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Gov. Jay Inslee endorses Ben Stuckart, while Nadine Woodward bolsters support among business, law enforcement groups

From left, Ben Stuckart, Breean Beggs, Cindy Wendle and Nadine Woodward gather before a candidate forum on homelessness at the downtown library in this September 2019 photo. The mayoral and city council president elections drew unrpecedented amounts of outside spending from real estate and labor interests. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
From left, Ben Stuckart, Breean Beggs, Cindy Wendle and Nadine Woodward gather before a candidate forum on homelessness at the downtown library in this September 2019 photo. The mayoral and city council president elections drew unrpecedented amounts of outside spending from real estate and labor interests. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

In a move without precedent in the recent history of city politics, a Washington governor has weighed in on the mayoral race in Spokane.

Gov. Jay Inslee endorsed City Council President Ben Stuckart’s mayoral bid on Tuesday, Stuckart’s campaign announced.

It’s the first time a sitting governor has publicly endorsed a candidate for mayor in Spokane – a nonpartisan position – at least since the city adopted its current strong-mayor form of government in 2001.

Stuckart said he did not initially ask for Inslee’s endorsement, but asked if the governor would appear at a fundraiser at the Patsy Clark Mansion in Browne’s Addition for Stuckart’s campaign. The governor’s campaign staff said he wasn’t available due to travel plans – but would offer his endorsement.

“He’s the head of the state government, so I am proud of that,” Stuckart said.

Though Inslee did not release a statement explaining his reasoning, a representative of his campaign confirmed the governor had endorsed Stuckart. It’s not the first time Inslee has picked a candidate in a city election. In 2017, he endorsed Jenny Durkan for mayor in Seattle; Durkan won the race.

Inslee, who announced a reelection bid for governor shortly after dropping his presidential bid in August, joins a growing list of elected leaders to back the two-term City Council president in his race for mayor against Nadine Woodward, a longtime television news anchor in Spokane who retired and jumped into the mayoral race earlier this year.

Though established political leaders and a number of labor unions back Stuckart, Woodward points to her support from a variety of business associations, candidates whom she beat out in the August primary election and the city’s union of police officers.

“I’m running as a nonpartisan, that race is nonpartisan, so I have not sought out the endorsement of partisan elected officials,” Woodward said. “My priority has been to seek out endorsements of people who are involved in the issues that are important to me.”

While a party affiliation won’t appear next to their names on the ballot, Stuckart said “some clear differences” have emerged.

“I think my values reflect the city of Spokane much more closely than hers do,” Stuckart said.

In addition to four fellow members of the Spokane City Council, Stuckart also has the support of state Sen. Andy Billig and state Reps. Marcus Riccelli and Timm Ormsby, all Democrats. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell has not officially endorsed Stuckart, but she headlined a campaign fundraising event for him on Friday.

“Part of having experience in City Hall and city government means I have working relationships with these people,” Stuckart said. “I’ve already got a rapport with them, and I’ve had success doing good things for Spokane already.”

For example, Stuckart points to his advocacy for newly approved state legislation that will allow communities like Spokane to retain a percentage of the state sales tax and redirect the revenue into affordable housing programs.

Though Stuckart has won the backing of elected officials and a broad array of labor unions, Woodward has earned the support of candidates she and Stuckart defeated in the August primary election.

Shawn Poole and Jonathan Bingle, who came in third and fourth place respectively, have both endorsed Woodward. Together, they earned about 19% of the vote in the primary election. Woodward plans to win the support of their voters, too.

“Nadine understands the need for an increased police presence on our streets and has a plan to make that happen once in office,” said Poole, a lieutenant in the Spokane Fire Department, in a statement accompanying his endorsement on Sept. 4.

Woodward, who has made addressing homelessness and public safety a cornerstone of her campaign, has also won the support of the Spokane Police Guild and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, a Republican.

Woodward has also won backing from a variety of organizations with an interest in real estate and development, including the Spokane Home Builders Association, Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors, and Spokane Association of Realtors.

“I’m a newcomer, and I get all these endorsements. I think that’s telling. In this race, political experience has not been a plus. People want fresh perspective, new ideas and are tired of the status quo,” Woodward said.

She repeated the refrain she’s touted throughout the campaign, that political experience is “not the best experience” and that the race will come down to a choice of whom the community trusts.

“I’ve been in people’s homes (as a news anchor) for 28 years, and I did my job in a way that was fair, objective, nonpartisan. I was in a position of trust, and I think that’s what this race is about,” Woodward said.

Woodward said she is most proud of the Police Guild’s endorsement, given that she’s made improving public safety the top priority of her campaign. Stuckart has said he did not – nor would he ever – seek the guild’s endorsement.

“To be able to get their trust and support and carrying out my priority of making downtown and our neighborhoods safer means everything to me,” Woodward said. “Ben would rather court the endorsement of a former presidential candidate than of our own police department.”

If the number and significance of endorsements is an indication of the mayoral race’s intensity, so is the money flowing into it.

As of the most recent filings with the Public Disclosure Commission, both candidates were neck-and-neck in terms of direct fundraising. Stuckart’s campaign reported $218,931.50 in contributions to this point, while Woodward has drawn $215,750.43.

Woodward, however, has benefitted from $197,109.02 in independent expenditures in support of her mayoral bid, primarily from the Washington Realtors’ public action committee.

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