by KEVIN TAYLOR, JOEL SMITH, DAVE TURNER AND DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & o what put Mary Verner over the top in the Spokane mayor's race: Was it shoe leather from her volunteers? Was it Dennis Hession's negative ads? Was it the money? Money, was it the shoes? (Sorry... a Spike Lee flashback)
Here are some striking bits from deconstructing the election numbers (all numbers since Nov. 9th):
Verner won 29 of 30 precincts in northeast Spokane, coming from behind to take 8 precincts that Hession had won in the primary. In the single precinct Hession held onto, the Logan neighborhood, he lost votes between the primary and the general -- he won by 90 votes in the primary but only by 16 in the general.
Verner won the northwest precincts 33 to 9, coming from behind to win 5 and extending her primary lead in 13 others.
Verner won 27 precincts to 20 south of the Spokane River, coming from behind to take 7 away from Hession and extending her lead in 8.
Hession reversed totals in only 3 precincts. City Councilman Al French, a close third in the five-way primary, left 39 precincts up for grabs. Verner won 35 of those.
To some, these numbers carry the whiff of shoe leather, bespeaking an aggressive effort to have volunteers out knocking on doors.
By the end, says Judith Gilmore of the Verner campaign, "We were doorbelling two weeknights plus both weekend days and phone-banking two weeknights as well as Sunday evenings.
"People hate doorbelling, but we finished every precinct we wanted to walk," Gilmore says, adding that more and more volunteers were recruited as the campaign stretched on and teams of at least four were sent out to targeted precincts -- prioritized into three tiers -- all over the city.
"With about 300 houses in a precinct, four people can walk in 4 to 6 hours," Gilmore says.
Others pin the defeat on Hession for making no adjustments in the second half of the campaign.
"There was nothing between the primary and the general that would have persuaded somebody who was voting against Dennis to change their mind," French says. "Nothing changed. So a voter who was voting against Dennis in the primary voted against Dennis in the general."
Former Mayor Jack Geraghty, an adviser to the Hession campaign up to the primary, agrees. "Dennis simply didn't turn around his message in the second half. He is a good mayor and I thought he was doing good things, but the fact is the message didn't get across."
Just as in sports, winning locker rooms in politics tend to be happier about going over the details.
"I think all of us feel a sense of pride. There is no better way for me to retire from this business than to say, 'Wow. This was a good one!' I really want people to believe that you can do this ... that you can go against the money," says Judith Gilmore, Verner's campaign scheduler and one of many volunteer advisers.
Gilmore sees the win as hardcore grass roots.
"I saw all our volunteers as buzz agents and our product was Mary Verner, so we really tried to up our volunteer hours. So many years I've been involved in grass-roots campaigning and nothing changes a neighbor's mind like another neighbor, or the women at the beauty salon ... there is something about hearing something about a candidate from a neighbor or the mother of the kid you carpool with that truly becomes a buzz agent," Gilmore says.
"This win is sweet because we all believe in Mary and because it's no small feat to do this in a district let alone city wide ... and under the handicap of your opponent having $3 for every $1 of yours."
When the firefighters' union endorsed Verner after the primary (the union had previously backed French), the volunteer ranks swelled.
"We were able to get 50 members out to work on the campaign," says Local 29 President Greg Borg. "We doorbelled precincts, we did a lot of sign waving, we did phone calling."
-- KEVIN TAYLOR
Lost in the Web
The New York Times reported this week that ads for Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign have appeared on Gay.com and a popular fan fiction Website (which publishes some pornographic stories featuring characters from Star Trek, The A-Team, etc.). The Romney camp had paid an advertising service to post his ads on various pages around the Web. Little did they know the ads would end up on sites like these, which aren't exactly Romney's target demographic.
The Times quoted Nielsen Online VP Jon Gibs, saying that politicians haven't quite figured out the Internet advertising game yet. "Corporate media consultants don't make mistakes like this," he said.
Maybe so, but the 2008 presidential race will also likely go down as the most net-savvy in American history, as candidates have seized upon the tools of the Web to get their messages out and energize their bases. John Edwards alone belongs to 23 different social networking sites, from Facebook to MySpace and ones we've never even heard of. Barack Obama lets you join his social networking site. Rudy Giuliani blogs. Dennis Kucinich sends you campaign updates as cell phone text messages. John McCain lists contact numbers for pretty much every talk radio program in the country.
Nearly every major candidate uses an up-front splash page that makes it easy for you to donate to the campaign.
Steve Corker's Website, on the other hand, didn't even tell you how to contribute to his campaign for a seat on Spokane's city council, let alone make it easy for you. Three candidates -- Richard Rush, Lewis Griffin and Mary Verner -- let supporters use PayPal to send money, but their sites are still far from Web-savvy. There are no blogs, no text message updates, almost no social networking connections. The last time Dennis Hession's team updated the news section on his site was July 18. (By this week, they'd long since gotten rid of the "check for more info on the blog" link on the front page, having apparently realized that there was no blog on the site.) Steve Corker's site looked like it was designed in 1995. Bob Apple's was little more than an electronic business card (and, at that, one that used his city e-mail address as his campaign contact address, which may or may not even be legal).
