by Ted S. McGregor Jr., Pia K. Hansen and Jacob H. Fries
It had to be one of the coldest Election Days on record, with the mercury dropping into the teens by the time the polls closed on Tuesday night at 8 pm. Could it be that hell was freezing over? Indeed, big changes were coming for Spokane, but maybe not that big. The strong mayor system got its second wind, with a new mayor and council president, and the three-year-old districting system came full circle, with every council member, save the president, elected by district.
But overall it was a quiet election, and when combined with the cold weather, a low turnout seemed likely. There was no statewide initiative that was whipping people into a frenzy. Sure, there was the repeal of the ergonomics rules, I-841, but nothing that offered taxpayers the kind of relief they generally turn out for. Spokane County election officials had predicted that 50 percent of the registered voters would turn out. In the city, that's about half of 96,000 people. With several thousand more ballots to count by Monday, the turnout on Tuesday appears to have been approaching that 50 percent mark.
Spokane Mayor: Jim West -- This race was a study in contrasts, with the tried-and-true Jim West facing off against the flashier, made-for-TV Tom Grant. Back in August, West told us that "People just want stable government." Not exactly the most inspiring message, but apparently it was the one that enough voters wanted to hear.
Grant, meanwhile, came out of nowhere to surprise the primary field, then fell just short of becoming mayor. Back in August, he told us that "Everybody else has a constituency. We don't have one. Our constituency is something we're out there creating." In the weeks to follow, that's just what he did, with relentless picnicking, doorbelling and sticking donated signs in people's yards.
In a way, it was a replay of what happened in California, where political newcomer Arnold Schwarzenegger became the governor of the largest state in the union with almost no experience. Arnold inspired people with vague talk; Grant campaigned on specifics and inspired people, too. Ultimately, however, the city chose experience over enthusiasm; the pragmatist over the dreamer.
Over at the Marie Antoinette Room at the Davenport Hotel, West's HQ on election night, a throng of well-wishers congratulated the visibly pleased former state Senator.
"I'm not quite sure [what my title is] yet," said West. "Mayor-senator I guess? It's been a good day, I have been out there in the cold waving at cars all day. I've worried, I've been on pins and needles," he added. "But the supporters came out and voted for me, it's been a very positive experience."
"And now?" said West with a smile, turning to shake yet another supporter's hand. "Well now we have to run the city."
Out in the polling places, the divide between those who chose experience and those who were looking for new energy was easy to see.
"I voted for Jim West; he is more experienced, but I never thought I was going to vote for him," said Tammy Blair, who voted at Manito United Methodist Church on 32nd and Grand Boulevard. "I went to a panel discussion, and I perceived Tom Grant as being more divisive and not as well informed."
Anna Carlson, 49, a massage therapist who has her own clinic, voted at Assumption Church on Indian Trail Road. She said she liked West's pro-business stance: "He works with people in small business. He knows who to talk to and what to get done."
"Basically," Carlson added, "we haven't had any leadership. We've had people without any experience and too much squabbling."
But Grant's appeal was clear, too.
Robert Wetmore, 51, who works for Spokane Public Schools and voted at the Northeast Community Center in Hillyard, chose Grant: "I didn't want old money to be running the town any longer. I know West is not for education. Grant's journalism background is going to help, and he'll dig into stories happening around the city. Betsy Cowles won't have as much influence over him."
"I voted for Tom Grant," said Barbara Norton, who also voted at Grant Elementary, not far from Grant's home. "Everyone in the neighborhood likes him. Everyone talks about how West has more experience, but I don't think that counts for that much. If you are too much of a politician, then I think you are bought and paid for."
For Spokane, this was a very clean race, with neither candidate "going negative." And a few things that you might have guessed would be issues, say, back in August, didn't turn out to be issues by Election Day. For one, West's health doesn't appear to have been held against him by voters. West is still battling cancer, although his doctors have said he is doing well.
And for the first time in years, this election appears not to have swung on the issue of River Park Square. Grant made detailed plans of how he would tackle the city's most nagging legal issue; West didn't say much. It appears the voters could live with that approach.
Perhaps money did make a difference, as West, who raised nearly $200,000, was able to blanket the airwaves with ads in the days before the election. But Grant's strong showing also proved that a grassroots campaign can work. And the differing opinions we heard out at the polling places proved that there are still deep divisions in Spokane -- about where it should go and how it should get there.
Some, however, like Frank Rose, 46, a letter carrier who voted in Hillyard, were looking for a third choice. "I was disappointed in the mayor race. I didn't think either was great, and when I saw there was a third line on the card, I wrote someone in," he said. His write-in choice: John Stockton.
Council President: Dennis Hession -- In the race billed as either-guy-can-do-it, Dennis Hession edged out the more experienced Al French. It's hard to point to any one thing, but perhaps the fact that French hails from the district with the smallest number of registered voters was just enough to make a difference. According to Spokane County voting records, 25,756 people are registered to vote in District One, which should be French's base of support; in District Two, the South Hill that Hession represents, 34,641 are registered.
Although campaign contributions became an issue at the end of the race, this one, like the mayor's race, was cleanly waged.
Still, out across the city, a lot of people expressed ambivalence toward the pair, often saying that it was a toss-up, a decision they only made at the ballot box.
"I liked both of the guys, and I had to say eenie-meenie-minie-mo on that one," said Glenn Owens, 66, tossing up his hands outside the Westminster Presbyterian Church on West Boone. He didn't say which one he chose.
