by KEVIN TAYLOR AND DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & D & lt;/span & ennis Hession is running the most expensive campaign in Spokane mayoral history. With $223,000 raised in campaign cash and in-kind contributions to date, he has amassed close to what the job pays for a year and a half -- and has surpassed the late Jim West's record of $217,000 in 2004.
"To me, it's not the dollars as much as it's the numbers," Hession says, citing the breadth of donors to his campaign. "I think we run a campaign that really reaches out to numbers of people and convinced them of the importance of maintaining the stability of leadership."
Look at the numbers of contributions of $100 or less to his campaign, he insists. And indeed, Hession has attracted 646 such donors. The Verner campaign, however, is also good at attracting modest donations, with 443 at $100 or less.
The significant difference with Hession is to look at the number of donors who gave him $1,000 or more -- an astonishing 63, ranging from BNSF Railway in Fort Worth, Texas, to Potlatch in Lewiston, Idaho (two $1,000 checks); and from Avista to downtown establishment types, such as Jim Cowles of Inland Empire Paper and Dave Clack, formerly of the Avista board of directors and former chair and CEO of Old National Bancorp.
The $74,000 from these donors alone nearly matches Verner's campaign total.
"There is a misperception ... people see me as a suit," Hession says, conceding that he almost always wears suits. At a Greater Spokane Inc. debate on Oct. 12, Hession quipped that he actually does own a pair of blue jeans and actually has worn them. Twice.
"Because I dress up, people think I am insensitive to their issues. I have a strong sense of social justice," he says.
Before going to law school, Hession says, he spent a year as a psych aide helping the mentally ill in a Salt Lake City hospital and was head of social services for Head Start in Salt Lake City.
But he is the establishment's man now.
"I think they see me as a decisive leader with integrity and who makes decisions not along political lines but on the issues themselves," Hession says. "I would say that certainly the people who have money do have a lot of influence -- I don't mean necessarily influence on elected officials, but a lot of influence on economic development.
"I am very much pro-business," he says. "I think the secret to success in Spokane is its economic vitality, because it gives you the resources to do the things that are important to all of us."
"I am portrayed as anti-development and anti-business. How can you be anti-business?" Mary Verner asks. "What does that mean? Is it a way to say I am over-regulatory? My voting record shows I support local business."
She differs with Hession on the brightness of the bright economy Hession cites.
"Most of the increase in sales tax revenue came from big events like the figure skating championships and the opening of the convention center.
"That does not make a trend," Verner says.
She cites her own significant involvement in the city's economic affairs as a member of the city council's finance committee, advocating for a rate stabilization fund, and urging that local financiers on the Mayor's Economic Investment Council -- whom she says are under-used -- get opportunities to share their forecasting.
There is too much focus on downtown, she says.
"Downtown is important, but it is not the only thing going on," Verner says. "I have met business owners who come downtown to City Hall to ask a question about a Labor and Industry matter, get the runaround, get told they have to go to a different office -- and then find they have a parking ticket."
Most businesses in Spokane are small ones, she says, with fewer than 10 employees, yet most of the economic development focus seems to cater to big-ticket businesses.
"We need to focus more on small, locally owned businesses. We need to listen to what they need," she says.
Verner cites the cluster of small businesses that will be affected at the south end of the North-South Freeway. She says it's important to offer them relocation aid or grace periods during transition.
"I want them to stay in Spokane and not go out to the Valley or go out of business. We are passive on that," Verner says.
She proposes satellite service offices "so people don't have to come downtown. The downtown community might not like that but we need to promote business hubs all over our city."
Yards Under New Management?
Rumors have persisted that the Kendall Yards project is being shopped around in Texas. The rumors were bolstered when a Texas millionaire recently spent a long night at Bistango with Kendall Yards point man Tom Reese.
Are the Yards being shopped, or is the Texas millionaire being wooed as an investor? Reese says it's the latter.
We asked Verner for her reaction to rumors of a Kendall Yards sale.
"Since I am not one of the 'inside' group on that, I won't feel so duped," she says. As long as Kendall Yards gets built as approved, it doesn't matter who builds it, she says.
Hession notes that "I have had conversations with Marshall Chesrown, and that isn't the case. They are talking to potential partners. I see no evidence that Marshall Chesrown is anything but 100 percent behind the project."
Looking for the Whole Package
Many Spokane neighborhood leaders are honing in on exactly what type of "strong mayor" they want. They like a person who focuses on a problem or a project and takes bold action. But they also want someone who doesn't do the leaderly thing alone, who listens and consults with others -- and not just his or her inner circle -- before making a decision.
Looking at the two candidates, it's not clear that either offers all of those traits. The people we interviewed all think Dennis Hession is an intelligent and honorable man who has the city's best interests in mind. But for a man who works hard at the public parts of the job, "he's a very private person" at heart, says Rockwood chair John Prosser.
"He started his term by talking about a quiet revolution at City Hall," continues Prosser. "From my perspective, that's called a coup."
Rusty Vlahovich from the Emerson-Garfield neighborhood thinks Hession is a good man whose biggest problem is that he's surrounded by people from the private sector.
"How can he justify hiring a deputy mayor with no experience in running a city?" Vlahovich refers to Chief Administrative Officer John Pilcher as "an economic development guy. Jack Lynch [the previous deputy mayor] was aware of what was going on in the city and what the problems were. Now anytime anything comes up, it seems like we have to hire a consultant."
She also believes Hession could use an occasional reality check: "He might benefit from taking off his suit and getting on the Monroe Street bus."
Verner, on the other hand, is viewed as someone who is closer to the ground, better at listening and sharing her views.
"Mary has been very involved in working with us," says Southgate chair Patrick Moore. "She responds to our e-mail and our questions." Several other neighborhood chairpersons in Verner's South district echo those thoughts.
"As the Community Assembly spokesman, I've sent the mayor many letters, and only twice have I received a response -- and, in those cases, it was politically advantageous for him," says Rockwood's John Prosser. "He generally ignores us, although I understand he may have time constraints. Mary includes us."
But Verner hasn't proven to everyone that she has the same citywide focus as Hession. "Dennis has been up to our neighborhood and he's acutely aware of our problems. [Verner] has never been involved with Northwest neighborhoods, including mine," says Craig Culbertson, chair of the North Indian Trail neighborhood. "I don't know much about her."
There's the conundrum. Do voters pick the candidate who has shown voters he can handle the decision-making part of the mayor's job, even though his communication skills aren't the strongest? Or do they pick a good communicator who isn't yet a proven leader? One neighborhood leader suggested that Verner's been such a good councilmember that it might be in the voters' best interests to re-elect Hession as mayor and keep Verner on the council.