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Veteran Vs. Rookie 

by Kevin Taylor & r & The race for the City Council seat representing District One, or northeast Spokane, pits a smooth incumbent with a decade of ties to neighborhood groups against a 41-year-old political rookie.

Al French, an architect and four-year councilman, faces Valentina (Tina) Howard.

French says he has created more than 2,000 jobs in Spokane, citing his work as a developer to recruit businesses for NorthTown Mall's expansion, as well as the attraction or expansion of other retailers.

Howard says she and her brothers were among the first 100 children in Spokane who qualified for the hot-breakfast program at Grant Elementary.

It's a race split by whether you write the paycheck or cash it.

Howard has been married 16 years, is a mom, school volunteer, charter bus driver, bowling coach and union organizer. Not surprisingly, money features in her campaign.

"Al French never met a tax he didn't like," Howard says. "Doesn't he know we have working people in this district? We're not architects. We don't have big money like he does."

Howard's blue-collar ethic aligns with French's small-business owner approach at least on one matter: fixing the city's chronic budget shortfall.

"We need to bring more industry into Spokane," she says.

"We need to restore stability through growth, not through taxes," French says.

The lack of industry has contributed to a stagnant tax base in Spokane, which every year this decade has dealt with a multi-million-dollar budget gap.

The mayor and City Council last month agreed to ask voters for a property tax increase and a utility tax increase -- even though Spokane has the highest utility tax in the state.

The tax increases are a burden on low-income residents of the district, Howard says. She opposes the hikes.

French also opposes the taxes. Utility taxes, like sales taxes, "are regressive. They hurt people on the lower end of the economic scale the worst."

French brings a bit of social justice into the equation. The Northeast District -- home to auto dealers, malls, utility headquarters and industrial sites -- generates nearly 60 percent of Spokane's tax revenues. "If we were our own city, we'd be second to only [the area around] Bellevue Square in revenue per capita," he says.

But in return, Hillyard and other northeast neighborhoods are shorted by the city. "We have one high school -- the other districts have two. We have one library -- the other districts have two. Our parks are playfields, while other districts have parks like Manito, Comstock or Audubon that have open space," French says.

He believes a business-friendly climate will help the city balance its books. Business districts typically require only 65 cents in city services for every tax dollar collected, he says, instead of a residential district's $1.35 in costs per $1 collected.

Howard doesn't say how the city could balance the budget except to offer a statement that the police department, for instance, could cut administrative spots.

"They have more chiefs than Indians," Howard says.

Howard feels a little innovation could go a long way. The city could install more street lights in troubled neighborhoods around Hillyard.

"It's a proven fact streetlights cut crime at least in half," Howard says. Less crime, she argues, "brings up the value of the neighborhood. More businesses might locate there if it's safer. So instead of people on welfare or homeless, they could have jobs and support their families.

"So many simple things could be done," she says. "Let's try something. If it doesn't work, then we'll go onto something else instead of sitting around and harping on it."

Howard admits to running a grassroots campaign and being virtually unknown. She says proudly, however, that she understands the people of her district because she has dealt with the same sort of job-related and low-income issues.

French says he understands the district, too, and has a plan to address budget shortfalls to ease the tax burden on the people who live there.

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