A debate for mayor of Spokane Wednesday night covered a range of topics, including the pressing issues of homelessness and the city’s budget deficit .
Mayor Nadine Woodward, elected in 2019, defended her leadership through the unprecedented challenges the city has faced during her first term, including the COVID-19 pandemic, protests, inflation and Camp Hope.
Her opponent, Lisa Brown, former state Senate majority leader who served as the state commerce director from 2019 to early 2023, touted her decades of leadership working in Spokane before that.
The Pints and Politics debate, sponsored by The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages event series, was held at Gonzaga’s Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center.
Both candidates support a regional homeless authority but otherwise differ on their approach.
Brown would support designating a safe legal place where homeless people living in vehicles can park, while also providing services to help them find housing. She said there are more people living on the streets than the city has beds for, and that living in a vehicle is one of the last steps before being unsheltered.
Woodward rejected the idea as unsafe, saying residents do not want such a parking lot in their neighborhoods. She said those living vehicles should be brought into shelters.
“A car is not a home,” Woodward said.
Woodward stood behind her criticism of Brown’s management at Commerce and how it spent funds to empty Camp Hope, calling it “an utter failure.”
“I bet my challenger never visited the neighbors living there or the businesses that were impacted.”
Brown defended the commerce funding, saying it was not just for those at Camp Hope, and it was specifically designed by the Legislature to expand affordable housing and other resources.
“Camp Hope shouldn’t have happened, and there won’t be a Camp Hope on my watch,” Brown said.
Brown also said the city should transition away from using its main shelter, the Trent Resource and Assistance Center, and that the city should not own shelter facilities, but instead partner with nonprofits and private developers.
Candidates also addressed the city’s $20 million deficit.
Woodward said Spokane is not unique, and that inflation is challenging cities across the state. She noted that she has balanced a budget proposal, now in the hands of the City Council if they will accept it.
Brown criticized Woodward’s overspending the past three years, and the use of one-time money to try to fill the gap.
“The mayor’s budget proposal does not address the structural gap. It kicks the can down the road,” Brown said.
Woodward said she is planning strategically to make sure the structural gap gets smaller each year.
“I know I am the underdog here even though I’m the incumbent, because I don’t have the political experience,” Woodward said.
“I don’t think you have to have experience to do this job, we have term limits for that.”
Woodward said she is proud of her accomplishments on housing, homelessness, public safety and economic development.
Brown said she is an experienced collaborative leader who will find common ground, create partnerships, find resources and get things done.
The debates for mayor and city council president were moderated by Spokesman-Review City Hall reporter Emry Dinman. The were livestreamed by Northwest Passages and recorded for rebroadcast by KSPS. A recording is available at spokesman.com/northwest-passages.