PROGRESSIVE SCRAMBLE: Beggs doesn't look like he's running for Spokane City Council president this year — but Betsy Wilkerson probably is

click to enlarge PROGRESSIVE SCRAMBLE: Beggs doesn't look like he's running for Spokane City Council president this year — but Betsy Wilkerson probably is
Daniel Walters photo
City Council President Breean Beggs — for now


Breean Beggs narrowly managed to get elected president of Spokane City Council in 2019. But this time, he isn't likely to run for re-election.

"My plan has been for a while to make an official announcement tomorrow (Friday, March 10) of what my final decision is," Beggs says.

For the last four years, Beggs has survived bouts with both cancer and public criticism, but neither has anything to do with his decision whether to seek re-election.

"I'm hopefully running a 50-kilometer race in Bellingham on March 18,"  Beggs says. "I'm in really good health."

Instead, the question he's been wrestling with is: "Where is the most effective place for me to be in leadership, going forward?"

Blame Lisa Brown, who announced her campaign to challenge Mayor Nadine Woodward last week.

"I think she's going to be fabulous, and I'm very confident she's going to win. And so the job of City Council president is going to be very different under Lisa Brown's mayorship," Beggs says.

In some ways, the job would be less about navigating and mediating conflict — a Beggs specialty — and maybe a bit less difficult. 

"I'm always looking for challenge," Beggs says. "You know me. That's what I love. So I'm really looking for, what's that next challenge?"

But if not Beggs, then who?

"I went to [Council member Betsy Wilkerson] in December and suggested she might consider running. I encouraged her. I think she’d be great," Beggs says. "I'm pretty confident there's going to be a new mayor in a new dynamic and potentially a new type of leadership from the City Council president than I provided. I strongly believe that Betsy Wilkerson will bring that leadership to the entire city."

click to enlarge PROGRESSIVE SCRAMBLE: Beggs doesn't look like he's running for Spokane City Council president this year — but Betsy Wilkerson probably is (3)
Daniel Walters photo
Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson is considering vying to become Council President Betsy Wilkerson

There's an embargoed announcement for some event with Beggs and Wilkerson Friday, but I haven't opened it, because then I'd be bound to not tell you about it. But we can tell you this: Betsy Wilkerson says she's considering running for City Council president.

It wasn't what she thought would happen when she became a council member in 2019.

"It wasn't where I thought I would see myself, I was happy to serve out my four years and go home," Wilkerson says.

But now that Beggs is "making a change in his life," Wilkerson says she's considering running and will have a decision in a day or two. (Probably a day.)

"I'm having the usual conversations with my crew, my family. It would affect them dramatically," Wilkerson says. "There's a lot of moving parts to the opportunity."

Wilkerson definitely isn't on the conservative bloc of the council, but she's also not the sort of wild-eyed leftist radical that certain Seattle-area conservative talk radio hosts would have you believe.
Instead, she's sometimes expressed skepticism and caution around big changes, raising concerns about the impacts of unintended consequences on businesses.

She's a fierce advocate for the East Central neighborhood — even if that means clashing with the East Central Neighborhood Council. And that passion has sometimes led her to controversial decisions: She pushed for a progressive-friendly council redistricting map that had been designed by fellow Council member Zack Zappone. And she pushed back heavily against the mayoral decision to convert the old East Central library space into a police precinct.

When Brown announced her mayoral campaign last week, Wilkerson thought it would trigger a wave of announcements. Wilkerson says she's been surprised by how few candidates have filed to run for council seats this year.

Wilkerson thinks the relative lack of interest in elected office might not be unique to Spokane.

When she traveled to Olympia a few weeks ago for an Association of Washington Cities conference, Wilkerson says a lack of new candidates and incumbents choosing not to run for reelection was a major topic of discussion.

She says people voiced concern about toxic political environments, low compensation and safety issues for elected officials.


If Wilkerson runs, it will be her first competitive election. Wilkerson's opponent got booted in 2021 because he hadn't lived in the district long enough.

But this time, it's not a question. Kim Plese, former CEO of Plese Printing & Marketing, is already a familiar name on the ballot for half the city. She ran for the Spokane County Commission in one of the two city districts last year, but lost by nearly 10 percentage points to a relative unknown. That's about the usual margin between Republicans and Democrats.

But two things could work in her favor. Unlike last time, she says, this time she's not in the middle of trying to sell her business. And this time, she won't have an 'R' next to her name. Either way, she says she shouldn't be defined by party label.

"I want to work for the people, and I love this community," Plese says. "I ran a business for 32 years, I worked for everyone."

