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The region's finest artist, bartender, politician and college professor (and other stuff)

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BEST ELECTED OFFICIAL

Mary Verner

How to measure the ups and downs of fickle favor? Here is our Inlander unofficial rhyming guide to Spokane political popularity:

“When the snow flies / It’s time for buh-byes.
If the winter is mild / We think you’re so wild!”

A year ago, when Spokane was groaning under eight feet of snow, various harrumphing codgers were calling for Mayor Mary Verner’s head on a snow berm. This year, she has been voted by Inlander readers as the area’s best politico. Connection? The mayor looses a wonderful laugh. “You raise a very good point,” she says. “This has been a great year for snow removal.” (KT)

2nd PLACE: Jon Snyder, Spokane City Council; 3rd PLACE: (tie) Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich


BEST VISUAL ARTIST

Harold Balazs

By the time you read this sentence, Harold Balazs may very well have made a giant abstract sculpture out of hammered and brushed aluminum, a million enameled steel plates that conjure musical scores or pictographs, a watercolor or two. And lunch. “He is adept in a huge number of disciplines,” says Sue Bradley, owner of Spokane’s Tinman Art Gallery. “He will tell you his favorite work quote is, ‘I make stuff because it’s better than not making stuff.’ That’s his life principle. Harold is like [the late] Ruben Trejo was. After you talk to him, you feel your world has expanded.” (KT)

2nd PLACE: Edward W. Gilmore; 3rd PLACE: Gabriel Brown


BEST TV ANCHORPERSON

Stephanie Vigil, KHQ

For local NBC news affiliates across the country, things have never been worse. Even before the failed Jay Leno disaster, NBC languished in fourth. But yet, among key demographics, Spokane’s KHQ local news is still in first. Thank anchor Stephanie Vigil. Vigil credits the easy-going banter between her and co-anchor Dan Kleckner. “It just comes naturally,” Vigil says. “You can’t buy chemistry.” She’s had headhunters try to poach her for other markets, but she’s stayed. “The markets are bigger [elsewhere, but] the stations aren’t better,” she says. (DW)

2nd PLACE: Nadine Woodward, KREM/KXLY; 3rd PLACE: Robyn Nance, KXLY


BEST BARTENDER

Patty Tully

In the shadow of the Davenport’s Safari and Peacock rooms, in the depths of a sleazy-motel-turned-office-space, in one of Spokane’s smallest bars, works Patty Tully.

Juggling Old Grand-Dad Whiskey and fresh fruit for squeezing, Patty is the master of the Baby Bar. Its owner and most beloved face, its quiet listener and keeper of tabs, Patty is the Baby Bar. Sure, the joint has no windows and only, like, 12 seats. But it has Patty.

On a recent Wednesday night, Patty prepared for the usual crowd, those seeking dollar PBRs and grilled cheese on Hump Day. She arrived a few minutes early to pull the barstools off the counter. The clock struck five and they wandered in.

“Good morning, Patty,” said the first arrival.

“Did you say ‘morning?’” she asked. Only a joke, he said, settling into the bar. He was first, but the patrons kept coming in, slow and steady.

Patty and her man-partner, Tim Lannigan, have owned the bar and the adjoining Neato Burrito for the last two years. They’ve worked miracles, turning both spots into cool, arty and welcoming places for the hip, the square and the in-between.

“We’ve both worked at the best places in town,” she says. “So we know how to do things right. We weren’t trying to get out from under the Man.”

And right she does them. Handling a manual juice squeezer, Patty creates mouth-blowing whiskey sours, greyhounds and sidecars. And, like every good leader of men, she molds our desires to hers.

“Mai Tai’s,” she says. “I just tell people I’m not going to make them.” And she doesn’t carry energy drinks, so don’t bother. She says someday she’d like to open a bar with “just the basics. The good basics. Good vodka, good whiskey.”

Patty cut her barkeep-teeth at the Blue Spark less than 10 years ago. “It wasn’t the frat bar it is now,” she says. “It was more Irish punk with a jukebox that puts this one to shame.” In late 2002, she moved to the Baby Bar and stayed.

