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Five Things You Didn't Know About the Mayoral Candidates 

DENNIS HESSION

ONE You may have known about the mayor's running habit (he's being endorsed by Runner's Soul), but maybe you didn't know Dennis Hession was a pole vaulter at Salt Lake City's all-boys Judge Memorial High School. The Catholic school did not have its own track, had one pole shared by all the vaulters, and practiced and competed at a college down the street where the pole vault landing pit was "cushioned" by six inches of sawdust. "I did letter and win one meet. I think it was one of those meets where everybody on the other team ran away and hid rather than jump into six inches of sawdust," Hession says. His personal best was 12 feet.

TWO As an attorney, Dennis Hession once took up a case for two teachers who had purchased an RV only to have the seller pledge it to a bank, which then went out of business. Early attempts to reclaim the RV for the couple were rebuffed. "They dragged us to every court they could drag us to," Hession says. Years passed. The couple ran out of money. Hession kept going. Eight years later he won the case, the teachers got the RV and he got paid by the insurance company.

THREE Hession and wife Janie are known to invite to their Thanksgiving dinners those who have nowhere else to go for the holiday. Those who've attended say it's -- surprisingly -- a gas. "It's great," Hession says with a grin. "We line up our tables from the dining room into the living room. We put on rock 'n' roll music and dance in our socks."

FOUR Several times last year, Inlander staffers observed the mayor stroll through the River Park Square food court at the lunch hour, breeze past the line waiting at Panda Express, pick up a to-go box and leave. A bribe with your MSG, Mr. Mayor? Did we have a Panda-gate on our hands? When questioned, Hession said every day he carries to the mall exact change for a small box of rice. His visits have become so regular that the Panda staff has come to expect him (and his precise payments). They often have his order waiting, and they wave him to the front of the line to pick it up. "It's actually a little embarrassing," he admits.

FIVE Hession apparently wants people to think he's an ordinary guy who isn't always clad in a dark suit. To start his opening statement at last Friday's mayoral debate, sponsored by Greater Spokane, Inc., he mentioned that he does indeed own a pair of blue jeans. (Admit it: You're trying to picture him in a pair of stone-washed Levis with holes in the knees, right?) Then he admitted that he'd only worn them twice.



MARY VERNER

ONE Remember that scene from Independence Day where President Bill Pullman rallies the troops and then jumps in a plane himself to battle the alien invasion? Spokane could see something eerily similar if Mary Verner's voted into office. A licensed private pilot, she has logged some 500 hours in the air since she first flew a glider in Hawaii in 1983. "I was hooked immediately." She adds that, with the campaign in full swing, she only got off the ground once this summer. "The beautiful days we had this past weekend were torture. I just wanted to be flying."

TWO Though she downplays it, friends are quick to point out that Verner was quite the tomboy when she was young, spending three years playing high school basketball. "We were not a good team," she says. "And I was not a good player. I'm 5-feet-2-inches." Even so, campaign scheduler Judith Gilmore recalls the candidate muttering, while getting makeup caked on for a debate last week, "My old basketball coach would never believe this." Of course, Verner admits she was also a cheerleader. Which may be where she got that unflappable debate smile.

THREE "You are already aware of her airplane pilot's license and the fact that she was a 5-foot-2-inch basketball player!" says campaign supporter Bill Tann. "To these activities, add that Mary was involved in AVID sport parachuting in the 1980s, made 112 (yes, 112) dives out the doors of airplanes -- including freefall training -- with a member of the U.S. Army's Golden Knights Parachute Team at the Raeford, N.C., drop zone."

FOUR Dennis Hession isn't the only mayoral candidate with a panda in his closet. In the early '90s, while working on her master's degree in environmental management -- as part of an urban outreach program in New Haven, Conn. -- Verner used to dress up as a panda and go into elementary schools to teach kids about endangered species. (That's almost more frightening than freefalling from 15,000 feet.)

FIVE This is subjective, but when we asked Verner's friends and supporters for something the public might not know about the candidate, we had a hard time keeping them on topic. All anybody wanted to talk about was how good a mother she is to son Daniel, 9. Firefighter Rochelle Schoenleber marveled at how, during a recent campaign event, Verner took time out to give Schoenleber's 4-year-old son a five-minute joyride around the room in a rolling chair. Shannon Sullivan, who became close with Verner during the former's successful effort to recall Mayor Jim West, says she's among the best multi-tasking mothers in the business. "She can talk on the phone, make dinner, help with homework," Sullivan says, "and still catch the cat playing with something he shouldn't."

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