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Up for debate: A closer look at claims, arguments Spokane’s mayoral candidates keep making

Candidates for Spokane Mayor, Ben Stuckart and Nadine Woodward speak to the issues facing Spokane during the Pints and Politics: The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages Forum and KHQ on  Oct. 15, 2019, at the Bing Crosby Theater. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Candidates for Spokane Mayor, Ben Stuckart and Nadine Woodward speak to the issues facing Spokane during the Pints and Politics: The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages Forum and KHQ on Oct. 15, 2019, at the Bing Crosby Theater. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Voters received ballots last week, and Spokane’s mayoral candidates continue to vie for those votes.

In a series of public appearances and debates, former TV news anchor Nadine Woodward and Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart have repeated their arguments. From Border Patrol to Boise, here’s a deeper look into some of the oft-discussed topics of debate.

Homelessness statistics

Woodward has remained adamant that a root cause of visible homelessness downtown is drug addiction, despite city surveys that indicate other factors play a leading role.

Woodward has, on several occasions, cited statistics from a 2003 report, when the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated that 38% of homeless people nationwide were dependent on alcohol and 26% abused other drugs. She also cites the government data that about 20 to 25 percent of homeless individuals suffer from a severe mental illness.

During a debate sponsored by The Spokesman-Review and KHQ on Tuesday, she said if “you add that together, that’s 80 to 85 percent of what we’re seeing on the street.”

“That’s the root of what we’re seeing. We’re just putting a Band-Aid on a symptom,” Woodward said last week.

But the numbers don’t add up. Literally.

By simply adding those percentages, Woodward is not accounting for the possibility that some people have overlapping issues. One person may drink alcohol, abuse other drugs and have a severe mental illness as well.

“People have co-occurring disorders. You don’t just add them up,” said Stuckart, who argues that having an addiction is not necessarily the primary cause of a person’s homelessness.

According to 2017 data compiled at the annual point-in-time count nationwide, about 20% of homeless individuals reported having a serious mental illness and 16% had a chronic substance abuse disorder.


In buttressing her argument for a “treatment or jail” approach to addressing homelessness in downtown Spokane, Woodward often cites Marysville, Washington, a city of about 70,000 people on the West Side that has deployed similar tactics.

In an interview with The Spokesman-Review in September, Marysville Mayor John Nehring explained that social workers embedded with Marysville police officers often make as many as eight or nine contacts with a homeless person before issuing a criminal citation.

“Our philosophy is we’ll go to the ends of the earth with this program,” Nehring said. “Our definite preference is for them to take the treatment.”

Those who don’t accept treatment are arrested for any outstanding warrants, or trespassing if they are on private property.

“What you don’t get to do in Marysville is keep living under the bridge,” Nehring said.

Spokane, in fact, already has laws against camping on public property or sitting and lying on downtown sidewalks during the daytime.

In reports to the City Council’s Public Safety and Community Health Committee, the police department documents the numerous citations it issues for violating those laws. Spokane police booked seven people for violating the “sit and lie” law in September and issued 11 more citations. Spokane has a community court, the goal of which is to take people accused of violating those laws and direct them to social services.

Like Marysville, Spokane has launched a program embedding social workers with its police department in an effort to divert people from jail and into services.

In Marysville, if the individual chooses treatment, the program begins with detox, then a treatment program and then about six months of temporary housing coupled with social services. The city’s program has graduated 47 people, according to Nehring.

The results? Nehring says property crime is down about 20 to 30 percent. (Spokane’s property crime rate has also been on the decline, by about 16% over last year’s figures.) Nehring could not point to data that shows homelessness has decreased.

Nehring also acknowledged that the homelessness problem is of a different scope in larger cities like Seattle, and that he is “by no means saying” Marysville’s approach would automatically succeed elsewhere.

“Our approach fits our community really well,” Nehring said.

The Police Guild

During the debate Tuesday, Woodward questioned why Stuckart has embraced the support of so many public labor unions, yet said he would never seek the endorsement of the Spokane Police Guild – which she won ahead of the primary election this summer.

Stuckart explained that the guild’s contract has been open for the last three years and that negotiating a new deal will be “the very first thing that a mayor will have to do.”

“I love the police officers, that’s why I led the charge to hire 52 of them,” Stuckart said.

That response differs from what he told The Spokesman-Review in July.

“That’s the one association I don’t ask for their endorsement, because as mayor your job is to follow through on police accountability issues and the guild fights that on every step of the way,” Stuckart said then.

At the time, he specifically criticized the guild for attempting to have the police ombudsman removed from the investigation into Officer Daniel Lesser, whose use of a canine in a February arrest raised questions.

Stuckart said on Friday that those two answers are not in conflict with each other, adding, “I’m not backing off one or the other.”