Surprised at her crowning as reigning bartender, Patty plays humble, paying respects to other barmen and barwomen: Steve Hill at Hill’s. Alison Collins at Mizuna. Kyle West at the Elk. The missing man she calls Albertini.

But, scanning her own bar, she doesn’t seem to mind being exactly where she is. She’s heard from taxi drivers and old bartenders about the couches that used to wrap around the walls, and the stand-up piano that used to grace the spot where the jukebox sits, a respite for traveling men and their lady friends.

And now it’s her Baby Bar. And it’s pretty damn awesome. (ND)

2nd PLACE: Heather Johannis, A Club; 3rd PLACE: Ray “Ray Ray” Wilson, the Blvd; NORTH IDAHO’S BEST: Rochelle Van Slate, Coeur d’Alene Brewing Co.


BEST COLLEGE PROFESSOR

Scott Finnie, EWU

It’s a good thing Scott Finnie is a tall man. That way, he can still see students — and reach them with his voice and personality — even if they’re sitting in the far back rows in a classroom holding more than 100 people at Eastern Washington University.

Finnie has been teaching in EWU’s Africana program since 1992. He finds himself lecturing about the African-American experience in a core-requirement class that is peopled, true to the area’s demographic, largely by white kids.

Thanks to his passion for history, his thirst for social justice and his engaging and trust-building manner, Finnie can make this class sing for students who come to it knowing almost nothing about the black experience. And they, in turn, have voted in droves this year to name Scott Finnie best college professor.

“I am honored and humbled by such an award. I want to thank all of my students and previous students, and thank the university for granting me such a platform that is devoted, not to my career, but to my calling,” Finnie says.

The fact that it doesn’t strike Finnie as unusual to be teaching an Africana program mostly to white kids goes back a ways. Finnie was recruited to come play basketball for Gonzaga University and coach Adrian Buonchristiani in the mid-1970s. He was recruited from Oakland.

This was the Oakland of berets and clenched-fist salutes and Black Panthers with carbines setting up food distribution for the poor. What were his early impressions of Spokane? “Coming here, it was like going backward 20 years in time,” Finnie says.

In a weird way, Spokane was too … nice. Not a lot of fists raised in radical protest for social justice. But then again, it was also nice that it was nice. Finnie stayed after graduating from GU with a degree in English in 1979. He worked for a while in the corporate world, then toiled for the Lord, working in gospel and Bible study for The Church in Spokane, a non-denominational, Bible-based congregation. A yearning to learn more about history, especially post-World War II issues of social justice, led him to pursue a master’s degree at Eastern in the early 1990s.

And now he brings it to life in Showalter Hall every day, taking students from slavery days through Reconstruction and the Harlem Renaissance to the civil rights movement and the reality of DWB (driving while black) in the here and now. He shares his own experiences where appropriate and challenges students to address their stereotypes and fears.

History, he says, need not be dust. “It shows us something about human interaction, about the dynamic of the U.S.’s great experiment with E Pluribus Unum – Out of Many, One. What does this tell us about ourselves regardless of our skin color?” (KT)

2nd PLACE: Jerry Sittser, Whitworth; 3rd PLACE: Dan Garrity, Gonzaga


BEST TV SPORTSCASTER

Dennis Patchin, KXLY

Dennis Patchin largely relinquished his iconic TV sportscaster seat to head up ESPN 800. So how’d the Best Of staple win? Credit his “Are You Kidding Me?” segments on KXLY. “I think longevity helps,” Patchin says about his win. “People in this town — be it sports, news and weather and radio — like familiar faces and voices. You become part of your community.” (DW)

2nd PLACE: Derek Deis, KXLY; 3rd PLACE: Tim Lewis, KREM


BEST TV WEATHERCASTER

Tom Sherry, KREM

KREM has been through many storms — icestorms, snowstorms, even Nadine Woodward’s departure. And for the past 20 years, Tom Sherry has provided forecasts. “I’ve decided to be loyal to Spokane, and Spokane has decided to be loyal to me,” Sherry says. By now, he has a reputation for warmth and accuracy. He warned KREM that the station would lose power during Ice Storm. Perhaps, KREM mused a day later, while operating with a single light bulb and single camera powered by a news van generator, this guy knows his stuff. (DW)

2nd PLACE: George Maupin, KHQ; 3rd PLACE: Kris Crocker, KXLY


BEST TATTOO ARTIST

Chris Spriggs, Rage Studios

In his second-floor studio, a heavily incensed space covered in paintings of dastardly dragons, snarling alley cats and tattooed Popeyes, Chris Spriggs makes art. On people, mostly.

