Spokane liberals had a good night.
The race for mayor is still too close to call, but longtime Democratic politician Lisa Brown currently leads incumbent conservative Mayor Nadine Woodward by 3.5 points. In a speech Tuesday evening, Brown said she was feeling hopeful. But there are still thousands of ballots left to count, and things could change.
Ballot returns for City Council races paint an even stronger picture for progressives, but the candidates will have to wait longer than expected to fully celebrate.
Wednesday afternoon was supposed to bring an additional batch of results, but around 10 am, a Spokane County Elections worker found an envelope with an unknown white powder inside while counting ballots. The county elections office was quickly evacuated as hazmat workers and police showed up to investigate.
Elections offices in Pierce, Skagit and King counties were also evacuated because of envelopes containing mysterious white power on Wednesday.
It’s still unclear exactly what happened, but in a news release, Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said the employee who came into contact with the power is fine, and that the powder tested negative for anthrax. Police said the powder did, however, test positive for fentanyl. Renton police also reported traces of fentanyl in the envelope sent to the King County elections office.
Dalton said employees were sent home for the day, and that the second batch of election results will be released Thursday before 5 pm.
WINS FOR THE LEFT
Despite the unexpected delay, early returns still show a strong progressive lead in most races — and a difficult road ahead for conservatives.
- In the race for City Council President, Council member Betsy Wilkerson leads local business owner Kim Plese by 6.5%.
- Progressive activist Paul Dillon, who until recently worked as vice president of public affairs for the local Planned Parenthood, leads Katey Treloar, a former educator, by more than 7 points in the race for south Spokane’s District 2.
- The largest margin is in northeast Spokane’s District 3, where environmental advocate Kitty Klitzke leads Earl Moore, a former respiratory therapist, by a whopping 20%.
- The only conservative to come out on top is incumbent City Council member Michael Cathcart, who has an 8-point lead over progressive advocate and former neighborhood council chair Lindsey Shaw in the race for northwest Spokane’s District 1.
Cathcart is a member of the City Council’s two-person conservative minority. He’s often an ally of mayor Woodward’s, but has also criticized her administration over budget and communication issues. Cathcart and Treloar are the only two candidates who were subjected to $0 in negative attack ad spending from political action committees this year.
With these early results showing that liberals will likely maintain their majority on the City Council, and if Brown maintains her lead, city government would almost entirely be controlled by progressives.
The only other conservative city victory on election night came with Proposition 1, a ballot initiative that would ban camping within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds and child care facilities. Every liberal candidate this year said the ban would face legal challenges, and only shuffle people around to other parts of the city. But the initiative passed with 75% of the vote, and the public apparently agreeing with the conservative-backed proposal.
Progressives did, however, see a victory with the failure of Measure 1, which would have raised sales tax by 0.2% to fund a new jail and other public safety measures. Liberal candidates called it a blank check that lacked clarity on how the money would be spent. Voters seemed to agree: early ballot returns show the measure failing big-time with 62% of voters opposed.
PROGRESSIVES PARTY AT RIVERSIDE
Brown, Wilkerson, Shaw, Dillon and Klitzke ran for office this year as a tight progressive ticket — pooling volunteer resources and teaming up for weekend door-belling sessions.
City races are technically nonpartisan, and the Woodward slate of conservative candidates tended to shy away from Republican labels. Brown’s progressive slate of candidates, however, were more comfortable embracing their Democratic affiliations. On Tuesday evening, the five candidates gathered for a watch party at Riverside Place that was hosted by the Spokane County Democrats.
The party-goers seemed optimistic. There was excited chatter about the results coming out of Ohio, where voters approved a ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution — a major victory for Democrats.
As she waited for the first ballot count to drop, Wilkerson said she was feeling hopeful, and that she was focused on healing the divides caused by the barrage of attack ads against her and other progressive candidates this year.
“It’s kind of sad, because it sent a message to our community and to some of our kids who don’t understand those ads. It was not planting good seeds,” Wilkerson said. “I’ve already started those conversations with some other leaders: On Nov. 8, how do we start bringing our city back together? Because there’s work to do.”
CONSERVATIVE SETBACK AT THE WINERY
Several blocks away, the conservative candidates gathered at Barrister Winery, a frequent gathering spot for conservative watch parties in Spokane. Woodward, Plese, Moore and Cathcart were all there. Treloar — Dillon’s District 2 opponent who has insisted throughout her campaign that she is a nonpartisan not beholden to either side — was not.
