rise incomes in some of the more impoverished areas of town, including areas of the northeast. The Spokane Public Schools Board of Directors member and owner of a fitness center working with teens off Mission Avenue said a continued partnership between the schools and City Hall, through the “community school” model used on the East Coast, would be his approach to addressing those issues.

“It ties city government, neighborhoods and schools together, within the schools,” said Haynes, a former Air Force staff sergeant who moved to Spokane in 2010 and was elected to the school board four years ago. “The schools become the center of the neighborhood. The research around that is actually phenomenal, and shows better educational outcomes for kids.”

Haynes said, if elected, he would speak to the new members of the City Council and mayor about remaining on the school board while serving the city.

Lefebvre said he, too, is concerned about what the city can do to address educational gaps. He’s particularly troubled by the recent decision by school administrators to lay off staff as a result of budget tightening, which targeted schools in the poorer, northeast sections of town. Lefebvre’s wife was among those who received layoff notices but was called back, and he received a layoff notice from the city as a fire dispatcher amid the county’s push to a regional, integrated system.

“Here we are, we both go to Gonzaga, doing everything we can,” Lefebvre said. “She gets a layoff letter. I get one, I don’t know, a few weeks later. And it’s just like, is this happening to us? We have a good foundation. Well, what other difficulties is everyone else in the neighborhood going through?”

Lefebvre said he’d bring a voice to the council to advocate on behalf of others in his part of town, like the businesses dealing with the North Spokane Corridor construction or parents of students losing their teachers.

Krys Brown, a 29-year-old resident adviser at the Union Gospel Mission and student at Great Northern University in the Logan neighborhood, said she was inspired to run because of the city’s response to the homelessness issue. Brown, a first-time candidate, said she’d bring her experience working with the population to her decision-making at City Hall.

“Telling police they can’t enforce laws, that doesn’t make sense to me,” Brown said. “I could see it happening in our city, someone needs to run who actually cares about these people as people.”

Doug Salter, a 61-year-old bus driver for the West Valley School District, said he’s running because the city isn’t listening to his neighbors about what needs to be done to address issues of poverty, as well as road construction, combating property crime and growing business.

“The city needs to get off the West Plains kick,” said Salter, who lives in the Chief Garry Park neighborhood. “We have a nice six-lane freeway coming through our area. We’ve got all kinds of room in Hillyard.”

Sherazi has raised the most money to date for her campaign, according to filings with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission. She’s received $13,529 in contributions, including donations from Burke, former Spokane mayoral candidate Shar Lichty, former executive director of the Center for Justice Rick Eichstaedt, and former Spokane County Democrat Chairman Andrew Biviano.

Cathcart has raised $6,353, with donations from the Spokane Realtors Association and the Associated Builders and Contractors Inland Pacific Chapter, as well as Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns and Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner. Haynes has raised $5,440, receiving contributions from City Councilman Breean Beggs, City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear and Laborers Local 238. Lefebvre’s fundraising total stands at $3,963, and Benn has raised $500.

Neither Brown nor Salter have reported any contributions to the PDC.

Ballots are due for primary Aug. 6. The top two vote-getters will advance to the November general election.

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