Carmela Conroy has been all over the world as a U.S. diplomat, but she never forgot the backyard barbecues and meetups her parents would hold at her childhood home in Spokane Valley.
“It was the more the merrier, and that’s what I think of when I think of Spokane,” Conroy said in an interview Sunday, a day after the precinct committee officers of the Spokane County Democrats named her their next chair.
The Central Valley High School and University of Washington graduate inherits the leadership role in a party that has been fractured recently by “intraparty conflict,” in the words of its previous chair, who resigned in January. But Conroy, who spent more than two decades in service to presidents both Democrat and Republican, said she believed her relative inexperience with the local party – she just became a PCO in December – might help her with the task ahead.
“Some of the people that I spoke to were a party to that,” Conroy said of the reported discord, which included complaints that some members of the party were not being listened to by leadership. “I told them I didn’t want to take sides in that. That wasn’t my fight.”
Instead, Conroy said she hoped to recruit good Democratic candidates to fill the ballot “from top to bottom,” so that local government more closely resembled the one she saw in Spokane growing up and early in her professional career.
That included working as a deputy prosecutor under Donald Brockett, who led the office from 1970 to 1994. It also included working for Ambassador Tom Foley when she went overseas in the U.S. Foreign Service, serving in Japan.
While Conroy praised both Foley and Colin Powell, who served as secretary of state under Republican President George W. Bush, it was the election of Donald Trump and what she saw as a distrust of diplomacy that pushed her out of the Foreign Service and back to Spokane.
“It was, in all sincerity, an honor to serve,” Conroy said. “That became very difficult in the Trump administration.”
She arrived in Spokane in September 2020, after driving across country from Washington, D.C. Conroy said she wanted to file to be a precinct committee officer, but hadn’t established residency long enough to file in 2021. She was appointed to a vacant seat at the end of last year, and then filed her paperwork for chair when Nicole Bishop announced her resignation.
“I feel a sense of urgency. We’ve got filing week coming up,” Conroy said.
Democrats have the best chance in more than a decade to pick up a seat on the County Commission, which has been exclusively held by Republicans since 2011. Members will be elected by district following a change in state law. Former City Councilwoman Amber Waldref has announced her intention to run as a Democrat in a district encompassing northeast Spokane, where current City Councilman Mike Cathcart has also filed with the Public Disclosure Commission as a Republican. Chris Jordan filed with the PDC as a Democrat for the commissioner district encompassing areas of west Spokane and the South Hill on Friday.
Conroy said she believed the party could recruit candidates that would appeal not just to Democrats, but to independents and moderate Republicans as well. She noted a rise in far-right rhetoric locally as another reason she was inspired to help organize for Democrats.
“It’s a big enough party. It’s a big blue tent,” she said. “I think we can come together to choose a candidate that best carries out the needs of the people.”
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