After more than seven years leading the Spokane City Council, Ben Stuckart has earned a reputation as a brash and direct leader who won’t pass up a fight.
As recently as last month, he apologized to Councilmember Kate Burke for snapping at her during a City Council discussion on homelessness, admitting, “I’m lashing out at you because I’m very frustrated.”
But contrary to his style on the dais during council meetings, Stuckart has largely shrugged off or declined to respond to attacks from opponent Nadine Woodward as the two vie to become Spokane’s next mayor.
At a debate hosted by the Downtown Spokane Partnership on Tuesday, Woodward unveiled a year-old post from Stuckart’s Facebook page, in which he was asked to provide a list of businesses that had signed a petition expressing concerns about housing targeted at the homeless in downtown Spokane. She characterized Stuckart’s response to the post as an endorsement of a business owner’s suggestion to boycott those businesses.
“I will never tell those businesses that I would suggest anyone boycotting them, blacklisting them and running them out of downtown Spokane as Ben did last year,” Woodward said, later holding a photocopy of the post in the air and offering to hand out a copy to anyone who wanted to see it.
Stuckart quickly raised a yellow card to offer a rebuttal. He took a deep breath, removed his suit jacket and appeared poised to launch into a defense. But instead, he simply shook his head.
“That’s just not true,” he said.
In response to the Facebook post on his page, Stuckart commented he did not have a copy of the petition, but told the poster “if I see one I will stop by for a ‘penicillin’ and get it to you,” referring to the name of a cocktail.
In an interview with The Spokesman-Review, Stuckart said he never endorsed boycotting the businesses, and had not searched for the petition or ever actually seen a copy of it until Woodward raised the issue this week.
“To say that means I support a boycott is an absolute lie (and) disgusting politics,” Stuckart said.
Woodward disagreed, telling The Spokesman-Review that “it’s disgusting when an elected official, who you would think would support downtown businesses, was going to be complicit in providing that petition to a person who had suggested that those businesses be boycotted and run out of downtown Spokane.”
“He clearly stated that if he got a hold of that petition he would bring it to a man who wanted to boycott businesses,” Woodward said.
In her closing argument a short while after that tense moment, Woodward again went on the offensive. In response to a generic prompt asking the candidates to describe their leadership styles, she said, “Unlike Ben, I am not reactionary, I am not impulsive and I am not vindictive.”
Then came Stuckart’s turn. He did not mention Woodward, and instead highlighted his management experience in the private and public sector. He then championed the city’s “successful last seven-and-a-half years” under his leadership on the City Council.
“I think we’re on the right track, but with growth comes challenges,” Stuckart said.
That measured response is no accident.
“We should be talking about solutions for our problems,” Stuckart said. “I’m not going to take the bait.”
Woodward, a former news anchor for KXLY who retired earlier this year to run for office, has relentlessly attacked Stuckart’s policies and leadership style throughout her campaign. She notes that Stuckart has a page on his campaign website dedicated to addressing controversies during his tenure in office.
“I’m not baiting anybody, I’m just exposing the type of elected official that Ben is,” Woodward said, adding that Stuckart is the candidate with political experience and a long record – not her.
Stuckart has been more apt to leap headfirst into an explanation of public development authorities and traffic-calming funds than to trade jabs with Woodward.
On multiple occasions, Woodward has interrupted Stuckart.
At a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, Stuckart accused Woodward of telling KREM that climate change was not a local issue. (The KREM story Stuckart was referencing had initially quoted a Woodward campaign spokesperson saying that “environmental policies are more of a state and national issue, rather than municipal,” but that line was later deleted, the Inlander reported.)
Woodward quickly jumped in.
“I never said that,” she said.
“It’s on KREM, right now,” he responded.
“I didn’t say that,” she chimed in again.
At a forum on homelessness last month, Stuckart criticized Woodward for dismissing the region’s point-in-time count data – an annual survey used to develop data on homelessness – which suggests that drug and alcohol addiction is not the leading cause of homelessness in Spokane.
“It concerns me when my opponent doesn’t use the data that we have and instead uses anecdotal data from talking to a couple people,” Stuckart said.
“It’s beyond a couple people,” she said. “If you were out there talking to people in nonprofits you would know.”
Homelessness has been the focal point of Woodward’s campaign, and recent debates have served to demonstrate the different strategies she and Stuckart would take to the issue as mayor.
Woodward has stressed “accountability” in the system and warned against shelters that only serve to “warehouse” people.
At the Downtown Spokane Partnership, Woodward reiterated that she is not a proponent of purchasing 24/7 low-barrier shelters.
“He wanted more shelters and he wanted the city to invest more in those shelters,” Woodward said, as Stuckart emphatically nodded in agreement.
“I want to get people off the streets and into help, but I don’t want to just warehouse people,” she said.
Stuckart advocated for low-income housing in “every single neighborhood.”
“We should have mixed-income neighborhoods all throughout Spokane,” he said. “It’s really easy if you live in a high-end neighborhood and never run into poor people to demonize them and treat them as others and talk about ‘enabling’ them by actually providing for them to be alive.”
He criticized the city for ending its funding of a 24/7 shelter with House of Charity without a replacement plan for the more than 100 beds lost.
“If we don’t have shelters, there’s nowhere for them to go,” Stuckart said.
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