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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Truth tester: Many claims in Spokane City Council election ads are misleading

 (Emry Dinman/The Spokesman-Review)

Citywide races in Spokane may be drawing the most money and the most negative ads , but City Council candidates also are facing a deluge of attacks.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been infused in independent spending in the mayoral and City Council president races. The vast majority of money comes from the Spokane Good Government Alliance to help conservative candidates and hurt liberal ones.

That is much less evident in District 1, representing northeast Spokane, which has been relatively sleepy in comparison to the vitriolic attacks being flung by candidates and their supporters in Districts 2 in south Spokane and 3 in northwest Spokane. The Spokane Good Government Alliance has spent just $27,000 supporting incumbent Councilman Michael Cathcart and less than $3,000 opposing challenger Lindsey Shaw, compared to nearly $100,000 in support of conservatives in the other council races and over $20,000 in opposition to their liberal opponents.

“I can’t speak for my opponent or her campaign, but it just doesn’t do me a lot of good to go negative,” Cathcart said in a brief interview. “I feel like I have done a good job in this role advocating for the good things, pushing against the bad things and advocating for the northeast.”

Cathcart speculated that political donors felt other races in the city, especially the citywide ones, were more competitive and focused their spending elsewhere. He hesitated to go so far as to suggest that his race was a done deal, however.

“I don’t take anything for granted, I’m out knocking doors and trying to make sure I win my race,” Cathcart said. “But I do think there’s a slightly different perspective on northeast, in part because of history.”

District 1 has tended to be the most favorable to conservative candidates, electing both of council’s right-leaning members, Cathcart and Councilman Jonathan Bingle.

Shaw was not immediately available to respond to a request for comment. Campaign spokesman Jack Sorenson suggested that the Alliance had declined to invest as heavily in the race because it would expose a radical voting “record that betrays the persona (Cathcart’s) running on,” and that it struggled to identify any vulnerabilities in Shaw’s candidacy.

“Obviously they’ve got no shortage of cash they’re willing to burn, so when it comes to attacking Lindsey Shaw, maybe the corporate shills behind the alliance are struggling to come up with anything to attack her on,” Sorenson said.

Still, while the race has been generally muted, the Spokane Good Government Alliance did send out a pair of mailers earlier this month aiming to tar Shaw as a threat to public safety, as that organization has with all of the liberal candidates.

For the most part, the candidates haven’t been running these ads themselves, with independent political committees doing the dirty work of issuing ominous warnings superimposed over unflattering photos of the candidates whose campaigns they’re trying to sink.

Katey Treloar, who is running against Paul Dillon to represent south Spokane, is the notable exception, having run some explicit attack ads of her own painting Dillon as “extreme.” Dillon has taken to mocking this characterization, including with a short video showing him riding a skateboard.

The Spokane Good Government Alliance has taken up the task in support of Cathcart, Treloar, and District 3 candidate Earl Moore, who is running against Kitty Klitzke. To a much lesser extent, the Citizens for Liberty and Labor was a counterweight to the Alliance in citywide races, but is much less so in the district-based contests.

Here’s a rundown of just some of the claims, and the story behind those attacks.

Statement: Shaw “supports policies that reduce the amount of affordable rental housing options.”

Source: Mailer paid for by the Spokane Good Government Alliance

It’s certainly true that Shaw has one of the strongest renter protection platforms of any candidate for Spokane office this year, wanting the City Council to build on a slate of reforms passed this spring that faced fierce opposition from landlords and real estate groups.

Shaw wants to limit how often landlords can raise rents and to create a requirement that landlords warn tenants about rent increases at least 180 days before the rise. She also supports a universal background check created so tenants applying for units don’t need to pay repetitive fees, which originally was included in landlord-tenant reforms proposed this spring but eventually dropped.

Opponents to stronger protections have argued the provisions make it too difficult to be a landlord, driving property owners to sell and removing units from the market, in turn reducing supply and increasing costs. Shaw has argued that it is vital to keep people in their homes and believes renters are currently too vulnerable.

Statement: Katey Treloar is “the only independent candidate in this race.”