“The police are different because the Police Guild itself fights oversight,” Stuckart said.

Woodward again questioned Stuckart’s allegiance with unions in a press release on Thursday, describing him in a statement as “bought and paid for by labor unions” and noting that several of the top 45 contributors to his campaign represent labor interests.

Stuckart addressed his links to unions during the debate on Tuesday, in response to a question about how he would fairly negotiate contracts with employees who have funded his campaign. He argued that City Council has “held the line” on union contracts it has approved during his two terms of leadership.

“Every contract has been below the 20-year growth rate of 3 percent,” Stuckart said, adding he has the endorsement of city Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley.


Spokane voters won’t see “Republican” or “Democrat” next to the names of mayoral candidates on their ballots. But is it really a nonpartisan race?

Stuckart has the endorsement of Spokane County Democrats and doesn’t hesitate to tout his progressive bona fides. Woodward has intentionally presented herself as politically ambiguous and has said she has not sought party endorsements given that the mayoral race is supposed to be a nonpartisan one.

“I think it’s apparent who’s on the Democratic side and who’s on the Republican side from all these answers we’ve been giving for months,” Stuckart said.

In audio released last week by Fuse Washington, a political organization that supports progressive causes and candidates, Woodward told a Spokane Rotary Club gathering that she will have an uphill battle and appears to acknowledge that she leans conservative.

“I know full well that someone who is right of center is going to have a hard race in a city election for mayor,” Woodward said in the recording. “Cathy McMorris Rodgers lost the city in her last election by 17 points. She wins the county. She overwhelmingly wins the district. But the city has turned liberal.”

At a July 26 campaign event, Woodward said she did not vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. But she also declined to say whether she voted for Donald Trump.

Fuse, which has declined to reveal how the recordings were obtained, charges that Woodward is “hiding” her political views in the race because they would be a detriment to her campaign.

In a statement, Woodward’s campaign responded that Fuse’s allegation is “simply not true and just another attempt to distract voters from the issues that our City is facing. … The race is nonpartisan and she is the only mayoral candidate running in this way.”

Woodward has avoided entering the fray on some potentially divisive topics.

In response to a candidate survey from We Believe We Vote, Woodward declined to respond when asked if marriage should be defined between a man and a woman; if human life begins at conception and should receive legal protection until natural death; if governments should not discriminate against individuals, organizations or businesses because of their beliefs on politically divisive issues such as marriage, gender definition and/or abortion; and whether an important duty of government is to protect the individual right to bear and use arms in protection of one’s self, family, property and country.

Stuckart did not fill out the We Believe We Vote survey.

Woodward has complained that as a candidate she is often asked questions on topics that wouldn’t be on her plate if she is elected mayor.

“It’s really hard to run nonpartisan and only discuss issues that affect the city,” Woodward told The Spokesman-Review earlier this month.


Stuckart has blasted Woodward for failing to appear at a number of candidate forums. She canceled an appearance on KSPS on Oct. 10 due to what she said was a family emergency. In the last several weeks, she skipped a forum on climate change and forums hosted by I Did the Time, an advocacy group for formerly incarcerated people, and the Hospitality Association.

Though homelessness and public safety have been the centerpiece of her campaign, Woodward was absent from an Oct. 10 forum on homelessness hosted by Spokane Alliance.

“To me, it shows she’s not willing to listen to people who differ with her,” Stuckart said.

Still, Woodward hasn’t exactly been absent from the public eye. She participated in Tuesday’s forum by The Spokesman-Review and KHQ, then at a Rotary of Spokane forum on Thursday. She’s also taken the stage for debates hosted by Greater Spokane Incorporated and the Downtown Spokane Partnership.

In a statement, Woodward’s campaign said she “does her best” to attend events she is invited to, but that she is “extremely busy.”

“For the rest of the campaign you can find her door belling throughout the City and talking to voters on their door steps and listening to what issues matter to them,” Woodward’s campaign stated.

At times, Woodward has had a chilly relationship with journalists.

She canceled several interviews with the Inlander in June. After the publication wrote about how it had been shut out, Woodward agreed to an interview.

In a subsequent interview with KREM, Woodward addressed the rift between her and the Inlander, and specifically reporter Daniel Walters.

“I know a real journalist from an advocate journalist. And if I’m going to deal with an advocate journalist, I want my statements in writing,” she told KREM.

In September, Woodward’s campaign provided a statement to KREM for a story about how Spokane’s candidates view climate change. But when Stuckart raised and criticized that statement at a debate the following week, KREM’s story was amended.

“This article originally included a statement from Nadine Woodward’s campaign manager saying ‘Environmental policies are a more of a state and national issue, rather than municipal.’ That statement was removed once it was clarified that it was not on behalf of the candidate,” the story now states.

