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Tale of Two Cities 

by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & o be elected mayor of Spokane means mastering a split as difficult as the 7-10 at a bowling alley. Each candidate, in these last weeks of the campaign, is taking careful aim north of the Spokane River, trying to hit a carom from rich Spokane to poor Spokane.





Scatter like tenpins all your ingrained stereotypes of rich and snobby South Hill investment bankers in tennis togs looking down their patrician noses at all the beery, stubbled north-side proles shambling around in sweatpants.





A map of how Spokane voted for Dennis Hession and Mary Verner in the August primary reveals the river is not the divider between haves and have-nots, despite the oft-repeated myth. The precinct map clearly shows a Spokane divided by economic contour lines -- the comfortable neighborhoods of Indian Trail in the far northwest and High Drive in the far south bracketing the blue-collar expanse in between.





And both candidates have been campaigning heavily on the north side, where businessman and city councilman Al French, the third major candidate in the five-way primary, left nearly 7,500 votes up for grabs.





French's votes are not a solid block. He mounted a pro-business, anti-Hession campaign and his votes may go to either candidate. Some business-interest donors to French have shown up as contributing to Hession, while neighborhood activist French donors have gone to Verner.





For the last half-century Spokane electoral politics has been less about North v. South and more about the "ins" and the "outs," no matter which bank of the river they are on. Mayoral elections particularly have been split between the kinds of people who get excited about big schemes to create a vibrant economic tide that will lift all boats... and the people who are in the boats.





The map is about progressives v. skeptics, one former mayor, Jack Geraghty (1994-97), says.





"It's about where the money is!" another former mayor, John Talbott (1998-2000), exclaims.





Hession is clearly the choice of the establishment "haves" and has raised more than any candidate in Spokane mayoral history, out-raising Verner nearly 3-to-1 in the primary, yet winning by only 304 votes.





"You'd think this pattern would change... but it hasn't," says Geraghty. "The form of government has changed but the pattern hasn't."





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & G & lt;/span & eraghty, a third-generation Spokanite, agreed to sit down with The Inlander in the big wing chairs in the lobby of the Davenport Hotel recently to look over the breakdown of the primary. His white hair set off by a maroon V-neck sweater, Geraghty glanced at the papers spread atop a glass-topped coffee table and recognized the map at once.





"Interesting," he said, tapping a finger against it. "This has been the pattern in Spokane -- for bond elections and mayoral races -- for nearly 50 years."





When Spokane adopted its council-manager form of government in 1960 -- under the stewardship of Mayor Neal Fosseen (1961-67, the penultimate two-term mayor) -- this voting pattern between progressives and skeptics, as Geraghty likes to call them, emerged and has become the norm. Prior to 1960, the city's five elected city commissioners chose the mayor from amongst themselves.





By progressives and skeptics, Geraghty says he means "the ins and the outs."





It's too crude to say the ins and outs are entirely separated by wealth. The distinctive split has more to do with nuance of class and culture -- and perhaps involvement with downtown business circles -- than it does with income or political affiliation. It reveals the social schizophrenia that can make Spokane such a hamstrung, second-guessing, passive-aggressive city. It's not so much that the ins and the outs have differing visions for the city, as much as who gets to choose and who has to pay for it.





There is enough skepticism among the working classes that races can be close despite heavy establishment investment into a candidate.





"The money bothers me... that much money from the powers in Spokane," says a third former mayor, Shari Barnard (1990-93). "But I don't think it makes a difference. The downtown business establishment is not the voters of Spokane."





But the thing with the ins is they really are the ins.





"The progressives are the people who are interested in building the city," Geraghty says. They are bankers, construction company owners, investors, developers, public relations meisters, utilities bigshots. And they are frequently interconnected through business dealings, by serving on various boards and involvement with economic development efforts.





"It's funny how the business community is so determined that they are right, so determined that they know what is best for everybody," says Barnard, sharing a cup of orange tea in a break room at the YWCA, where she volunteers.





That's because downtown business seldom hears outside voices, Talbott says.





"The establishment locked me out from the beginning," Talbott says during a telephone interview from his home in Pasco. He says the glossy economic initiatives are a result of the downtown establishment talking to itself.





It "doesn't come from the rank and file because the rank and file can't get off work to come to the meetings," Talbott says. "And if the entire professional community is supporting something like River Park Square, what chance does the little guy have of getting his street paved on East Liberty?"





Barnard shares a similar experience: "When I was elected mayor, I don't think the Chamber of Commerce ever called me."





If a Spokane mayor is business-oriented, Barnard says, "You spend all your time going to chamber meetings -- which I tried to do. I tried to do it all. As mayor, I spent time in the neighborhoods and out with the people on youth issues and different things, housing issues."





Talbott and Barnard are classic examples of what Geraghty calls skeptic mayors. Each won by a razor-thin margin against opponents who had far better funding from the establishment, in a climate where the establishment was under attack.