“I love to see art on everything,” Spriggs, 36, says. “I can’t standing looking at plain white walls — I’d rather look at a building with graffiti than a plain one.”

Spriggs, who has been tattooing for nine years, got his start working under Walt Dailey at Tiger Tattoo. He says it took a lot of begging to get Dailey to take him under his wing as an apprentice, but he eventually caved. Spriggs worked at Tiger Tattoo for six and a half years before leaving to open his own shop two years ago: Rage Studios.

In a loft space above Zola on the east end of downtown, Spriggs says he’s been able to become a more custom artist, working closely with each client to produce tattoos they love and art he can be proud of. He’s always loved the look of tattoos — even as a kid. After he got his first, (a tattoo Dailey ended up covering up for him later), he knew he wanted to be a lifelong tattoo artist.

At Rage, he won’t tattoo anyone off the street. It’s an appointment-only studio. You won’t see any flash on the walls here.

“Everything I do here is custom. If I don’t feel like I’m going to be proud of it, then I’m not going to do it,” he says.

Spriggs’ tattoos fall in line with traditional tattoos: clean black lines, vivid colors. He says that while he doesn’t have a trademark, he’s become well known for his gypsy ladies (in fact, when we interviewed him, he was tattooing a rouged gypsy woman on a client’s forearm). They fit in with his love for the history of tattoo art, things like “skulls and snakes and eagles and panthers — all that stuff, I love it.” To him, being a tattoo artist is being a part of a rich, artistic tradition.

“I’ll do it for the rest of my life,” he says. “I love being connected to the history of tattooing. I learned from Walt and he learned from masters.

“To me, tattoos accentuate beauty.” (LS)

2nd PLACE: Caleb Frey, Evolution Artspace; 3rd PLACE: Tom Morris, All American Tattoo; NORTH IDAHO’S BEST: Scott Dilligaf, State of Art, Post Falls


BEST RADIO DJ OR TEAM

Dave, Ken and Molly, ZZU

There’s Dave, master of ’80s trivia! There’s Ken, master of the high-speed counterintuitive “Right versus Wrong” game! And there’s Molly, master of the “Loser Game” pathetic-ness competition! “She’s won 15 out of 16 times,” host Dave Sposito says. Of course, when Dave, Ken and Molly head home, they become, well, Dave, Ken and Molly. And that’s the secret behind their success, Sposito says. “There’s no faking it,” he says. “We really are who we are on the radio.” (DW)

2nd PLACE: Jay, Kevin, and Slim, Coyote Country; 3rd PLACE: The Radio Men, KKZK


BEST COMMUNITY VOLUNTEER

Dan Fitzgerald

The late Dan Fitzgerald is well known for creating the Gonzaga basketball team. Maybe you’ve heard of them. But he also has a reputation for generosity. He founded the Bring It Foundation and Spokane’s AAU boys and girls basketball camps. He chaired the cystic fibrosis, Coaches vs. Cancer and muscular dystrophy campaigns. He helped the Kalispel Tribe distribute money to local nonprofits. In fact, his last official act, on the night of his untimely parting, was welcoming the Ronald McDonald House for an event at the Northern Quest Casino. (DW)

2nd PLACE: Mariah McKay; 3rd PLACE: Barb Chamberlain


BEST COACH

Mark Few

Since taking over for the 1999-2000 season, Mark Few has led Gonzaga through an amazing 10-year sprint into the new millennium, winning outright or sharing 10 straight WCC regular-season conference championships and as many appearances in the NCAA Tournament. The Zags were in a cone of media silence in the run up to Selection Sunday last week, but Few offers these words via the team’s sports information director: “The fans of Spokane are very special, and to have them recognize me and our team in this way is special,” Few says. “I’m appreciative of the fans and the support and loyalty they have shown the program over the years.” (KT)

