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Northeast Spokane guaranteed a conservative councilman, so Benn, Cathcart highlight experience

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 14, 2019

Tim Benn, left, and Michael Cathcart are running for a Spokane City Council seat representing northeast Spokane in the November 2019 election. (Courtesy photos)
Tim Benn, left, and Michael Cathcart are running for a Spokane City Council seat representing northeast Spokane in the November 2019 election. (Courtesy photos)

With Mike Fagan reaching his two-term limit, this year’s city election was poised to test whether the northeast district would continue to send a conservative representative to the Spokane City Council.

But that question will not be answered in November, because it already was in August.

Two right-of-center candidates emerged after the primary election from a crowded field of seven candidates vying to replace Fagan, a pillar of conservative values on an otherwise liberal city council.

Now, instead of touting their conservative bona fides, Michael Cathcart and Tim Benn are faced with differentiating themselves from the other, and each is focused on convincing voters in neighborhoods like Hillyard and Bemiss that he is the best replacement for Fagan.

Benn, who chairs the Minnehaha Neighborhood Council, leans on his record of community involvement in the district and as the longtime co-owner of Little Precious Ones day care, which he operates with his wife Shannon out of their home on Euclid Avenue.

“We need someone in that seat who’s going to represent the people, not special interests,” Benn said. “My special interests are the residents in District One.”

Benn said his opponent only recently moved into the district, in a newer community in a neighborhood (Shiloh Hills) with a lower crime rate and better streets than his neighborhood.

“He’s kind of disconnected from where a lot of the real issues are,” Benn said.

Cathcart said he’s lived in the district for three years and, before that, lived just a few blocks away.

“I own my home here, this is where I’m going to raise my family. This is absolutely my home and I definitely feel connected to the issues we’re facing,” Cathcart said.

Cathcart separated himself from Benn by noting that the latter has run for office several times unsuccessfully – including a loss to the district’s other representative, Kate Burke, in 2017. Cathcart said he brings a level of professionalism to the race and key experience as someone who has worked in constituent relations on behalf of a state senator.

“I fit the needs of our community, and I don’t think there’s anybody that’s as passionate as I am,” Cathcart said.

Cathcart offers himself to voters as a “common sense candidate.”

“I’m somebody that can build the necessary relationships to actually get policies done, to actually get stuff for our district, but I’ve also said that I fight like hell if we are mistreated,” Cathcart said.

Benn co-hosted the Right Spokane Perspective radio show with Fagan for more than three years and has earned the latter’s endorsement.

“Tim has been here. He knows the people, the people know Tim. He knows the businesses, the businesses know Tim. To have an outsider come in, kind of like what (Burke) did several years ago, I think really captured the attention of a lot of people in District One,” Fagan said.

Benn would be “the same type of,” council member, “if not even better,” than he was, Fagan said.

Though Benn has Fagan’s endorsement, Cathcart boasts a list of endorsements that includes the Spokane Association of Realtors, Spokane Home Builders Association, as well as local leaders like Spokane County Commissioner Al French – who previously represented the district when he served on the City Council, and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.

And as of the most recent filings, Cathcart has received nearly double the campaign contributions that Benn has.

Cathcart is as surprised as anyone to see his name on the ballot.

Though long involved in politics – he previously worked as a legislative aide in the state Senate and runs Better Spokane, a nonprofit that advocates for commercial interests – Cathcart didn’t make the decision to jump into the race until the week of the candidate filing deadline after analyzing the various other candidates in the district.

“I just really felt like there wasn’t a candidate there who could win the seat, and, I thought, represent the values we need represented in City Hall,” Cathcart said.

The changes Benn has seen in 20 years in Minnehaha are more negative than positive, and he’s motivated to run to represent the residents of northeast Spokane.

“I’ve been here a long time, and I need to give back,” Benn said.

Cathcart’s top priority would be to support law enforcement with additional resources and ensuring that property crimes are thoroughly investigated, while also backing strong independent oversight of the department.

The police department needs to add about 50 more officers, over time, to reach the proper staffing level, Cathcart argues. That funding for additional officers could be found within the city budget – which he wants to “take a scalpel” to – but could otherwise be funded through another levy “as a last resort.”

“We can’t continue to have property crime that goes uninvestigated, we can’t continue to have robberies in progress that are deemed low-priority and we don’t have enough officers to respond,” Cathcart said.

But Cathcart did not support the public safety levy approved by voters earlier this year, which provided funding to retain 10 officers and add 20 police officers, partly because the city is still negotiating a new contract with the Spokane Police Guild.

“We don’t know what the cost of a new officer is going to be, so I get really frustrated when people are promising 20 officers,” Cathcart said. “That sounds great, but we don’t have a contract, so how can you promise 20?”

Although city statistics show that crime is decreasing – both property and violent crime are more than 15% lower since this point last year, according to the most recently available city data – Cathcart said those figures are misleading.

“People have just stopped reporting,” Cathcart said.

Benn also has made addressing property crime a top priority. It’s not just larger items that residents are having stolen, it’s solar lights displayed in gardens and other small things, Benn said.

“The biggest thing we need to do to address it is deal with the drug problem we have, because a lot of people are stealing for their drugs,” Benn said.

The Spokane Community Oriented Policing Services program, which provides volunteers to boost police programs, should be supported and built up, and neighborhood watches should be encouraged, Benn argued. Neighborhood councils are too frequently ignored by city leaders, and neighborhood residents should be encouraged to take action in their own community and used as a helping hand for police.

“Community policing is hard to do, but we need to embolden them to do that. If we let them intimidate us, they’re going to run our neighborhoods. I don’t think you want meth addicts running your neighborhoods,” Benn said.

Unlike Cathcart, Benn supported the public safety levy.

To mitigate homelessness, Benn doesn’t “think it’s compassionate to have people who have mental illness incarcerated with criminals.”

“The mentally ill that are abandoned on our streets are being victimized by criminals and drug dealers, so I think we need to ask the state to do their job in the mental health area,” Benn said.

But some mental health problems are drug-induced, Benn said, adding that he’s personally known people who have fallen to drug use. Though some advocate for an end to the war on drugs, Benn said that approach has led to “open drug use.”

“You can’t go to the pharmacy and write yourself a prescription. There’s a reason why there’s limitations to access, the same reason why we have a drinking age and everything else. We need to control access to drugs by going after the suppliers,” Benn said.

The focus should not be going after daily users, but those who supply them, Benn added.

Cathcart advocated for compassion in addressing homelessness, but said the city should take a “tough love” approach and push people into drug addiction treatment, job training, or mental health services – whichever is best-suited for the individual.

“More accountability in our homelessness programs is the answer. When we’re spending $22 million every two years on this and the numbers are getting worse, not better, we have to change course,” Cathcart said.

Cathcart would support construction of a new jail, but believes part of the bond that would fund it should be set aside for mental health and drug treatment.

Both candidates have also highlighted the district’s infrastructure needs.

The city should adopt a 20-year cycle for maintenace of its residential streets – fixing 5% every year – which in northeast Spokane could use some extra attention, Cathcart argues. The candidate also said the city should analyze the durability of the materials it uses for infrastructure to improve its durability.

“Our streets are just terrible and it doesn’t feel like we get the same treatment,” Cathcart said.

Benn said that under its current leadership, the northeast district is not getting its fair share of the city’s Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program funds, which are set aside to improve transportation safety in neighborhoods.

“There’s a number of areas we need to have addressed,” Benn said.

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