On Thursday, a reporter at KXLY – where Woodward was formerly an anchor – tweeted that Woodward hadn’t made herself available for an interview for several weeks, despite several requests. Hours later, a station employee announced that Woodward had agreed to an interview.


The candidates have debated whether the city should look to limit the authority of U.S. Border Patrol to conduct warrantless searches and screenings at the Spokane Intermodal Center.

Woodward has said enforcement at the center is out of the city’s jurisdiction. But Stuckart supported city legislation that requires the mayor’s permission before certain areas of the Intermodal Center are used by Border Patrol agents to conduct searches and says federal jurisdiction doesn’t apply unless the vehicle being searched has crossed the border.

“Those buses are not going to or from the border. When we brought this up with Homeland Security, they stopped talking to us. We should enforce the laws of the city of Spokane,” Stuckart said.

Adopted in 2018, the city ordinance requires the Border Patrol to receive written permission from the mayor prior to conducting operations on city property not open to the general public. That applies to parts of the Intermodal Center, such as the Greyhound bus depot, which require a ticket for the members of the public to access.

Fuse Washington called on Woodward to apologize after it unearthed an audio recording of Woodward telling a Rotary audience in July that she thinks Border Patrol is doing “an incredible service at the Intermodal station,” noting the “arrests that they’re making with the illegals and especially in the drug trade.”

In fiscal 2018, agents seized 1 pound of marijuana and 1 pound of cocaine in the Spokane sector, which stretches from the Cascades east into Montana. Agents made 347 arrests, resulting in 59 accepted prosecutions, according to government data.

The city-owned Intermodal Center is just barely within the 100-mile border buffer zone in which Border Patrol says it can conduct warrantless searches.

Agents have apprehended about 200 people at the Intermodal Center since fiscal 2013, according to data provided to The Spokesman-Review in 2018.

When reached on Thursday, a Border Patrol spokesperson said a breakdown of those apprehensions – how many were related to immigration and how many were related to drugs – was not available.

Border Patrol spokesman Bill Kingsman said K-9 units have been used to locate illegal drugs in luggage at the Intermodal Center. Instances when drugs have been found, however, often don’t meet the threshold for federal prosecution, and the cases are turned over to local authorities to determine whether or not to prosecute.

“To say that we’ve had a big huge drug bust from an Intermodal operation? We have not had that,” Kingsman said.

Fuse took issue with Woodward’s use of the term “illegals,” which it believes is offensive, and accused her of “spreading unfounded fear and hate.”

In response, Woodward said in a statement that “the fact that Spokane media is trying to distract voters and make something out of a Federal Law is pathetic.”

In a statement of his own, Stuckart countered that “the specific law she campaigns on not enforcing is based on best practice and recommendations from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office to protect residents of Washington from unreasonable search and seizure.”


An advertisement paid for by the Citizens for Liberty and Labor political action committee began to circulate recently. Noting the large amount of independent expenditures in support of Woodward’s campaign, the ad implored voters to not “let developers buy our next mayor.”

The Washington Realtors PAC had spent about $200,000 in support of Woodward’s campaign as of Friday. The Spokane Good Government Alliance, a PAC that supports her campaign and is funded by prominent area businesspeople, had spent about $50,000.

But Stuckart is no stranger to developers, Woodward has noted.

“Ben has the experience of being aligned with developers, not me,” Woodward said at Tuesday’s debate.

In a 2018 article, the Inlander quoted Stuckart lamenting the political left’s “knee-jerk reaction that developers are bad.”

On Friday, Stuckart explained he welcomes the support of developers whose projects promote infill downtown and around the city’s centers and corridors.

“I’m aligned with developers that do great infill projects like Jim Frank. I’m not aligned with the Real Estate Association, that would like to sprawl out. I think there’s a difference,” Stuckart said. “There’s a difference between good development and bad development, and there’s a segment of our community that would love to see us just focus on sprawling out. That’s wrong.”

Stuckart’s opinions on at least one developer have notably changed. In a Facebook post last year, Stuckart praised Larry Stone as a developer “constantly looking for ways to improve our community by leading smart economic development projects.”

But when Stone produced the Curing Spokane video in August and withdrew his support for Stuckart’s campaign – saying he was now neutral – Stuckart had sharp words for the developer and the video, which he described as “embarrassing, inciting and shaming our people to make a political point.”

Stuckart also has the endorsements of developers like 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 earlier this year. “I do understand planning, and I do understand what our community desires.”

Earlier this year, Stuckart went to bat for developers who felt overburdened by the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, which he accused of green-lighting projects and then returning later to smack them with fines for inappropriately dealing with asbestos.

“I don’t agree with a lot of things the Clean Air Agency does,” he said at the time. “They do these things to justify their existence, and they give all government agencies a bad name when they act like this.”

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