Spokane City Council candidates Mike Lish and Zack Zappone highlighted their different backgrounds and experiences during a debate on Friday.
The two candidates are vying to represent District 3, which encompasses northwest Spokane, on the Spokane City Council.
Zappone is a substitute teacher and program manager for Better Health Together who touted his Princeton education and northwest Spokane bona fides. He painted Lish as inexperienced and unaware of the issues facing lower- and middle-income Spokanites.
“I grew up here and know the issues impacting our community,” Zappone said. “I’m involved in our community and I see those day to day.”
Lish operates D. Lish’s Hamburgers on Division Street. He pledged to bring common sense to the City Council and learn on the job.
“Yeah, I don’t know everything, I make no bones about that,” Lish said. “The thing is, I’m willing to learn, and I’m willing to take the challenges head on.”
The winning candidate would replace Councilwoman Candace Mumm, who hit the seat’s term limit after serving eight years.
Neither has held elected office, though Zappone lost a bid for the state House of Representatives last year.
The two offered sharply different assessments of the state of the city in the debate, which was hosted by The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages book club.
Homelessness has again dominated the Spokane election cycle.
Zappone pointed viewers to his four-point plan to address homelessness, which he said is a “human dignity issue.” He’s toured shelters, other cities, and he’s talked to experts, he said.
The city needs to try to keep people in their houses, get them off the streets with a coordinated outreach system, have a robust shelter system to direct them to, and then provide resources to transition them out of homelessness.
Lish said the city needs to look to other cities that are successfully responding to homelessness “and see what we can take from them to help create our own Spokane solutions to the problems.”
But people should not be cut loose once they attain housing, Lish argued.
“We just kind of let them go on their own, and they need that support and that accountability to help keep from going back into that cycle,” Lish said.
Lish warned about the impact that statewide eviction protections – set to expire at the end of the month – are having on small landlords.
“A lot of people that had one or two rental properties, a little bit of extra income, have sold it,” Lish said. “We’ve put so much onus on the landlords without taking into account where they are.”
Zappone said he helps connect people to rental assistance through his job at Better Health Together and understands how many people are in need of help. But the city’s rental assistance funds won’t get to renters in time, he said.
“We need more time to get rental assistance out to people and make sure that there is back pay associated with it, because I understand landlords definitely feel the crunch,” Zappone said.
When it comes to housing, Zappone said the city needs to address both supply and demand. It needs to expand availability of accessory dwelling units, like cottages, increase density where there is infrastructure to support it and change the affordability requirements for multifamily housing developers who receive tax breaks.
Lish also endorsed accessory dwelling units and density, but he said the city needs to take a look at its regulations and the permitting process.
“ What is adding costs to these homes? What is adding cost to these apartments?” Lish said. “Every little regulation that we do as a city has a cost that is passed on to the builder; the builder then passes that cost on to the occupant.”
Lish said the state has “done a good job of creating the police reforms,” but said he is concerned about losing police officers. He also touted an endorsement from the Spokane Police Guild.
“They’re doing a heck of a job, and to see what they deal with on a daily basis – I can understand their frustration,” Lish said. “They need to be able to do their job, but they have to be held accountable.”
Northwest Passages / The Spokesman-Review
Zappone advocated against the militarization of the police, but said they need to be given the “resources they need to do their job.”
“I believe in supporting the police to do what they do best, which is enforce laws, deter crime, and respond to emergencies,” Zappone said.
Lish accused Zappone of wanting to direct funding away from police, which Zappone denied, saying police “are not mental health counselors” and “shouldn’t be responding to drug, substance abuse and mental health crises.”
Lish said he had not read the revised Sustainability Action Plan set for a vote by the City Council on Monday, but he highlighted cost as a key factor. Washington state is already a leader on climate policy nationally, Lish argued, and it is “above the pay grade of City Council.”
“How are we going to pay for a lot of these things in here? We need to make sure that we’re taking the taxpayers’ money with respect,” Lish said.
Zappone criticized Lish for failing to attend a climate forum for city candidates.
“We know climate change is impacting our cities today,” Zappone said, noting the deaths due to extreme heat in Spokane this summer.
Zappone also said Lish was unaware of traffic congestion issues in Indian Trail, and again highlighted his own background in urban planning.
Lish acknowledged he didn’t understand the traffic issues. Lish said that as a candidate, he’s in more parts of town that he’s never seen before and “it’s been a great experience.”
“I’m coming into this without experience, without any ideologies taught to me. The experience that I have is real life experience,” Lish said.
Zappone said the district needs someone familiar with its issues.
“My opponent has demonstrated he is out of touch multiple times,” Zappone said.
Reporter Adam Shanks moderated the Northwest Passages debate between Mike Lish and Zack Zappone.
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