by Pia K. Hansen, Ted S. Mc Gregor Jr. and Cara Gardner
As Tuesday's primary election results unfolded -- with all precincts counted by about 9:30 pm -- it was clear that anyone crazy enough to make a prediction couldn't have predicted this. Just another election in Spokane. Earlier in the day, we fanned out across the city, interviewing citizens after they voted. Later in the evening, we caught up with many of the candidates. Although this one won't be certified until Sept. 26 (although by Friday, most results will be finalized), here's what we found out:
Proposition One: Strong Mayor -- With a storyline eerily similar to the recall fiasco unfolding in California, Spokane's own recall was soundly drubbed on Tuesday night. With an estimated 8,000 or so more votes left to count, Proposition One, which would have rescinded the strong mayor system, only earned 36 percent of the vote. Out at the polling places, voters were thoroughly confused.
"All this confusion about Proposition One, it kind of interests me the same way the California recall interests me," said Michael Cannon, a voter we met on Tuesday afternoon at the East Central Community Center. "I think it's too much effort to put into something like this. I think both types of government can work, but I ended up going against the proposition. It's mostly a matter of money. I don't want us to spend a lot of money and time on another switch of government again, right now. I don't think we can afford that."
"I voted no -- I mean, I voted to keep the strong mayor," said Christy Johnson outside of the Northeast Community Center in Hillyard. "That was confusing. I thought to myself, 'You know, I'm a college-educated person, and I'm having to reread through this because I don't understand the way they're asking it, so what does that mean for other people?' "
Only a few weeks back, it seemed like Spokane's three-year-old system could be headed for the dustbin of history, but after Sen. Jim West and former Mayor Sheri Barnard got in the race, the media coverage shifted to the candidates more than the system. Then a last-minute court ruling called Proposition One's constitutionality into question.
"I chose not to vote on Prop One because it was confusing. I heard it was unconstitutional, but now it's up in the air -- I don't know," said Melinda Crane outside of the Shadle Park Presbyterian Church.
Some voters, however, said they were able to make sense of it and even separate the person in the office from the office itself.
"I think we should keep strong mayor, so I voted no," said Alec Gonzales at Shadle Park Presbyterian Church. "I really didn't think it was too confusing to figure out what was going on. And I think strong mayor is a good system if we get the right mayor in there. I didn't like Powers."
"I don't think this election was that confusing," said Mike Kirschbaum outside of Grant Elementary School on the lower South Hill. "I followed the issues, like Proposition One, all along, and I understood completely what was going on."
Still, with such a wide margin of defeat, it looks like the court ruling wasn't much of a factor. Voters we talked to who supported strong mayor had some fairly straightforward reasons.
"I voted to keep the strong mayor. I figured it just hasn't been long enough to go and change it," said Jeff McCormick, also at Grant.
"I like the strong mayor system -- as long as Powers doesn't win -- so I voted no on this one. Powers has a closed government, I don't like that," said Randy Gorman, after casting his ballot at Northeast Community Center. "I mean, this way at least you can vote them out of office if you don't like them. With a city manager, it's harder to get rid of people -- look at Bill Pupo, he got away with murder while he was there."
Opponents of the new system, however, sounded a familiar theme, that professional management is what Spokane really needs.
"I was one of the people who signed the petition to get it back on the ballot, so I voted yes," said Christa DiStefano, also at Shadle Presbyterian. "I want to go back to city manager -- I want someone in there who has been trained and educated to run a city. I have been disappointed in [Mayor] Powers and what he has done."
Only time will tell if this is the last we'll hear from the anti-strong mayor forces. Perhaps it will depend on the effectiveness of the next person to hold the office. It will be harder to get on the ballot each time, but some things, like the Arena and the incorporation of Spokane Valley, took multiple attempts before they won approval. At the very least, the wrangling over the legality of this attempt appears to have been rendered moot by the voters' decision.
Mayor of Spokane -- By Thursday evening, Spokane citizens should know the outcome for sure, but as of Tuesday night, it looked fairly certain that Jim West and Tom Grant would be the men to choose between come November. Spokane County Election Manager Paul Brandt told us that county election officials expected between 7,500 and 9,000 more absentee ballots to come in from city voters. Incumbent Mayor John Powers trailed Grant by about 1,200 votes -- quite a margin to overcome. He's got to hope the procrastinators love him.