It's clear that the great wave of innovation in the world of online campaigning hasn't yet washed ashore in Spokane.
The most progressive site among local campaigners was Mary Verner's. Besides letting supporters donate via PayPal (the financial transaction engine that powers sites like eBay and Half.com), the mayor-elect offered subscriptions to e-mail updates and pointed to her profiles on both YouTube and MySpace (where she has 44 "friends" and professes to be "a musica appreciator"). But even Verner's online campaign is far from perfect. Her MySpace page is (in true MySpace fashion) almost unbearably garish, and there are only two blog posts there. Her events page was last updated in late October.
It could be argued -- probably accurately -- that a strong Web campaign is less important or effective in a tiny race for the city council seat in Hillyard than it is for the White House. And maybe such campaigning would've done nothing to up the 50 percent voter turnout across the county. But considering the political opportunities possible online -- and their relative affordability -- it's still surprising that candidates took so little advantage of them.
Here's hoping that Spokane's political elite will have figured out what on Earth a "blog" is by the next election cycle.
-- Joel Smith
Hillyard, Take a Bow
Nobody seems ready to say this aloud, so we will. The northeast district may have turned history on its head.
Conventional wisdom, including The Inlander a while back, says that nobody has ever been elected mayor of Spokane by carrying Hillyard.
We are willing to think that's changed, given Verner's near complete sweep of the northeast. At just shy of 10,000 votes, the turnout in the northeast was still half that of the other two districts -- just shy of 20,000 in the northwest and just over 20,000 south of the river.
Still, "It appeared to us Hillyard was voting very, very well," Gilmore says. "We spent a lot of time there doorbelling. We were especially concerned about precincts Hession and French split. We needed to make sure those people took another look so we got Mary out to every event there was in the northeast, everything from a house party with six people to groups of 60 and 70."
Which brings us to the quote of the week:
"We had one gathering, the house was chunk full of people -- and many of them were not supporters at that time. It was a dynamic evening and we raised $3,500 that night. I know Dennis can have two people write a check for that amount ... but they aren't going to go out and doorbell for him," Gilmore says.
-- KEVIN TAYLOR
The Doctor is... Back
A year ago angry people packed shoulder to shoulder in a Spokane County meeting room to boo and hiss the Health Board's highly unpopular and contentious decision to fire Regional Health District Director Dr. Kim Thorburn. Spokane City Councilwoman Mary Verner was one of three board members (County Commissioners Todd Mielke and Mark Richard were the others) to scold Thorburn and express their disappointment at how difficult she was to work with.
Yet the same Dr. Kim Thorburn has appeared on the Mary Verner For Spokane Mayor Website as a Verner backer.
"Time has passed and we are moving on," Thorburn says. "My endorsement is based on shared values."
Thorburn, now medical director of Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest, did not contribute financially to the Verner campaign -- at least no donations are recorded on Public Disclosure Commission forms (pdc.wa.gov) -- but she did allow her name to be listed on the "endorsements" page of the Website.
Thorburn also is running for county commissioner. "I have great experience to apply for the job: land use, public safety, public health, social services -- all the things I did at the Health District."
-- KEVIN TAYLOR
A while back The Inlander noted NBA legend John Stockton was a contributor to the Hession campaign. Turns out each side had a basketball hero.
Tammy Tibbles, one of the most electrifying high school basketball players to shake up the old Spokane Coliseum, has been a Verner backer, endorsing the challenger online and tossing in a donation of $25.
Tibbles was one of the key figures in a white-knuckle contest for small-school state basketball supremacy between the neighboring towns of Creston and Reardan -- an epic that played out over three years. Thanks largely to Tibbles' fierceness, the ridiculously tiny Creston Comets swept past Reardan for the 1982 and '84 State B titles, Reardan beating Creston in the 1983 championship game.
Playing in the era before the 3-point shot, Tibbles' 2,569 career points is still in the top handful for all high school girls, all classifications, in Washington.
-- KEVIN TAYLOR
Do These Signatures Match?
Vicky Dalton was stepping out of the ballot counting room last Friday morning when she took a call from an Inlander reporter. The Spokane County auditor and her staff were working to process and count the last general election ballots. Heading into the three-day Veterans' Day weekend, 12,500 ballots remained and Dalton was pleased with the progress: "We're learning as we go," she said, referring to the all-mail system adopted by the county two years ago.
"Right now, our bottleneck is signature verification," said Dalton. The law requires election workers to verify every signature on returned ballots, matching them with the signatures on file in the voter registration records. When the John Hancocks don't match, the elections office sends letters to the voters in question, asking them to submit new signatures before the election is certified on November 27 so that their ballots can be counted.