Source: Mailer paid for by the Treloar campaign

It is true that Treloar’s opponent to represent south Spokane, which has tended to be the city’s most reliably liberal district, has vocally aligned himself with local Democrats, while Treloar has insisted that she is nonpartisan and unaffiliated with either party. The lion’s share of Treloar’s record-breaking financial and political support comes from conservative individuals and organizations, however, and her campaign has relied heavily on Republican-affiliated vendors and consultants, including campaign manager Scotty Nicol, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican last year against state Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane.

Supporters and opponents alike typically lump Treloar in with the slate of conservative candidates in Spokane’s contested seats who are aligned with Mayor Nadine Woodward’s re-election bid, namely City Council president candidate Kim Plese and fellow council member candidates Earl Moore and incumbent Councilman Michael Cathcart.

Treloar is the only one of that cohort to not be endorsed by the Spokane County GOP, and the district is the only Spokane city race for which the party declined to pick a favorite. The Spokane County Democrats, on the other hand, endorsed Dillon and primary challenger Cyndi Donahue early on in the race, but voted against endorsing Treloar.

Dillon has accused Treloar of being a Republican trying to fool a district unfavorable to conservative candidates. Treloar has in turn painted Dillon as a partisan activist, and has more recently taken to comparing the progressive candidate, who regularly uses Twitter to stump for progressive causes and feud with conservatives, to former President Donald Trump.

Statement: Dillon “supports fewer police officers resulting in longer response times.”

Source: Mailer paid for by the Katey Treloar campaign

In one of the rare explicit attack ads commissioned by one of the candidates themselves, as opposed to an independent political committee like the Spokane Good Government Alliance, Treloar argues that Dillon is too extreme for Spokane and specifically does not support the police department.

It is true that Dillon has called for stronger police accountability and wants to see the city invest in nonpolice response teams to certain calls, such as people in a mental health crisis. It is also true that amid the 2020 racial justice protests, Planned Parenthood, which Dillon worked for until recently as the regional branch’s vice president of public affairs, called for “defunding the police,” which the organization wrote in a blog post urging “investing less in militarizing police forces and investing more in community-based solutions…”

Dillon notes that the statement was written by the national organization, not by the regional branch for which he works.

On the campaign trail, Dillon has not advocated for cutting the number of police positions, however. Instead, he has suggested that it would be possible to cut back on the department’s rising overtime spending by investing in mental health programs and the like.

Statement: Dillon is “on the record supporting homeless encampments within 1,000 feet of our schools, parks and daycares.”

Source: Mailer paid for by the Katey Treloar campaign

Dillon opposes Proposition 1, which if approved by voters this November would ban camping within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds and licensed day care facilities. He has said the proposal would be ineffective and push the homeless out of downtown and into neighborhoods, and also believes it would be struck down by the courts.

He has also said that he understands people’s concerns with camps near where children congregate, but believes that the camps could only be addressed long-term by getting people off the streets entirely through homeless services. He has not said he supports having homeless encampments near schools, parks or day cares.

Statement: “Dillon uses his social media to attack and bully people,” and “an investigation exposed his use of derogatory language to describe Spokane residents.”

Source: Mailer paid for by the Katey Treloar campaign

It is true that Dillon uses social media more than possibly any other candidate for City Council, and he does frequently criticize or mock political positions and politicians with whom he disagrees. He has taken to X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, for instance, to say that Treloar is a Republican pretending she’s politically independent and trying to point out ties between her and Mayor Nadine Woodward, who is a frequent target for Dillon’s rhetoric.

The investigation Treloar’s campaign appears to be referencing is a number of subpoenaed texts made public during a lawsuit over whether the Spokane City Council had gerrymandered districts to favor liberals. In that initially private conversation, Dillon belittled officials from the Spokane Association of Realtors, at one point saying two of them “looked like total asses” when they testified. Dillon’s texts were arguably incidental to the subpoena and were not the focus of an “investigation.”

Statement: Earl Moore “doesn’t want to talk about her extremist agenda” and “dodges questions about her policy positions.”

