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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane adopts new City Council district map that helps liberals, keeps neighborhoods together

After a lengthy and bitter debate, the Spokane City Council on Monday adopted a new district map that keeps neighborhoods intact and makes it easier for liberals to win elections in northwest Spokane.

With a 4-2 vote, the Spokane City Council opted for a map that places the formerly split East Central, West Hills and Riverside neighborhoods into singular districts.

While it unites neighborhoods, Map 2 has caused controversy for multiple reasons.

For one, the city’s own redistricting board unanimously recommended a different map.

Map 1 would have left the existing City Council districts largely unchanged. The three-member redistricting board, consisting of three volunteers appointed by the mayor and approved by the council, decided after months of work that Map 1 was the best option – although they unanimously included Map 2 among their final four preferences.

Conservatives, including the Spokane County Republican Party, Mayor Nadine Woodward and representatives from the housing industry, have criticized the City Council for ignoring the redistricting board’s recommendation.

But they’ve focused more of their outrage on the new map’s political ramifications.

Map 2 gives liberal candidates better election odds in District 3, which represents northwest Spokane. It achieves that by trading some of District 3’s moderately liberal voting precincts for some of District 2’s decidedly liberal ones in Browne’s Addition.

Steve Corker, president of the Landlord Association of the Inland Northwest, reprimanded the City Council for choosing Map 2.

“To me, what this process represents is the introduction of partisan politics,” the former city councilman said.

The move to Map 2 has also raised ethical questions because it was drawn by a city councilman whose re-election odds have improved with its adoption.

The council appointed Councilman Zack Zappone to the redistricting board as an advisory member. Zappone drew multiple maps while serving in that role and, with redistricting board chairman Rick Friedlander’s approval, showed them to the three board members.

Zappone drew Map 2, but he said it’s misleading to call it his. The redistricting board included it among its final four, Zappone emphasizes, and board member Heather Beebe-Stevens drew a map that was virtually identical.

The city councilman, who won election in 2021 by 262 votes over conservative Mike Lish, has also said Map 2 was the only one that kept neighborhoods together while splitting downtown among the three districts.

Community members said during the redistricting process that they wanted unified neighborhoods and a shared downtown, Zappone said.

City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson said she voted for Map 2 because it’s what her constituents wanted.

“I’m listening to the people who actually live here, who will actually be impacted by my vote,” Wilkerson said.

City Council members Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle vehemently opposed Map 2.

Cathcart said he wants to change Spokane’s charter so the City Council can’t determine the boundaries of its own districts.

“Never, ever, ever again should the fox be in charge of the hen house,” Cathcart said. “This is absolutely wrong.”

Bingle has said he thinks Map 2 is gerrymandered and that it was unethical for Zappone to have drawn it.

“It is really, really gross stuff,” he said.

Zappone has said multiple times that candidates, not maps, determine the outcomes of elections. He noted on Monday night that politicians from across the political spectrum, such as former City Council members Amber Waldref, Mike Fagan and Kate Burke, have represented Bingle’s district.

Bingle dismissed that argument.

“You can have a great candidate, but also the demographics absolutely matter,” he said. “It’s really hard for a Republican to win governor of California.”

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