How do you explain an incumbent mayor not even making it out of the primary election? This is Spokane, where the last time a mayor was reelected was at the time of Expo. That's right, 1974.
"It's a very Spokane reaction, to discard the past in hopes of a better future," said Chamber of Commerce President Chris Marr outside Powers' campaign headquarters on Tuesday night.
"It's difficult to repeat in this city," said Dennis Hession, candidate for city council president, upon hearing the result. "I don't know what to say about that. Maybe we haven't found what people want in a mayor in Spokane. We lead somewhat of a tough life here in Spokane sometimes because of the economy. We are kind of a fragile people; we don't react well to the people who lead us. Losing out [like Powers appears to have done] happens to a lot of good quality people."
At least one voter was working against the mayoral reelection jinx: "John Powers, yes, I do think he deserves another term," said Kirschbaum. "One term just isn't enough when you are looking at a new type of government. One term wouldn't be enough for anybody."
Powers addressed his supporters Tuesday night, saying he'd wait for all the votes to be counted, but he admitted that overcoming his deficit is a "very large challenge." Certainly there will be a lot of shoulda, coulda, wouldas in the Powers camp if the numbers hold as expected. He shoulda bought a TV campaign, he coulda courted Sheri Barnard so she wouldn't pull a Ross Perot on him by stealing crucial votes, and he woulda been more effective if he didn't have the weight of establishing an entirely new form of government on his shoulders. Clearly, this primary battle was all about Powers, as every candidate used him as their punching bag -- not to mention the Spokesman-Review, perhaps unhappy over his treatment of its owners' real estate deals. That pounding, combined with such a crowded field, was too much for him to overcome.
On the 14th floor of the Davenport Hotel, West entertained a small group of well-wishers. A veteran of many a political campaign, after entering the race late, he made up ground fast. The lone Republican in a race of four non-Republicans (not all admit to being Democrats), West also held the promise of political expertise.
"I think the late start almost helped," West said in between TV interviews Tuesday night. "We didn't have a lot of early overhead, and we didn't waste a lot of money. We also learned a lot over the past three years watching John [Powers], and we were able to hear what all the other candidates were saying."
West's message remains simple: "Our message is resonating," he said. "It's about jobs and restoring trust in City Hall. People want to see some results, to see the mayor and the city council working together. They want less talk and more action."
It's a message at least some voters seemed to be getting. "I went for Jim West because he's a man with a solid political background, and he's conservative, which I think fits with what I believe," said Johnson in Hillyard.
"I voted for Jim West. I know him and I think we need his experience," said Cannon. "I have watched him in the legislature, and I think he is a master legislator."
One big wild card in the race was West's health. Earlier this year, he was diagnosed with colon cancer, for which he is currently undergoing treatment. Telling voters flatly that he is not cured yet, it didn't seem to hurt him.
The big surprise, however, is that Grant appears to be headed for the general election, proving the Spokesman-Review's recent poll wrong (take that, Del Ali!). Loosely following Arnold Schwarzenegger's script (who needs experience when you have charisma and promise to clean house), Grant worked hard all summer long, winning votes one hot dog at a time at his weekly picnics.
"The funny thing," said Grant just before going on Fox News on Tuesday night, "is that this outcome is indicative of what we have seen from day one when we started gathering signatures to get me on the ballot. People were tired of the city council doing this and the mayor doing that, and they were pretty much disappointed with John Powers.
"This is really because of the volunteers and the organization that we put together. We had a great group of people who believed we could do this -- and worked for free. And we made it."
Grant also follows in the local footsteps of John Talbott, who was an outsider critic of city government before being elected mayor in 1997. The upswelling of support was tangible, but hard to pin down, even for Grant's supporters.
"I voted for Tom Grant. I don't know, I guess I decided on that by just talking to friends and things. I've never met him or heard anything he's had to say," said McCormick.
"I voted for Tom Grant because I really like him," said Gorman. "I read a lot of the stuff he did for the other paper. He did a lot of good reporting on River Park Square."
