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Opinion >  Column

Spin Control: A ‘Hanukkah miracle’ out of the Democratic office fire

A man allegedly brought gasoline to the offices of the Spokane County Democratic Party at the Teamsters Union in Spokane on Dec. 9.  (Maggie Quinlan/The Spokesman-Review)
A man allegedly brought gasoline to the offices of the Spokane County Democratic Party at the Teamsters Union in Spokane on Dec. 9. (Maggie Quinlan/The Spokesman-Review)

When an apparently disturbed man wandered into the Spokane County Democratic Party headquarters earlier this month claiming to have a bomb and later setting parts of that building on fire, it would have been easy to say nothing good could come of this other than the fact that no one was seriously injured.

But not so fast. This is the season of miracles, and Shirley Grossman, a Democratic volunteer who was in the office that morning, had one.

It is, appropriately, a Hanukkah miracle, as Grossman is Jewish and it did happen during the festival of lights. Maybe it’s a reverse Hanukkah miracle, because while that holiday marks lamps that kept burning, this one marks things that didn’t burn.

Grossman had been in the office for a little more than an hour that morning when Peter Yeager came to the door. She was the one who let him and his backpack in. When a Teamster from a nearby office coaxed Yeager into another room by offering to be his hostage, Grossman and other volunteers followed instructions to get the heck out of the building.

She left her cellphone, her good winter coat and an iPad on her desk. She also left a stack of 100 postcards addressed to voters in Georgia, urging them to vote for the two Democrats running in the special elections for U.S. senator in that state.

For those who don’t follow these things closely – or aren’t on email lists of the many groups that raise money for political campaigns – the two races in Georgia will decide whether the Senate is controlled by Republicans or Democrats for the next two years.

Volunteers for the Spokane County Democratic Party had worked for hours that week writing out and addressing the postcards urging people all over Georgia to vote for Democrats, Grossman said.

“They were stamped and ready to go. I hadn’t had a chance to mail them yet.”

Outside, Grossman and others watched, expecting a bomb to go off. Instead, smoke and flames started showing in the building as Yeager allegedly had gasoline, not a bomb, in his backpack. The fire was put out, and Yeager was taken into custody, but volunteers weren’t allowed back into the heavily damaged building.

Police later reported Yeager said he chose Democrats because he was going after “elites” in an apolitical manner. He thought they were closer because he assumed the closest GOP office was in North Idaho.

Grossman figured the postcards probably didn’t survive, an assumption initially bolstered when she saw a photo of her desk on the internet a few days later. She could see her phone was melted. Her coat was fried. Her iPad looked unscathed. Where the stack of postcards had sat seemed to be a charred black box.

She jumped in her car, drove to the office, ran through the door and into the torched headquarters. She reached for the charred stack.

Only the top postcard was burned. The 99 underneath were singed around the edge, but were otherwise fine. Well, except for a slightly smoky smell, she said.

It was about 3 p.m. Saturday, the third day of Hanukkah and the last day to mail the postcards and get them delivered on time. She grabbed the postcards, rushed to the post office and put them through the mail slot in time for a pickup.

It felt like a miracle, she said.

Grossman, who ran Shirley Grossman’s Music School until she retired from teaching “thousands of sweet adorable children,” has been volunteering for the local party since 2016. Her service coincides with the candidacy of Donald Trump, although we’ll leave her comments about the outgoing president out as this is a holiday story.

She did say her husband used to be a Republican but since retiring has come over to the other side, and “my strong feelings about it may have helped.”

Grossman replaced her cellphone. Her good coat, which she described as “nothing but ashes,” hasn’t been replaced yet, but she’s wearing one of her husband’s. She’ll go back to volunteering – “We gotta do what we gotta do” she said – as soon as the Democrats have a place from which to do it.

In the meantime, 99 voters in homes around Georgia have or will soon receive postcards urging them to vote. They might notice the blackened edges, and maybe a little charred smell, but they won’t know they’re on the receiving end of a Hanukkah miracle from Spokane.

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