2nd PLACE: Kelly Graves; 3rd PLACE: Dan Fitzgerald


BEST ATHLETE

Matt Bouldin

In a basketball program renowned for players with All-American, high-wattage hairdos, Matt Bouldin is only the latest to bring major hair onto the court to complement his major game. Underneath his casual mop of curls, the almost sleepy-looking Bouldin has emerged as a steady go-to, leading this year’s Gonzaga team in points scored and scoring average (489/15.8), minutes played per game (35.5) and assists (126). And if the team reaches the elusive Elite Eight? Hair-raising. (KT)

2nd PLACE: Elias Harris; 3rd PLACE: John Stockton


BEST SPORTS TEAM

Gonzaga Men’s Basketball

Nothing touches a nerve in this town in quite the same way as Gonzaga men’s basketball. Since its opening in November 2004, the McCarthey Athletic Center has officially sold out for every game. Any worries that the raucous student seats would be somehow diminished in the swank new digs have been shown — at extraordinary volume — to be unfounded. And there is the terrific theater of high-intensity basketball, ferocious defense and 3-pointers dropping like daggers to the heart. If you can get a ticket. (KT)

2nd PLACE: Spokane Chiefs Hockey; 3rd PLACE: Spokane Shock Arena Football


BEST MASCOT TO REPRESENT THE INLAND NORTHWEST

Marmot

All hail Marmot, King of the Squirrels.

Oh, we try to poison ’em, smoke ’em out, blow ’em up with miniature bunker-busters, but they survive. They live. They breed. They chew through our brake lines; they sup on our sweet, sweet antifreeze.

In our fair city, a whole marmot cult has arisen. The marmot mascot has already been brandished for area parks, cross-country teams, rugby teams, and a Spokesman-Review column.

The windbreakers we Pacific Northwesterners wear even bear the Marmot name.

Fitting, then, that 196 of those voters chose the marmot to reign as mascot supreme. Oh, there were other suggestions. There were Ticks and Tigers and Tom Sherrys. There were those wanting to upgrade current mascots — the Spikes and Swoops and Shoxes, the Butches and Boomers — into full Inland Northwest mascots. Six suggested the Squirrel, eight chose the Pothole, and three voted for that heartwarming Inlander cover star, the Giant Palouse Earthworm.

Some suggestions posed problematic church-and-state legal issues. (“Jesus. We’re God-fearing people out here.”) Some voters could barely contain their excitement (“A F—in’ Golden Pegasus”), while others channeled Tim Burton (“Zombie Squirrels toting Voodoo Dolls”).

There were the mascots embodying subtle political commentary (“A salmon being torn in half by dam workers and environmentalists”), and those with Animal Farm/Duke Nukem-level literary symbolism (“SpoPig, representing the greedy power brokers that run the city”).

For all his sustainable heroism, “Captain Recycle” received only one vote, sadly, as did “a tree riding a bicycle while playing the guitar” and “Mary Verner dressed as a mountain.”

One voter, perhaps intending to fill out a different box, voted for KHQ morning forecaster George Maupin to become the Inland Northwest’s new mascot. (No telling if a spirited high schooler would need to don a giant foam George Maupin head.)

But the marmots triumphed victorious, as they always do. The Best Of voters voted for marmots named Marley and Marty, marmots on pogo sticks, marmots covered in lilacs, and marmots living in potholes; marmots drunk, marmots myopic, and marmots addicted to meth.

One twisted individual suggested “Marmot Man” (presumably some sort of horrific Island of Dr. Moreau human-rodent hybrid). Many voters were for off-brand marmots, spelled creatively to avoid brand infringement: Marmets, Marmits, Marmmots, Marmont, Marrmont, Marrot, and Mamot.

The marmots’ adorability, after all, is only matched by their sheer disease-ridden ubiquity. They’ve burrowed through our soil, under our sidewalks and, now, into our hearts. (DW)

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