"Mr. West has probably has been through this before, I'm sure" Grant said of what's ahead in the next six weeks. "We are still building a constituency -- that's where we have an advantage, I think. We are still building on the constituency."
As for analysis, there are two ways of looking at the general election. One is that West got his dream opponent, and he'll bludgeon Grant for his lack of experience for the next six weeks. Coming from Spokane's most experienced politician, it could be a powerful weapon. Another school of thought is that if Grant can corral the support of the other three non-Republican candidates to take on many Democrat's favorite Republican to hate, he can get over the top. Money will be another story, as Grant has had to run a bootstrap campaign to now, while West is very well connected. Metropolitan Mortgage, however, could be a difference maker: Will the firm invest heavily in Tom Grant, or will it think it's work is done with Powers eliminated and sit this race out, content with either man in office?
The Spokesman-Review has already endorsed West (and Grant used to work for the Local Planet), so some of the media endorsements are already done, too. The Review's support of West may set Grant's River Park Square senses to tingling, and as in the primary, he may make the garage problem a big issue, even though polling and our anecdotal visits with voters on Tuesday suggest it's not the issue it once was.
As for the also-rans, Barnard was the spoiler (of Powers) while City Councilman Steve Corker was the spoiled (by Grant).
Barnard seemed as relaxed as she did when she decided to run on a whim, on the last morning candidates could file for office.
"I'm glad I ran, and I had a great time doing it," Barnard said from her home where she spent election night. "Let them have at it. I'm glad I don't have to be a part of this. It's going to be a tough, tough race, I can tell you that.
"Everybody was saying it was a race against Powers," said Corker on Tuesday night, "but I think a lot of my support base started to be taken over by Grant. West took some of the liberal Republican votes, and Barnard took some of the Democrat votes that otherwise would have come to me.
"I'm disappointed," Corker added. "I wanted to be mayor - but my congratulations go to West and Grant. Powers finishing third behind Grant, that just blows my mind."
Council President -- They have been serving side-by-side on the City Council for some time, and now Al French and Dennis Hession will be facing off in the general election, both trying to become the new council president.
On election night, neither was surprised about the outcome of the primary.
"No, I'm not surprised at all," said French, as he was leaving his election night party at the Red Lion Inn at the Park. "We felt very comfortable with this election. We're exactly where we wanted to be."
Hession said he thought Pam Behring had done a good job with her campaign, even if she came in last.
"She did a heck of a job as far as learning the ropes of campaigning," said Hession. "There is an advantage to incumbency sometimes. People know me and French. We are on TV every Monday night."
That advantage was not shared at the mayor's level, however, as both incumbents, Powers and Corker, didn't win enough votes to advance (unless additional ballots swing wildly in Powers' direction).
Hession said he and French don't differ a lot on the issues that come before the city council.
"To me, it comes down to our different leadership styles," said Hession. "Without focusing on French, I think that voters see in me someone who presents a balanced perspective. I don't personalize issues, I try not to have political agendas."
French agrees that one campaign issue definitely will be leadership.
"I'm sure the campaign will focus on the differences between our leadership. I have a track record of successes. I've been active in the neighborhood council for years; my neighborhood was ranked third in the entire nation," said French. "Also, my level of commitment is stronger. I'm committing to make it a full-time job and Hession isn't. For him it's a part-time job."
Hession says there's nothing wrong with his record, commitment or his goals.
"The key thing for me is to manage the legislative direction of the council and the constructive interaction with the mayor's office, no matter who is mayor," said Hession. "It ought to be two branches of government working together and doing the best for the citizens."
French is looking forward to working with the new mayor, no matter who it is -- but he was still surprised to see Grant and West advance to the general election, adding that the additional votes yet to be counted could surprise people.
"It'll be interesting to see if those results stay the same over the next few hours and days," said French.
These are the results as of Tuesday night, with all 268 county precincts reporting, and 63,208 votes counted -- about half of whom voted in the city. Election officials expect to get between 15,000 and 18,000 more absentee ballots -- countywide -- this week, most of which will be counted Thursday, Sept. 18. The election will be certified and final by Sept. 26.
SPOKANE COUNTY PROPOSITION 1
RENEWAL OF COUNTY SALES TAX FOR JUVENILE DETENTION FACILITIES