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Spokane mayor – a former TV news anchor – turns to video to reach out during pandemic

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward answers questions about city's response to the emerging COVID-19 crisis during a press conference on March 11, 2020, at Spokane City Hall. City leaders are starting to make budget cuts as a result of expected revenue shortfalls. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward answers questions about city's response to the emerging COVID-19 crisis during a press conference on March 11, 2020, at Spokane City Hall. City leaders are starting to make budget cuts as a result of expected revenue shortfalls. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Lights. Camera. Mayor.

For more than two decades, Spokane residents were accustomed to Nadine Woodward in front of a camera, reading the day’s news and sharing local stories as a television news anchor.

As the city responds to the novel coronavirus outbreak, now-Mayor Woodward has resumed that role – albeit for a different network.

Eschewing the strong warnings and calls to action of other elected leaders, the city’s mayor has sent positive messages to Spokane residents through daily video updates on CityCable 5 reminiscent of the 6 o’clock news she anchored for nearly 30 years.

Woodward pitched the idea to her administrative team early in the city’s COVID-19 response planning.

“That’s where most people have seen me over the last 30 years and that definitely is my strength,” Woodward said. “But any mayor in this situation should be communicating … for me it’s easiest and it’s more natural to do it on video.”

Despite the uplifting outward approach, Woodward has quietly embraced substantive policy in response to the coronavirus pandemic, even if you won’t find her championing it on her Twitter feed. Last week, at the request of the Spokane City Council, Woodward signed an order barring all eviction and foreclosure actions in the city of Spokane.

The message

Every day, Woodward sits down with CityCable 5 to produce a daily COVID-19 update.

“Spokane is a resilient community that rallies around each other in times of need like no other place I’ve seen before,” Woodward told viewers in Friday night’s video.

She aims to provide city residents with assurance that regional leaders are working together to address the public health and economic crisis posed by the coronavirus.

“I think right now that’s the kind of tone that people need to hear,” Woodward said.

Woodward also has taken to social media to plead with Spokane residents to order out from the city’s restaurants, using the hashtag #OrderUpSpokane. She shares stories of community good deeds with the hashtag #InlandStrong.

“Help keep the doors open and our residents employed! Our businesses are depending on us,” Woodward wrote in a March 16 tweet, shortly after Gov. Jay Inslee ordered restaurants and bars to close to dine-in service.

Woodward only began addressing COVID-19 on social media several weeks into the city’s response efforts, after it had already formed an incident management team and begun to plan.

“We were in full operation mode and I was doing very little (on social media),” Woodward said.

When the first wave of business closures came, Woodward said she heard from scores of local residents who were concerned. She focused her efforts on business support, which eventually led to the Order Up Spokane initiative.

“I thought it was really important that we support the economy going as much as we could,” Woodward said.

Other high-profile leaders have taken a different approach.

Gov. Jay Inslee also shares uplifting anecdotes on Twitter. On Thursday, he tweeted a screenshot from a video chat that spanned four generations of his family.

But he’s also been, at times, blunt about the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on Washington.

“We are nowhere near declaring victory,” he tweeted Friday, urging residents to stay home.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan also can be lighthearted, but often takes to social media with serious messages.

“(The Department of Justice) decision to keep the Seattle immigration court open is a public health violation and a human rights issue,” Durkan tweeted Friday.

Woodward’s lone Friday tweet was to thank Donut Parade for supplying Spokane police officers with donuts.

Woodward often participates in regular briefings held at the Emergency Coordination Center – the headquarters for the regional emergency response to COVID-19 – and streamed live to hundreds of viewers on Facebook.

From the coordination center’s podium, Woodward has laid out the city’s plans to use the downtown Spokane Public Library as a temporary homeless shelter.

But, when it comes to public health, she has let the experts do the talking, deferring to health officer Dr. Bob Lutz and the Spokane Regional Health District.

The policy

Much of Woodward’s work related to the pandemic is more than communicating to the public, as important as that duty is.

When City Council President Breean Beggs wanted an eviction and foreclosure moratorium passed in the city of Spokane, he imagined having to navigate the complicated process of amending city ordinances and facing Woodward’s potential veto.

The council instead took a simpler approach, working with Woodward’s administration on a straightforward amendment to the emergency declaration she issued earlier this month in response to COVID-19.

When Beggs sat down with Woodward Monday morning and asked her support for a broad ban on evictions, “filling in the gaps” of an order already issued by Gov. Jay Inslee, she didn’t hesitate.

“We went over what the ask was, for her to sign this declaration, so that we could stand together. She paused like five seconds and said, ‘I’m in, we’re in, we’re doing this,’ ” Beggs said. “That just meant a lot to me and the city.”

In a Thursday video, Woodward announced the city would soon unveil new programs to help assist individuals and businesses with economic recovery.

“Help is on the way,” Woodward promised.

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