"I voted for Al French; he just sounded like he'd be the better candidate," said Rob Davies, who voted at Grant Elementary on Ninth and Perry. "He's been around for a while. I think he knows the system better than Hession does."
"It's a no-brainer," said Stefanie DeMent, 38, an early childhood trainer, who voted for French in his Northeast District. "Al French knows the reality of poverty in Spokane. I don't think you see it unless you live here."
"I voted for Hession," said April Krieger, who voted at Manito United Methodist Church on 32nd and Grand Boulevard, in Hession's home district. "I felt like he'd be better at directing our nutty city council."
French will remain on the city council; come January, the council will have to select a new council member from the South Hill district to fill Hession's seat.
City Council Races -- The face of the city council has officially changed. Districting has brought its changes, and only the future will reveal whether the new system has created a better council. With three relative political neophytes added in after this election, however, it should at the very least be different.
One voter we talked to Tuesday said she liked the new system better than the old one: "I think it's better with the districts, you get to know people better," said Barbara Norton, who voted at Grant Elementary on Ninth and Perry. "The district is like a microcosm of the macrocosm, which is the whole entire city. I like that."
District One: Bob Apple -- By winning 50 percent of the vote in the primary, Terrie Beaudreau seemed like a safe bet to advance. But on election night, bar owner Bob Apple pulled off the upset. District One is known as the district with the least voters, but apparently Apple connected with enough of them. Apple had run for election two years ago, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, when "no one was interested in anything but what we were going to do about terrorism," he said.
This time Apple feels he has a mandate to follow through with his campaign promises.
"We're to fix the streets," he said by cell phone between stops on election night. "That's what I told people I would do, and I'm going to make that point very clear in council."
The voters we met, however, didn't seem to know much about either candidate.
Stefanie DeMent, 38, an early childhood trainer, and her husband Rodney DeMent, 42, who works at Target, both voted for Bob Apple. "We didn't have much information to go on," she admitted after casting her ballot at the Northeast Community Center in Hillyard.
District Two: Brad Stark -- After earning 54 percent of the vote in the primary, it appeared that all Brad Stark had to do was get the same people to support him in the general election. He did that and more, winning by a wide margin. One of the youngest council members in recent memory, the 24-year-old was excited about the next four years when we caught up with him at his election night party at Heroes and Legends.
"We're really excited about working with all the new council," Stark said. "We have the chance to check our egos at the door and serve the citizens of Spokane."
Stark said he supported the district system, saying it forced candidates to go in neighborhoods and listen. "We knocked on more than 5,000 doors and heard their concerns," he said. Topping the list were economic development and transportation issues.
What he learned on the campaign trail: "There's an overwhelmingly consensus in Spokane that we can do better."
Out in the South Hill district, voters seemed familiar with the candidates, proving perhaps that district representation allows voters to get to know their leaders better. "I voted for Brad Stark," said Robin Waller, who voted at Manito United Methodist Church on 32nd and Grand Boulevard. "I know him from his work at the Red Cross, and I admire his integrity."
One voter even suggested that all the ink spilled by local publications actually makes a difference: "Brad Stark. Actually, I read The Inlander and The Spokesman-Review Sunday morning for breakfast, and you both endorsed him," said Tammy Blair, who voted at Manito United Methodist Church. "That swayed me."
District Three: Joe Shogan -- In running for so many different offices over the years, Barbara Lampert's candidacy came off at times like a novelty act, and few voters flocked to her message, as she lost in landslide. Attorney Joe Shogan won easily, commenting at his election night party at Waverly Place Bed and Breakfast that the new council should be a breath of fresh air for the city.
"I think there's a good blend of experience and new vitality," he said.
Shogan, who grew up in the Northwest district, said that the district system brings the political arena down to the neighborhood level. "I believe it gives the people of the city better representation for their particular area," he said. "I learned a lot about the people I'm representing. I had to. There are 42 precincts in my district."
Out in the Northwest district, voters, in general, didn't have a strong reaction to either candidate, though the ones we talked to all either voted for Joe Shogan or said they were uninformed and weren't going to vote for either.
At the Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Central, Hayley Wilson, 19, a secretary at Veterans Medical Center, voted for Shogan. "It was his picture. I liked it. I know it's terrible," she said, burying her face in her hands, "but at least I'm honest."
Initiative 841: Yes -- On the state's lone initiative, it appears that the media campaign to portray the ergonomics rules as bad for business were successful. The rules were rescinded by a wide margin, and voters we talked to seemed to raise many of the same questions that the campaign raised. There were some who wanted to stick with the rules, however, as an added protection for workers.
"I've seen people with ergonomic injuries and I didn't want to see their coverage taken away," said Jolene Andres, an office manager at Mead High School, who voted at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Central.
Dave McRae, 53, an instructor at North Idaho College, who also voted there, said: "The thing was confusing. It reads like no means yes and yes means no." He voted yes to repeal the law. "Half of ergonomics is common sense on part of a human being," he said, adding, "I'm curiously on the side of big business this time."
Stefanie DeMent, 38, an early childhood trainer, who voted at the Northeast Community Center in Hillyard, didn't like the campaign: "I hate the trickery. They had a lot of money to get people to repeal it. The ads were pretty far-fetched."
Election Results: These are the results as of Tuesday night, with all 268 county precincts reporting. Election officials will count the remaining absentee ballots by Monday, Nov. 10.