Friday, April 13, 2018

Actually, turns out Ben Stuckart WILL run for mayor in 2019 after all

Striking a call for more urbanism, density and transparency, City Council President Ben Stuckart is running for mayor. For real this time...

Posted By on Fri, Apr 13, 2018 at 4:16 PM

click to enlarge Actually, turns out Ben Stuckart WILL run for mayor in 2019 after all
Daniel Walters photo
Welp, Stuckart's running for mayor again
Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart was thinking of running for mayor of Spokane. It was December of 2014, and Stuckart's allies had commissioned a poll to encourage him to run for mayor. But ultimately, with his dad falling ill, he decided not to run. He's wrestled with that decision ever since.

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart was running for mayor of Spokane. It was April of 2016, three years before the election, but according to Stuckart it was as, "a sure thing as you can get."

But unless something drastic happened, Stuckart said then, he was going to be running for mayor in 2019.

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart had decided not to run for mayor of Spokane, after all. It was December of 2016, and Stuckart not running for mayor was as a sure thing as you can get.

"I will definitively not be running for mayor in 2019," Stuckart said.

The election of Donald Trump had sealed it. He would run for Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers' U.S. House of Representatives seat instead. 

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart had decided not to run for U.S. House of Representatives after all.  It was June of 2017, and with his family facing some serious health issues, he'd decided to drop out of the race and concentrate on helping them.

"The campaign was only going to get busier," Stuckart told the Inlander. "The health issues in my families are only going to get more intense. I’m not able to fully focus right now. That’s only going to get worse."

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart is running for mayor of Spokane.

"I am going to run for mayor," Stuckart says today, in the lobby of an under-construction building on the east side of Spokane. "There is nothing that is going to make me back out. I'm committed to the race." 

He'd thought about running a lot during the past year, but decided he would about two months ago. He says he wanted to be open and honest about his intentions to run.

"I'm running for mayor as 'Ben.' The guy who averages a parking ticket a week. The guy with a coffee tab at Atticus and a beer tab at Community Pint," Stuckart says, a crowd of supporters behind him. "I know our city. I love our city. I know what we can do, together."

Stuckart has the unique position of having actually designed the local campaign finance laws that will govern his own race.

"I think the law I've passed is actually going to make it harder for me," Stuckart says. (We assessed the possible impact of a possible Stuckart mayoral run here.)

Stuckart has a reputation as a key member of the city's liberal bloc, leading the council to introduce regulations about sick leave and passionately arguing for more protections for immigrants. He championed changing the name of Columbus Day to "Indigenous People's Day."

But in his campaign announcement, Stuckart stressed another part of his political identity harder: As an urbanist, the sort of leader enthusiastically supportive of dense, walkable developments. He looks at the city's extremely narrow vacancy rate, driving homelessness. He argues that more density is crucial to be able to fund more police officers and city services.

"I think urbanism is different from liberal and conservative. What urbanism is, is 'what do we want our cities to look like in the future. And are we willing to have mixed-income neighborhoods in the future, and live next to people who have different income levels?'" Stuckart says. "That's how you cure prejudice. Is 'we're all together in this,' right?

He says he sees a lot of classism in discussions around development.

"People say to me that they don't want apartments near them. What they're saying is, when we get down to it, 'We don't want poor people next to us,'" Stuckart says. "We need mixed-income neighborhoods. We all need to come together. We're stronger together. We're better together."

In the past, Stuckart has been a rare liberal to get an endorsement from the Spokane Home Builders Association. He floated the possibility of asking voters for more taxes to support the development and other services.  He endorsed the controversial Greenstone development on the South Hill. He says he'll be leading the charge to decrease barriers for dense residential development, even if it irritates neighborhoods.

“I saw an email, from somebody the other day in one of our neighborhoods, that said ‘We have steeped roofs, and this would allow flat roofs, and we are opposed to these infill changes because we don’t want flat roofs in our community’,” Stuckart says, doing an indignant neighbor voice. “I just was, like, waaaaah?! We need density in our community!"

In an Inlander interview in December of 2016, however, Stuckart made the case against Ben Stuckart for mayor. 'Mayor' wasn't necessarily the right role for him.

He noted his own relative lack of experience running as large of an organization as Spokane.

"The largest organization I’ve run as an administrator is a $36 million revenue company with 50 employees," Stuckart told the Inlander, referring to Tickets West. "I think my strengths might play more toward working with others and getting legislation passed."

His talent was as a legislator, he said, not an administrator.

"That’s my strength," Stuckart said then. "I want to play to my strength."

Not only that, but Stuckart suggested that his long tenure at the city was a weakness.

"If I were in city government for 12 years that might pose some challenges," he said. "I’m best going in and making changes."

Today, Stuckart disagrees with his previous assessment. He says he has strengths of both a legislator and an administrator, arguing that his insight into the inner workings of City Hall is valuable.

Still, he admits he has weaknesses. 

"I'm going to admit right now, that I am a flawed candidate," Stuckart says. "I have a lengthy legislative record. I've done controversial things."

Today, he says a few of his votes were wrong, like the decision to support spending  $150,000 for rocks under the freeway.

Stuckart is not afraid to change his mind. He has a college debate champ's talent for passionately taking one side of the issue, and then just as passionately and articulately taking the other side when he shifts his position. Most prominently, in the summer of 2016, he fervently argued for an ordinance to fine oil train cars carrying highly explosive oil. Just a few weeks later, however, he argued for withdrawing the measure from the ballot.

"I don't believe it has a chance of survival, whether it passes or not," Stuckart announced. "It's not legally defensible."

But when the ordinance actually got to the ballot, Stuckart acknowledged he'd voted for it.

At times, Stuckart's passion can turn into bombast or even anger. More than once, he's clashed with speakers speaking at public forums, even gaveling the meeting to a close before everyone had spoken.

"Today is the day the paper died," Stuckart wrote on Facebook in January, fuming about a Spokesman-Review op-ed from Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase that argued for making Eastern Washington a separate state.  "Accepting and printing this is why we cannot have nice things in Eastern Washington."

Today, Stuckart announces he's deleted the Facebook app from his phone.

He's clashed in dramatic ways with Mayor David Condon in the past, calling him a liar. A city attorney candidate called Stuckart "toxic" and a "bully." And while he noted that his announcement wasn't about bashing the current administration, Stuckart leveled several areas of criticism against Condon today. In particular, he objected to the recent, unexplained decision to fire city planning director Lisa Key.

Traditionally, the Condon administration has been reticent to discuss exactly why it fired its police chief, street director, or two different planning directors.

"I would explain it, and be transparent about that," Stuckart says. "I know there are legal issues ... It's complicated. But I'll try to be as transparent as possible. I don't think withholding public records is very transparent." 

Ultimately, Stuckart says, there are some pretty serious things that need change with the city.

"If you think the status quo, don't vote for me. If you think everything is hunky-dory in Spokane, I absolutely don't think you should vote for me." Stuckart says. "Just like the building we're in, there are some rough, rough edges, right now. There's some dirt in the floor. There's some unfinished ceilings. We've got to get to work."

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...