More than a month after Mayor Nadine Woodward appeared at a Christian nationalist event alongside religious extremist Matt Shea, the Spokane City Council voted Monday night to formally condemn the mayor’s attendance.
The vote passed 4-3, with Councilmen Michael Cathcart, Jonathan Bingle and Ryan Oelrich voting in opposition. Cathcart and Bingle voted against the content of the resolution, while Oelrich expressed concern that he had not been briefed by the city legal department. Oelrich attempted to defer the vote for a week, but was the only one in favor of a delay.
Before the council considered the censure resolution, the Woodward campaign highlighted mayoral challenger Lisa Brown’s own association with a man reportedly convicted of attempted murder in the 1970s and later convicted of federal charges related to tampering with electrical grid infrastructure in northern California.
The disclosures that Brown attended the event in May sponsored by Michael Poulin provided Woodward a counterpunch to Brown’s criticisms of her appearance with Shea last month and the censure resolution.
While introduced earlier this month as a resolution to censure the mayor, council members amended the resolution Monday to denounce, not censure, Woodward. Councilman Zack Zappone said the change was out of concern that the public would confuse “censure” with “censor.”
Debate stretched late into the night, with dozens in attendance either calling for Woodward to be denounced or criticizing the council members as attacking the mayor’s freedom of religion and Christianity itself. Several called council members a force of evil, religious bigots and compared them to Satan.
Zappone, who co-sponsored the resolution with Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, argued that they were not condemning anyone’s religious practices, but the extremism he said Shea embodied and the threat he believes that such extremism poses, especially to the LGBTQ+ community. Zappone was the first openly gay candidate ever elected to the Spokane City Council.
“We must take a moral stand and show leadership when anything threatens our community, makes our community members feel not safe or threatens democracy itself,” Zappone said.
Bingle disagreed, saying that some beliefs about LGBTQ+ issues were sincerely held religious principles. He argued that the censure could be reasonably construed to be denouncing the Christian faith.
Bingle also argued the ordinance was “nakedly political.” Bingle was formally censured in 2022 a month into his first term in office for refusing to wear a face mask inside City Hall, an action he claimed other council members had also done, but he “was honest about it.” He listed off other statements or actions that his fellows on council declined to formally condemn, including a call he received wishing his child would be infected with COVID-19 and die.
“I understand when people say ‘mistakes have consequences,’ and I agree, with the caveat that mistakes have consequences when you’re the political minority,” Bingle said.
Woodward made a rare appearance in council chambers Monday to read a proclamation honoring Frontier Behavioral Health CEO Jeff Thomas, who died at age 62 in August.
As the mayor approached the podium, dozens in attendance who came to protest the condemnation effort broke into applause, prompting Council President Lori Kinnear to bang her gavel and threaten to clear the chamber if the outburst continued. Applause or other sounds of support or opposition are not allowed during most council matters.
Woodward lingered at the back of council chambers late into the night, watching and listening to the long debate.
As the city was blanketed in smoke from nearby wildfires, the mayor was at the Pavilion attending “Let Us Worship,” a religious and conservative political concert and prayer tour organized by self-declared Christian nationalist Sean Feucht. The event was initially launched by Feucht in 2020 to protest pandemic restrictions on in-person church services.
Woodward has repeatedly apologized for her attendance, saying she was not aware Shea would be at the event and she should have better researched it ahead of time.
“I apologize that my appearance with them, although unintentional, has hurt members of our community and caused a distraction when we need to focus on the health and safety of Spokane,” Woodward wrote in an early September statement to The Spokesman-Review.
The council’s resolution stated that Woodward tarnished the reputation of the city of Spokane and called on her to provide an unconditional and public apology.
Zappone noted that Shea, a former Republican state representative from Spokane Valley who was ostracized by his own caucus after he attended an armed standoff with the U.S. government, had compared the fires that devastated Medical Lake and Elk to same-sex marriage and transgender rights shortly before Woodward walked on stage.
She has since denounced Shea, calling him a threat to democracy, and has distanced herself from his political views. On Sept. 8, KHQ aired Woodward’s first interview addressing the event, where she said she understood why her appearance angered some, and then posited that a “very loud minority group” was behind the political attacks.
She went on to call the effort to censure her a “political ploy to bring more attention to something that, you know, we need to move ahead of, that we need to move beyond that,” she told KHQ.
More than 30 people signed up to speak Monday in favor or opposition of the resolution, pushing a vote to several hours after the meeting began. Many were members of a group of protesters, a number of whom are members of Shea’s On Fire Ministries, who have gathered outside of City Hall for weeks in protest of the resolution to denounce Woodward, arguing that it was tantamount to religious persecution.
The Woodward re-election campaign issued a news release pointing to a recent post by ontheball509, a blog founded by Robin Ball, who retired in 2021 after 26 years as CEO and co-founder of Sharp Shooting Indoor Range and Gun Shop in Spokane. That Friday post highlighted a May event during which Brown attended a campaign event at the Rockwood Lane Retirement Community hosted by Marianne Torres and Michael Poulin.
In the early 2000s, Poulin loosened the bolts connecting around 20 high-voltage transmission towers to the ground, according to a report from the FBI. Poulin was arrested while attempting to turn himself in and was sentenced to 27 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to two counts of tampering with federal property.
At the time, Poulin claimed that he had tampered with the transmission lines in order to highlight the power grid’s susceptibility to sabotage.
Prior to his arrest for sabotage, Poulin was a vocal anti-war activist who opposed U.S. military spending on foreign intervention, including the Iraq War, calling for those funds to be spent on domestic programs and homeland security.
CBS News also reported in 2003 that Poulin had been sentenced to life in prison in the early 1970s for attempted murder, but only served eight years. Poulin could not be reached for comment on this story.
Torres, Poulin’s wife, is also an activist. In 2016, Torres was among 20 who called themselves the “Raging Grannies” and protested the transportation of oil on railroads in Spokane. In 2018, Torres joined then-Councilwoman Kate Burke and other protesters who chained themselves in front of a tent camp that had sprung up in front of City Hall in protest of anti-homeless camping laws. Torres also could not be reached for this story.
The Friday blog post compared Brown’s attendance at an event hosted by Poulin with Woodward’s attendance on stage with Shea.
“Apparently, it’s fine to join events with domestic terrorists – so long as they are your kind of terrorist,” the post wrote, a line highlighted in the Woodward campaign news release.
In a Monday interview, Brown called the comparison a desperate attack by the mayor.
“These kinds of bizarre personal attacks on me are not helping us move our city forward,” Brown said. “I think the mayor should spend more time addressing what we need to do to help Spokane move forward and less time on social media.”
Brown said she was not aware that Poulin had hosted the retirement community’s speaking event. While she acknowledged meeting him before, Brown said she had not been aware of his criminal history.
She also argued that the comparison to Woodward appearing on stage with Shea was illegitimate.
“This is not the same thing than the mayor being associated with Matt Shea,” she said.
When asked to elaborate on the differences, Brown simply said: “I think it’s clear.”