"I know of one doctor who has submitted ballots with five different signatures and he expected us to have all five on file to match them," said Dalton. "People need one consistent signature."
For now, elections workers go through the ballots one by one, a laborious process.
"Pretty soon we'll be testing some software that we think will help us speed that up," said Dalton. During next February's special school election, she said, her office will test that software: "We'll still check all of the signatures manually, but we'll also see how accurately the software can match signatures." Ultimately, she hopes computers will help to speed up the ballot count on election night.
Signature verification was just one part of the flurry of changes made to federal and Washington state election laws between 2002 and 2005. The federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) was passed after allegations of fraud during the 2000 Presidential election and the 2005 Washington legislature made significant changes to state law after the 2004 gubernatorial election was decided by only 129 votes. Those changes led Dalton to advocate for the all-mail system. The county commissioners granted her wish in December 2005, one month after voters said yes in an advisory vote.
The new system, said Dalton, gives her office more control over the election process. "It's a huge improvement," she said. "We have definite steps to follow, from the time we send out ballots through the counting. We're able to keep track of ballots and we have an audit trail that we can follow."
And for voters, "it's a good system," she said. "It gives them more time [from the day they get their ballots about three weeks before Election Day] to do their research and make their decisions." And with so many measures on the recent ballot, that was a good thing, Dalton said: "We received a lot of phone calls from people asking where they could get more information, especially about the state issues. They were looking for clear, unbiased, credible information. Even a few 'perfect' voters -- those who vote every election -- were looking for more information and waiting until the last minute."
Dalton does not mourn the closing of poll sites, as do people who miss the experience of going to the neighborhood church or school and casting their ballot. Those people are in the minority, says Election Supervisor Paul Brandt.
"Three-quarters of the people were already voting absentee [when the decision to go all-mail was made]," says Brandt. "Some poll sites saw few or no voters."
Is the new system less or more expensive? It's hard to answer that question, say Dalton and Brandt, because there are so many variables to elections, including the size of voter turnout.
"The cost of running poll sites was going to become more expensive" because of new government mandates, said Dalton.
"Because of HAVA, to accommodate disabled voters, we were looking at buying 100 special voting machines for poll sites at $5,000 apiece," says Brandt. Instead, he says, the county saved more than $400,000 and satisfied the federal mandate by buying 15 disabled-friendly machines and putting three in each of the five voter service centers for use on Election Day.
-- DOUG NADVORNICK
Incumbents Rule in CDA
Coeur d'Alene citizens decided they were in no mood to change the complexion of their city council.
"At least, those who voted," says incumbent councilman Al Hassell Jr., who survived a four-way race for the post he's held for three terms. A little more than 20 percent of the city's registered voters turned out.
Hassell collected almost 43 percent of the vote in his race. Veteran councilmember Ron Edinger also retained his post, beating Dan Gookin, the author of computer-related "Dummies" books, with nearly 54 percent. Longtime city planning commission member John Bruning won 48 percent support in a five-candidate race to replace retiring councilwoman Dixie Reid.
The 11-candidate race was as much about voters' feelings about the direction of the city as it was about change. While they never admitted it publicly before the election, street signs linked the three highest-finishing challengers -- Gookin, Jim Brannon and Susie Snedaker -- as running mates.
"I don't look at it as losing," says Gookin, considered by many as the leader of the troika. "I call it finishing second."
Many of the challengers in all the races say they believed the council was not listening to the concerns of the citizens. That, and other issues they ran on, will likely become at the very least talking points once the new board is seated in January.
"We're going to look at communicating better with the public," says Edinger, who at 71 will have spent nearly half of his life on the council at the end of the coming term. He says he would like to see the city begin televising committee meetings, where council decisions are born. That would give citizens the chance to chime in on a project before it comes to the council for a final vote.
The race was also about the future of the city's urban renewal agency, the Lake City Development Corp., criticized for directing its efforts toward glitzy, high-ticket building projects to revitalize areas of the city rather than providing affordable housing for the city's working-class.
"That's next on our agenda," says Hassell, a former LCDC board member.
Hassell says the council will also have to deal with adopting a new comprehensive plan and rewriting a new zoning code to make it work. That's why he says he's glad Bruning will be taking over Reid's seat. Bruning, who served on the planning commission for 25 years, says he doesn't see a problem with the LCDC working on affordable housing - so long as it doesn't turn into "The Projects."
"I don't want to see big developments" like multi-level, HUD-style apartment complexes, he says. He wants to see small projects, like duplexes and triplexes, which will fit into existing neighborhoods. He also says he wants to save the older neighborhoods closer to downtown to keep the city's flavor and not turn it into a Sun Valley or Lake Tahoe, where residents were forced out to build playgrounds for rich tourists, while those who service that industry must move away.
Meanwhile, Gookin says he's not done keeping an eye on the city: "I'll be back."