Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward faced a litany of challenges during her four years in office: the pandemic, protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, record inflation, addressing employee wages that had stagnated during her predecessor’s tenure.
Some of the challenges were personal. After her father, James, died during her first month in office, the mayor cared for her mother, Marilyn, through years of health issues until she passed away at the end of October, just days before the election.
With less than seven weeks left in office, Woodward says she is focused on getting next year’s budget over the finish line and helping her successor, Lisa Brown, transition into city hall.
Brown will be given a corner office on the fifth floor, the same one Woodward said she was given by then-Mayor David Condon as she was preparing to take office, and access to city staff as Brown prepares to take the reins in January.
The administration and City Council are in the middle of difficult negotiations over next year’s budget. City officials are facing a projected $20 million deficit in the general fund, the relatively flexible $249 million portion of the overall $1.2 billion city budget that pays for police, fire and other essential services.
The mayor released her final budget proposal at the beginning of the month, offering ideas to fill the funding gap including a partial hiring freeze, increased property taxes, cutting positions in the fire department and pulling from a traffic infrastructure fund to pay for police. Some on the City Council, which ultimately approves the city budget, have been reticent to accept all of these proposals, but Woodward said Tuesday they are the best options available.
“We want to make sure that that is passed in a way that doesn’t impact employees,” Woodward said in a Tuesday interview. “What’s in the budget proposal now, there aren’t a lot of other options to close the structural gap.”
There isn’t enough time left in Woodward’s tenure to oversee the completion of a number of other signature projects, such as using the city’s 1590 fund – a sales tax approved in 2020 – to accelerate the development of affordable housing, or shepherding the creation of a regional homeless coalition, which has been stymied amid concerns over governing structure and more.
The mayor was reflective on the demands of her office and the expectation of the public to respond to issues like homelessness and public safety while her ability to govern on the principles she campaigned on is complicated by the decisions of the courts, City Council and state. But Woodward said it was an honor to serve Spokane in a role that had a direct and apparent impact on the city’s residents.
“When their garbage gets picked up, that’s the city, and when they look at their streets, that’s the city,” Woodward said. “You’re much closer to the people than a legislator, for example, or a governor.”
The outgoing mayor said she was disappointed that the election had become so partisan “on the other side” and hoped the next administration wouldn’t be characterized by partisanship, but said that she didn’t plan to criticize Brown’s leadership in the next four years.
She’s still figuring out what’s next for her after she leaves the mayor’s office for the last time, however.
“I am just going to have some time to myself,” she said. “We’ve been in crisis mode for the last four years. For most of my first term, I’ve face unprecedented challenges, which is the mayor’s job, but more so than most.”
She’s in charge of settling her mother’s affairs, she said, some of which still need to be handled. She’s also joked that she’d like to start a dog food business – she’s become passionate about making food for her dog, Otis, from scratch, and recounts a recipe including ground turkey, rice, sweet potato, cinnamon and turmeric.
“I’m excited for the next chapter,” Woodward said. “One term during some of the most challenging times this city has ever seen has prepared me for something incredible – I just don’t know what yet.”