Affordable housing. Public safety. Homelessness.
The people running to represent District 2 on Spokane City Council, which covers most of the city south of the river, all broadly agree on what the big issues are.
They use phrases like "multifaceted," "wrap around services" and "smart density." They all support plans to regionalize Spokane's homeless response. They say we need to encourage more housing, we need to invest in more mental health services, that there's no simple solution, etc.
At the end of a candidate meet-and-greet in the Perry District last week, a voter noted that the three candidates who attended had basically spent the past hour agreeing with each other. The voter asked what actually set them apart.
Katey Treloar, an educator who founded a nonprofit to feed hungry kids and a company that coaches people with ADHD and other neurodivergences, thinks it comes down to partisanship.
"I'm the only candidate that is committed to being a nonpartisan candidate," Treloar says.
City races are officially nonpartisan. Ballots come without an "R" or "D" next to candidates' names. Treloar has "nonpartisan" in big bold letters on her yard signs.
But Treloar's opponent, Paul Dillon, says that "Are you a Democrat?" is one of the most common questions he gets while doorbelling.
He is, and he's not exactly subtle about it.
When voters ask which way Dillon leans, he proudly tells them about his experience as a legislative aide for state Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, and his work with the local Planned Parenthood. He's been an outspoken liberal activist for years and is a fierce critic of Mayor Nadine Woodward, who is conservative.
In between Dillon's vocal progressivism and Treloar's staunch nonpartisanship is Cyndi Donahue, a small-business owner. She's been trying to avoid saying whom she supports for mayor publicly, but during our interview, she decides there's no point hiding it.
"I'm supporting Lisa," Donahue says.
It wasn't a huge secret. Lisa Brown, the progressive former state Commerce Department director and former state Senate majority leader running to unseat Woodward, has donated money to both Donahue and Dillon's campaigns.
Still, Donahue says she has a good relationship with Woodward and is prepared to work with whoever wins. Nonpartisanship is an important principle, she says, but in practice?
"I would like it to be about solving issues that we have," Donahue says. "But what I'm finding is that it is inherently a political process."
The fourth candidate running in District 2 is Mike Naccarato. He studied political science at Eastern Washington University and now works in procurement for a defense contractor. He hasn't been attending recent candidate forums and hasn't raised any money, but he sees that as a good thing. He describes himself as a "wildcard" who isn't beholden to anyone.
Like Treloar, Naccarato says he's committed to nonpartisanship, and he won't say whom he supports for mayor.
The council district they're running in traditionally leans more liberal than the other districts, and voters there have elected progressives like Breean Beggs, Mary Verner and Jon Snyder. But it's also been represented by Mike Allen, a political moderate focused on fiscal responsibility.
It's currently represented by Council Member Lori Kinnear, who is reaching the end of her term limit and has endorsed Dillon to fill her seat.
When the Perry neighborhood voter asked what set the candidates apart, Dillon brought up police accountability.
All of the candidates support the recent law giving Spokane's police ombudsman authority to investigate the police chief. But while Dillon is openly critical of Chief Craig Meidl, the other candidates are careful to stress that they support him and the difficult work he does.
Donahue and Dillon want to see the ombudsman's oversight powers expanded. Treloar, who has been endorsed by the Spokane Police Guild, says she'd "absolutely be open to having those conversations." Naccarato says he'd want to be cautious and see how things play out first.
Donahue thinks experience sets her apart from the other candidates. She points to collaborative relationships she built as a graduate of the Leadership Spokane program and as a member of the Community Economic Development Strategy Steering Committee through Ignite Northwest.
Donahue acknowledges that she and Dillon don't have many opposing views. With Treloar, Donahue isn't so sure.
Both Donahue and Dillon think Treloar is less "nonpartisan" than she lets on, pointing to her support for armed resource officers in schools during her unsuccessful run for Spokane Public Schools Board of Directors in 2019.
Treloar says it's been awhile since she's looked into the research on armed officers in schools, and she would leave decisions like that to the school board if elected.
Does Treloar consider herself a conservative?
"I consider myself a mom, a teacher, small business owner and a nonprofit organizer," Treloar says. "All the choices that I make are going to be well-informed and bringing people from both sides to the table."
Treloar sees Dillon's vocal support for Brown as a liability. If Dillon is constantly bashing the current mayor on social media, Treloar says, how can he expect to work effectively with Woodward if she wins?
Dillon sees things the opposite way.
"I feel like Katey's success depends on people not knowing everything about her," Dillon says.
Treloar has raised more money than all the other candidates combined. So far, she's reported $68,000 to the state Public Disclosure Commission, compared with Dillon's $29,000 and Donahue's $21,000.
Many of Treloar's donors come from the conservative side of the political spectrum, including Mary Kuney, a Republican Spokane county commissioner, and Kim Plese, who unsuccessfully ran for the county commission as a Republican and is now running for Spokane City Council president with "nonpartisan" on all her yard signs.
But Treloar says she's been working hard to get donations from people on both sides of the aisle. She notes that she's supported by three former mayors of Spokane: David Condon, Dennis Hession and John Powers. She's attending candidate interviews with the local Democratic and Republican parties — but doesn't plan to accept endorsements from either.
Treloar's campaign has also paid money to Majority Strategies, a marketing firm that advertises themselves as the "only firm to work with every official GOP nominee since 2000," and to Crimson Consulting, which is run by a former staffer to Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Crimson has also been hired by Woodward and Plese's campaigns.
Treloar says she doesn't pay attention to who else her consultants are working with. "I'm in my own lane," she says.♦