The fight to represent Spokane's sprawling First District on the Spokane City Council is one of the weirdest contests on the primary ballot this year. First of all, there's the district itself, which covers much of downtown, runs to the northernmost reaches of Spokane and covers the rest of the northeast corner of the city. That includes areas as diverse as the University District, the Logan neighborhood, Hillyard, Chief Garry and those rarely visited, aforementioned northern fringes. To make this weirder, there are the candidates: an incumbent, a neighborhood activist, a 20-something go-getter, a 60-something downtowner and a 38-year-old running on the "I'm just like you" platform.
How do residents from such a diverse district choose from such a diverse slate of candidates? We've sketched out the candidates below, with some background, their pet projects and their ideas for the issues in the many neighborhoods they'd represent.
The incumbent on the ballot, Apple has represented the Northeast District for just shy of four years, along the way building himself a reputation as an outspoken, scrappy supporter of small business who is generally averse to taxes. Formerly the owner of the rough-and-tumble Comet Tavern in Hillyard, he now only leases the building, while running a small construction company.
Meth jail Apple says 70 percent of local crime can be traced back to methamphetamines. Not only that, but he feels much of the money being funneled to mental health service providers is wasted on meth users who can't kick the habit. He'd like to see a "meth jail," a branch of the criminal justice system devoted specifically to meth. With only three or four years before Geiger has to be rebuilt, he says now is the perfect time to institute a system of lockdown (minimum nine-month sentences), counseling and treatment for users. "As a bar owner," he says, "I watched people's lives go down like a rock."
Public access "Nobody can walk along the river," he says, stressing the importance of protecting public access -- including sightlines and 225-foot setbacks -- to the Spokane River. He'd also like to see public access preserved during the building of the North-South freeway.
Infill and annexation Apple, who says he doesn't believe in the city's budget "structural gap," thinks that recent annexations -- like the acquisition of a tax-rich, Costco-laden parcel on the north side -- are part of the key to bringing the budget in line. The Growth Management Act, he notes, articulates that development should be inside the city, not in the county. "In a dozen court dates with the county," he says, "the city always wins."
More tax breaks are needed for residential buildings downtown. "They need residents," Apple says. "They need middle- and upper-class incomes." They need parking around Gonzaga, where he says neighbors are beginning to feel the university encroaching into the residential area. They need more redevelopment in Hillyard.
McKereghan's resume boasts of her 29 years of public service in Spokane. A 54-year-old former professor of philosophy at Eastern Washington University, she's pursuing her doctoral degree in organizational leadership. "Philosophy is kind of an 'ivory tower' pursuit," she says. "I'm more of a 'put-it-to-the-ground' [person]." A well-known neighborhood activist, McKereghan says she's been active in city politics longer than anybody else still doing it. She currently sits on the state's legislative ethics board.
Communication McKereghan says many other city councils around the country have begun using Granicus, a software system that streams government meetings and other information online. Though she's been told it's too expensive, she believes it could ultimately save the city money. What's more, it could keep in the loop citizens who she says often feel left out.
Open ears The answers to city problems from the budget to the low-income housing crisis might be out in the general public, says McKereghan, but nobody's listening. "We aren't using the resources we have," she says. "Send us your ideas!"
Accountability She points to the administration of Jim West (a personal friend), who instituted an employee-of-the-month program. She says city employees need to be held more accountable -- not by firing them when they screw up, but by building relationships with them while also instituting a dependable, predictable series of consequences for wrong actions.
Businesses along the Hamilton corridor have been "children of a lesser god" in Spokane for too long. They need incentives to redevelop the area. So, too, does Hillyard, which, she notes, has been thriving without them. What more could be done with them? Downtown suffers from crime and gangs. "I just read in the paper that most of the unsolved murders are down here," she says. As for the far-north area of Nevada-Lidgerwood, she says, "I have no idea what cultural life looks like up there. They're all compartmentalized in little boxes. I want to bring them into the community."
Until recently, 28-year-old Luke Tolley partnered with his dad in a Hillyard-based golf cart business called Aces E-Z Go, but they're selling the company to a distributor. No matter. Tolley wasn't that into golf carts anyway. A graduate from Embry-Riddle University (with a degree that combined studies of science, technology, policy, management and globalization), Tolley is fascinated by small business, especially customer service-oriented nonprofits. He's a member of several neighborhood council groups, as well as the Greater Hillyard Business Association and the Shockwave Booster Club.