(In a weird coincidence, the Spokane artist featured on the winery’s wall that night was a different person named Lisa Brown. Her work focuses on both watercolor and oil paint media and seeks to explore the “endless wealth of imagery found in nature in both a representational and abstract way from a variety of vantage points,” according to a placard on the wall.)
Shortly after 8 pm, Woodward, Plese and the other candidates departed to a private room to watch results come in.
The wine was flowing freely, but it wasn’t enough to stop the mood from turning sour as the first batch of ballots dropped soon after.
“Measure 1 is getting destroyed,” someone groaned.
As he watched the numbers come in on the projector screen, conservative Council member Jonathan Bingle said he was disappointed by the early results, but glad that the camping ban seemed to be passing with overwhelming support.
Emily Strode, the owner of Crimson Consulting, which worked on a number of the conservative candidates’ campaigns this year, took to the stage to calm people’s nerves.
“I think the important thing to know in a lot of these races in the city of Spokane is that they are too close to call,” said Strode, who has also worked as campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. “When you’re talking about tens of thousands of ballots left to be counted, that’s a lot of voices of voters in the city of Spokane whose voices have still not yet been heard.”
Someone in the back of the audience — who seemed like they’d had too much wine — interrupted Strode's speech and started yelling about how “maybe we should go back to in-person voting!”
After Strode’s speech, Woodward took to the stage.
“I believe we’re going to squeak this one out,” Woodward said.
Woodward thanked her supporters for their work, and told that crowd that she had been anticipating a tight race.
“We’ve got a lot of ballots out there that are still uncounted,” Woodward said. “I believe we’re going to make up those ballots.”
'IT REALLY DOES LOOK GOOD'
Back at the Democrat’s party at Riverside Place, the mood was noticeably more upbeat.
Brown was met with applause from hundreds of supporters and chants of “Lisa! Lisa! Lisa!” as she took the stage.
“It looks very good that many of you have trusted me to be the next mayor of Spokane,” Brown said. “We’ve got some more votes to count, but I just want to say that it really does look good, and it means many people are supporting the vision and rejecting the false attacks.”
Millions of dollars in outside spending poured into this year’s city races, and the vast majority was spent supporting conservatives and attacking progressives. Early results show that the massive influx of cash largely failed to pay off.
Dillon says the barrage of attacks against him and other progressives were “mean spirited.” Klitzke described the attacks as “nasty.”
Attack ad spending against conservatives was minimal this year, though Dillon did criticize a last-minute TV spot that the Washington State Democrats ran over the weekend, falsely claiming Woodward “stood with accused domestic terrorist Matt Shea, praying for fire to consume Spokane.”
It’s true that, in August, days after the Oregon Fire and Gray Fire destroyed homes in Elk and Medical Lake, Woodward stood on stage at a worship event with Shea, a former state representative who has been accused of domestic terrorism and religious extremism. The event was a major controversy that Woodward continues to face criticism for.
But it was Shea, not Woodward, who prayed for a fire to consume the city. And it was clear that he was talking about fire in a metaphorical religious context.
“Her appearance with him on stage was enough,” Dillon said, adding that he thinks the incident likely cost Woodward support.
During her term, Woodward had a steady stream of critics on the left. But she also attracted occasional criticism from the right — notably from Tim Archer, a former firefighter who challenged her in the primaries with criticism of her handling of public safety and COVID. He refused to endorse her after he lost with 12% of the primary vote.
When asked how he was feeling shortly before ballots dropped Tuesday, Archer said he thinks Woodward is the "lesser of two evils."
Spokane voters seem to have favored progressives this year. But they also turned out in overwhelming numbers to support the homeless camping ban those same progressive candidates opposed.
After Tuesday’s ballot drop, both Klitzke and Dillon said they expect the ban to face legal challenges, and reiterated arguments they made on the campaign trail about the futility of pushing people around without giving them a place to stay. Dillon described the ban as a “clever ploy” and a “get-out-the-vote effort for conservative candidates.”
“I understand why people felt like we needed it, but I don’t want to see this community become so Dickensian that we’re just shooing people everywhere,” Klitzke said.
If Dillon, Klitzke, Brown and Wilkerson maintain their leads, they’ll have to grapple with the enforcement and possible legal challenges that stem from an initiative that was widely supported by their constituents.
“I’m really excited,” Klitzke said on Tuesday night, as the room emptied and a steady stream of supporters stopped by to offer congratulations. “I know we have some big challenges, and I feel ready to face them. We’ve had times like this before, and I really think we can do it."