Barnard, a female neighborhood activist running against downtowner Rob Higgins, won in a year the city government was vilified for signing contracts with Wheelabrator to run the waste incinerator.





Talbott won in the backlash against River Park Square and The Spokesman-Review.





Geraghty says these large-scale civic trust issues appear key to a skeptic win.





"Skeptics are lower or middle income who are skeptical of The Spokesman-Review, for example, or whatever downtown is offering in the way of vision for the city," he says.





His own father, Geraghty says, a lifelong Democrat and north-sider, "never lost his skepticism of those guys on the other side of the river. Later in his life, my brother and I would take his ballot out and explain it to him and he would say, 'I'm just going to vote no on everything unless you can tell me there's something good in here.'"





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & o will the pattern hold in the general election? The electoral landscape is a bit cloudier this year. Hession and Verner are both South Hill attorneys, both white-collar professionals in suits. And there is no lightning-strike issue dividing voters. Twenty-five years of tax breaks for the development of Kendall Yards hasn't risen to the white-heat level of River Park Square, and the furor over street-side garbage pickup or tree pruning is hot-button for a relative few.





Yet, despite the candidates being in general agreement on many issues, Hession is clearly the choice of the establishment, with Verner cast as the outsider.





They split the South Hill pretty evenly. The action in the general election -- and ballots have been mailed this week -- is across the north side.





Verner, it seems, needs more presence among progressives in the higher-income Indian Trail precincts, while Hession must attract skeptics in West Central and Hillyard.





"Nobody has ever won -- at least as far as a mayoral campaign -- by carrying the northeast side," Geraghty points out.





Verner says some advisers in her campaign urge her to pound the northeast harder in an attempt to boost turnout in precincts that seem already favorable to her pitch.





Hession is also looking northeast. He taps the precinct map snd says, "I would say we need to work harder communicating our message to the people where I wasn't successful," he says. "There is a misperception about me that I am a suit."





Verner was nearly shut out around Indian Trail, where she tied French for the lead in one of the far northwest precincts and was second in only two others.





"The far northwest is one area I did not have an opportunity to do a 'Straight Talk,' as we called them, during the primary," Verner says. She hit the area when the neighborhood councils were on summer hiatus.





So Verner's campaign advice is split. One side says don't evaporate time and money in areas where Hession is showing strength. The other side says Verner is not well known in these precincts, thanks to the miss in the primary, and she must go there.





"The interesting thing about Mary," Geraghty says, "is in the little bit of polling that's been done, when it comes to showing her negatives, it shows she doesn't have any. This often gets people elected in Spokane."





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & G & lt;/span & eraghty cited Barnard's win over Rob Higgins; Higgins, although not in elected office, was tied to downtown business interests. With heavy establishment backing, he went on vacation just before the election. At about the same time, Barnard says, she was at her bank one day when the manager said, "I think you need to see this," and handed her information about a whispering campaign that was making the rounds downtown disparaging her.





"Avista hired a PR firm from Arizona that knew how to make women look terrible," Barnard claims. "They said if I won I would be a horror for Spokane." When the news hit the media, the tide turned.





Verner's scheduler, Judith Gilmore, herself a veteran of three Spokane campaigns, says the Hession campaign's recent negative push-polling and accusations during debates can backfire.





"You start cutting away at your own ankles when you do that," Gilmore says.





Verner, Gilmore says, is trying to reach out to the establishment to augment her strength in the blue-collar neighborhoods.





"I feel I am not well-known by, say, the development community, so I am trying to get myself in front of the development community," Verner says.





Verner and Gilmore each tell a story that Rich Hadley, president of Greater Spokane Inc., "said right to Mary's face that 'When my members think Mary Verner, they don't think business,'" Gilmore says.





"So I developed a little paper 'Mary Verner means business,'" Verner says.





She also recently made a pitch before the Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors, who appeared ready to endorse Hession. After her visit, the group split its endorsement and campaign donation.





Hession may have a tougher task trying to reach the skeptic vote, Geraghty says.





Blowups in neighborhood issues -- such as when dozens of Corbin Park residents rolled out their garbage cans and surrounded Hession during a summer campaign appearance to protest street-side garbage pickup -- hurt the incumbent, Geraghty says.





"When I ran, our campaign theme was 'We are not part of the problem.' Later one of my friends said, 'Now that you are elected, you are going to be part of the problem," Geraghty says.





On the other hand, "The city is doing well right now. Things are good and Dennis should reap the benefits of that."





But the main theme of Spokane elections is this, he says: "In this city, all politics is in the neighborhoods. And in the neighborhoods, if people get riled up, they could be a factor."





Spokane County elections workers are mailing out ballots this week. If filled out and returned by mail, they must be postmarked by Nov. 6. They can also be returned to the county Election Office at 1033 W. Gardner or dropped in the ballot return boxes outside each of the libraries in the county.
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