She says Wilkerson "would be a worthy opponent," but applies many of the same critiques that she had against Beggs to Wilkerson as well.

She argues the council hasn't been as supportive of the police as she would be.

"I have respect for them," Plese says. "Any profession there are bad actors so to speak. You don’t blame the entire profession."

She also argues the council has become too big and bloated.

"I am completely committed," Plese says. "I jumped into the race early this time. I really want this. I want to work for the people. If she’s hesitating at all, I'm somebody who wants the job."

If Wilkerson runs and wins, District 2 will have two new council members representing it, instead of just one. Lori Kinnear has reached her term limit, which has sparked a flurry of behind-the-scenes lobbying and soul-searching by local progressives.

So let's check in, quickly, on District 2, (or "D2" as Mighty Ducks fans call it.)


NOT RUNNING (But thought about it): Ryan Oelrich

He considered it, he really did. Oelrich has been speaking out about politics in a nuanced way since the days of Jim West. In recent years, Oelrich — a winner of the Inlander's Peirone Prize — has become an expert on the very important issue of child homelessness and also the nearly-as-important issue of Lord of the Rings.

But ultimately, "the process of consulting with my wonderful spouse and family and friends and figuring out where I could best serve" came up with "not in City Council."


If you don't already know Mariah McKay, you should probably get the door, because she's been hitting the doorbell for three straight minutes and would like to ask you if you're registered to vote.

McKay, a former Inlander columnist, has the impressive achievement of having once won the  Inlander Best Of's "Best Twenty-Something Making a Difference" Award when she was 30.

She was interested in running for City Council way back when Jon Snyder was running in 2009, and that interest hasn't gone away. And yet, this thirty-something probably isn't going to run this year, either.

"I’ve become a victim of my own success," McKay says. She's the executive director of the Spokane Independent Metro Business Alliance, which got a $983,000 grant from the Office of Economic Development & Competitiveness in the Washington state Department of Commerce, to create a sort of region-wide gift certificate app that could be used at local businesses. But the timeline of the grant creates a kind of Brewster's Millions problem.

"All the money has to be spent by May 31, to deploy those resources, that’s a lot of dough to spend responsibly and effectively," McKay says.

Instead, she says she expects to campaign for Betsy Wilkerson's bid for council president, and then apply for the open appointment seat left behind by Wilkerson next year. McKay says she helped Betsy get that appointment originally, after all.

But running for the open seat left by Kinnear?

"I don’t think I’m going to be able to face off with Paul at this time," McKay says.

Wait, Paul? Paul who?

click to enlarge PROGRESSIVE SCRAMBLE: Beggs doesn't look like he's running for Spokane City Council president this year — but Betsy Wilkerson probably is (5)
Daniel Walters photo
Paul Dillon speaks at a city council meeting

Paul Dillon

Paul Dillon, of course. He's vice president of public affairs at the local Planned Parenthood. He too is a former Inlander columnist. He's been a legislative assistant for Andy Billig in the state Legislature and for Jon Snyder on the City Council. And he's the reason Wilkerson didn't have an opponent two years ago. He filed the lawsuit to get her opponent removed from the ballot.

He says he's "definitely considering" running.

"I have a long history working in District 2," Dillon says.  "I want to move forward with policies that protect people and make sure we have a cohesive government with the new mayor, Lisa Brown."

His job with Planned Parenthood may not be a political problem for a left-leaning city, but it does create the possibility of conflict if he's on the City Council. He has, at times, passionately argued that abortion can be a city issue, just as much as it's a state and federal one.

"That’s the remaining question," Dillon says. "How does that work with firewalls? Would there be a potential for any conflict or overlap there?"

That said, he says, the organization's requests of City Council — which have included noise ordinances restricting the proximity and volume of the anti-abortion group "The Church At Planned Parenthood" have already been passed.

Meanwhile, he's putting together a campaign against a new jail, which may make him a target for those hammering the city on public safety concerns.

Still, he objectively does have that leadership quality that is always in demand: height. (See: Abe Lincoln.) Dillon's 6-foot-5-inch frame is why he used to DJ with a fellow tallster under the name "the Twin Towers."

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About The Authors

Nate Sanford

Nate Sanford is a staff writer for the Inlander covering Spokane City Hall and a variety of other news. He joined the paper in 2022 after graduating from Western Washington University. You can reach him at [email protected]

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters was a staff reporter for the Inlander from 2009 to 2023. He reported on a wide swath of topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.His work investigated deep flaws in the Washington...