Source: Mailer paid for by the Citizens for Liberty and Labor

It is true that Moore has not articulated many policy positions, and is perhaps the local candidate most likely to say she doesn’t know about an issue when asked on the campaign trail. She has argued that this is proof that she isn’t coming to the City Council with an agenda, and that she wants to hear from her constituents. Months after entering the race, she still says she wants to hear from her constituents before making campaign pledges or weighing in clearly on most issues.

Moore has focused her campaign on support for police, though she has offered few concrete proposals on how she would do so better than her opponent, primarily emphasizing a difference in rhetoric and culture. She has voiced support for Spokane County Measure 1, which would raise taxes to pay for new jails among other less clearly articulated investments, and Spokane Proposition 1, which would ban homeless encampments near schools, parks and day cares.

She also has said she supports other laws, like the ordinance recently passed by the City Council to allow police to arrest people in the parks after hours, that give law enforcement more latitude.

Statement: “Kitty Klitzke has dedicated her life” to “fighting to defund the Spokane Police Department.”

Source: Mailer paid for by the Spokane Good Government Alliance

It is true that Klitzke voiced support for the “defund the police” movement amid racial justice protests in the summer of 2020. She lauded the painting of a “defund the police” mural in D.C., supported calls for the city to raid the police budget during the difficult financial outlook caused by COVID-19, and amplified a blog post from Spokane Rising titled “We must (gradually) defund the Spokane Police Department.”

At the same time, she also called on the City Council to pursue stronger police oversight measures during that year’s contract negotiations with the police guild.

When asked whether she still supported defunding the police department in an Oct. 17 debate hosted by KSPS, Klitzke said she no longer did “because we’ve made some progress since then.” On the campaign trail, she has said that additional officers are needed, but has advocated for funding to address the root causes of crime, both of which she has argued could still cut police spending by reducing the growing reliance on overtime.

She continues to support stronger oversight for the police and has suggested she would consider voting against a police contract that doesn’t increase the authority of the Office of the Police Ombudsman.

Statement: “Kitty Klitzke has dedicated her life” to “denying funding to fix our crumbling roads” and “rallying for extremist transit policies that drive up congestion and reduce access to local businesses.”

Source: Mailer paid for by the Spokane Good Government Alliance

The Good Government Alliance points to Klitzke’s role leading the Complete Streets Spokane Group, which spearheaded a successful campaign to pass an ordinance by the same name that required bike and pedestrian infrastructure be included during street reconstruction above a certain cost. She also helped lead the 2016 “Yes for Buses” campaign for voter approval of funds to pay for new Spokane Transit Authority buses and the creation of the City Line, a rapid bus transit route that launched this summer.

Then-Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin argued when the Complete Streets ordinance passed in 2011 that every dollar spent toward complete street concepts was one that wouldn’t be used on crumbling pavement. Supporters contended that the law would open the city to new state and federal grants and make the city safer to walk or bike in and more accessible to pedestrians with disabilities.

During her run for City Council, Klitzke has touted the campaign as an example of her ability to create meaningful policy that responded to a need she saw in the community.

The City Line and a proposed future rapid bus transit line on Division Street, as well as associated “road diets” prioritizing public transit over other traffic and sometimes includes vehicle lane reductions, have recently come under fire from some conservative circles such as the campaign against road diets spearheaded by Larry Stone, a local developer and one of the most prolific donors in local elections this year. Stone is the second-largest contributor to the organization that commissioned this mailer.

In August, Stone released “The Disaster on Division,” a short video accusing buses and bus-friendly changes to the roadways of increasing congestion, pollution and dangerous driving. Businesses were harmed by reduced travel lanes and clogging remaining lanes with buses in previous projects, he said.

Businesses around other transit-related “road diets” in the city, such as Monroe and Sprague, have given mixed reviews about the changes. Klitzke has argued that the impacts to traffic are minor and worth the benefits to pedestrian safety and accessibility for those without cars.

Extremist? Complete streets and road diets are both relatively mainstream concepts, with the Federal Highway Administration espousing both techniques in certain circumstances to promote pedestrian safety. The most prominent “road diets” completed in Spokane, on North Monroe and East Sprague were approved and completed during the administration of conservative-leaning former Mayor David Condon.