The two candidates for City Council in northeast Spokane are bringing different focuses and perspectives to the race.
Jonathan Bingle, who touts his Spokane roots and experience as a small business owner, adamantly supports fully funding the police department and believes more should be expected of those receiving homeless services in Spokane.
Naghmana Sherazi is a tenant who empathizes with those impacted by the housing crisis and is calling for the city’s portion of the federal relief package approved by Congress in March to be released as quickly as possible to assist in the COVID-19 recovery.
The two are hoping to represent District 1, which represents northeast Spokane, in a seat held by Councilwoman Kate Burke, who announced earlier this year that she would not seek reelection after one term in office.
Bingle, the lone conservative candidate in a three-way primary, dominated the race and earned 46% of the vote compared to Sherazi’s 27%. The progressive vote was split between Luc Jasmin III and Sherazi, who eked out a second-place finish by just four votes.
They each bring different life experiences to the table.
Sherazi was raised and educated in Pakistan before immigrating to the United States. She works as an office and communications coordinator in Gonzaga University’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Her campaign has received strong backing from unions and progressive politicians.
Bingle is a Rogers High School graduate and former pastor who was forced to pivot to general contracting work during the COVID-19 pandemic as demand for his live events and entertainment business dried up. Bingle has been backed by several Spokane-area developers and was given high ratings for his conservative positions, including his opposition to same-sex marriage, by We Believe We Vote.
Homelessness and housing have been the predominant issues across city campaigns this year.
Bingle makes a distinction between people who are homeless due to unforeseen circumstances and those who are “criminally vagrant.” The latter category, he said, is made up of people who are “overwhelmingly mentally ill and addicted.”
For those who are “trying to make it,” Bingle said “there’s never going to be a shortage of resources in this city.” But for those he described as vagrants, Bingle said they must “give something back” and contribute to society.
One option, he said, is to require people to be working or that they volunteer for tasks like graffiti cleanup to receive services.
“Every single person has great value and dignity, and we want to see them restored to that dignity,” Bingle said. “Dignity comes with work.”
The current City Council has failed to make progress on homelessness, he said.
“I live on the northern edge of the city, and there are people panhandling on every corner. We continue to see trailers and cars and people living in those,” Bingle said.
A lack of money dedicated to homelessness hasn’t been the problem, Bingle argued.
“Funding isn’t the issue, I think philosophy is the issue,” Bingle said.
Sherazi said that not every person on the street has a mental health issue or drug addiction.
“God didn’t make us that way, so we need to be a little bit more pragmatic,” she said.
Sherazi believes the city needs more low-barrier shelters and urged the city to prepare for an increase in demand as winter approaches.
“Everyone is doing the best that they can, but at the end of the day to not be prepared is criminal,” Sherazi said.
“The issue is that the housing crisis is exacerbating the situation,” Sherazi added.
Sherazi noted that her rent has increased but her pay has not, so she is living paycheck to paycheck and “so many people are in the exact same situation as I am.”
“We need to get the Realtors and the developers and builders to start building right now. City Hall and City Council need to come to a consensus,” Sherazi said. “We have to do some outside-the-box thinking. It’s obvious what we are doing right now is not working.”
Potential solutions include “upzoning” so that multifamily buildings are allowed in more areas, Sherazi said.
To address the city’s housing woes, Bingle also said enhancing single zoning is a major factor, and “allowing developers to develop is a really big deal.”
“We need housing of every kind. These are things we would have to discuss with the neighborhood to make sure the neighborhoods understood what’s happening,” Bingle said.
He referenced recent decisions by the Spokane City Council to reject new single-family housing developments that required zoning changes.
“I understand the pushbacks – that we need to think about roads and all that – but right now as I’m at the doors I hear every single day, ‘My rent is going up $500 a month,’ ” Bingle said. “Quite honestly, I don’t care what the road situation will be in the future if we don’t have the housing right now to help people.”
Bingle believes the city has enough land, but that it needs to allow developers to use it.
“The real hope for me is that people find themselves in positions where they’re building equity and building wealth,” Bingle said.
Public safety is a major concern to the people Bingle has met on the campaign trail, he said. Many in his district are worried about crime and drugs, as well as rhetoric about defunding the police department.
If he is elected, “we’re going to have a fully funded and resourced police department,” Bingle pledged. Bingle felt that neither of his opponents in the primary election focused on public safety.
Sherazi agrees that public safety is important, noting that if someone were to break into her home she’d call the police, but said “I don’t believe we need heavy armament” like helicopters and armored vehicles.
A bigger concern for her, she said, is infrastructure. She said residents in northeast Spokane are tired of the disproportionate number of unpaved roads in the district, and a lack of stop signs at intersections. She said the area needs to prepare for an explosion of growth after the North Spokane Corridor is complete.
Sherazi also wants to increase access to broadband internet, early education and child care.
“These are humanitarian issues,” Sherazi said.