"Yes" mentality Tolley says he has no pet projects, per se, but that he'd like to work to change the city's "no" mentality and corporate culture. He says he'd rather be a diplomat than a politician, finding amicable solutions to the city's problems with an inclusive, bottom-up style of leadership. Empowering neighborhoods, getting them together to talk collectively. "I love this stuff," he says.
Tolley sees his district less as a collection of disparate neighborhoods and more as residential areas and business areas co-mingling throughout the district. The concern across residential areas, he says, is public safety. "People just want to be able to go outside at night and feel safe." Needles, graffiti and suspicious characters don't help. He sees hope in the emerging neighborhood-based public safety plan. As for businesses, he thinks there are a lot of tools the city can offer, noting a case study in Hillyard where the city bought a parcel, paved the streets and sidewalks around it and all those streets filled up with businesses.
At 63, Gary Pollard has worked as an Army sergeant, a trucker, a miner, an assembly line cog, a travel writer and a white-collar crime investigator, among other things. For the last 10 years, he's been the chair of the downtown Riverside Neighborhood Council. Old and wise enough, he says, to start being able to "separate the chaff from the wheat," Pollard envisions a city government that takes a holistic, inter-agency approach to problems five or 10 years down the road. A city council seat would give him "a bigger dais and a bigger microphone" to help make that happen.
Streets Pollard sat on all three citizen committees to repair Spokane's battered streets, including the one that finally won approval (20 years later) from voters in 2004. But he points out that even recently repaired streets are already pocked with potholes. "That not only makes your Jane and Joe Six-Pack angry after a few years, but it's not very inviting if you're expecting to draw outside economic development resources," he says. He'd like to see a certain percentage of city dollars go toward keeping streets in smooth condition.
Smart growth Adherence to the city's comprehensive plan has been rare, but it would revitalize first-year businesses with increased foot traffic, bring middle-income people into the city and lessen the low-income housing crisis seen today.
Bing Crosby Days If Steubenville, Ohio can do it for Dean Martin, Spokane can do it for der Bingle.
Nevada/Lidgerwood needs careful planning and swimming pools. Meth needs to be stamped out in Hillyard. Something needs to keep Logan's sense of neighborhood identity while embracing Gonzaga. Chief Garry Park residents are wary of transients coming into their neighborhood from the river. "We really are a city of neighborhoods," Pollard says. "People in Spokane, they may not fight for the city, but they'll fight for their neighborhood."
ROBERT STOKES, JR.
"My next door neighbor, when I was talking to him about running, said 'Just run on the platform where you promise that you won't do a damn thing, and you'll probably get people to vote for you," says Stokes with a laugh. "Everyone else has an agenda. I don't have an agenda."
The 38-year-old health benefits adviser at the VA Hospital is the anti-candidate. With few opinions about the vagaries of the budget or the dearth of low-income housing downtown, he's banking on the hope that his straight talk and open communication will be enough to get him into city hall. (His belief that campaign yard signs are "litter" might win him more than one convert.) "My goal is not to get in there and just change everything," he says. "My goal would be to go in and change the way that we communicate ... Get everybody's ideas, mix and match. That's what I'd like to do. Communicate, work out the problems, make the place better and move on."
No pet projects Other than paving some streets in his district and putting hours on speed limit downzones in school areas, Stokes says he's not interested in changing policies.
People in Hillyard want more money in their pockets and fewer taxes. They also could care less about downtown. In general, Stokes believes, people across the district are more concerned with state issues, or how their property is assessed. As for people in the far north of the district, he says, chuckling, "I don't know anything about what they need and want out of society."
DON'T FORGET TO VOTE!
Ballots for the primary election have already been mailed out, according to Vicky Dalton, Spokane County Auditor. That leaves voters with a little more than two weeks to make a decision. Ballots must be dropped off or postmarked by Tuesday, Aug. 21.
Depending on which district you live in, you'll help narrow the field of city council and strong mayor candidates down to two, who will compete in the November election.
For voters in need of a replacement ballot, Dalton says they should call the elections office at 477-2320 to request a substitute.