Council Race Wide Open

by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he city's third district -- essentially west of Division and north of the river -- is the hottest race in Spokane, featuring debate over the future of Albi Stadium, the fate of municipal pools, the development of Kendall Yards and the furor about garbage cans being picked up in the alley or at the curb.

Bravely taking on everything from the serious to the silly, five candidates have stepped forward to seek your vote. Outside of a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters in mid-July (and repeated on the city's cable Channel 5, check listings) there have been no chances for all five to appear at the same place and time.

The new, earlier primary -- Aug. 21 -- is a factor in making the campaign nearly invisible, candidates say. All got off to a late start because of incumbent Rob Crow's up-to-the-deadline waffling before deciding not to seek re-election. While they order yard signs and go door to door with brochures, they privately wonder if voters are ready. Ballots went in the mail earlier this week.


The 66-year-old Corker is back two years after losing his council seat to Nancy McLaughlin in an election pundits proclaimed to be all about fresh faces.

Maybe it's time for an old face again, he quips.

Corker, a longtime civic activist, business owner and adjunct business professor at Gonzaga, has won support this summer from the Home Builders Association and the Board of Realtors, both heavyweights in local politics.

Although the $3,000 he's raised (according to online Public Disclosure Commission reports) is a fraction of his previous council races, Corker has 10 times more money than other candidates. The fundraising and name recognition may be enough to carry Corker through a primary that's a month earlier than usual.

Public safety is a major issue, Corker says, and he criticized Mayor Dennis Hession for failing to fill police and fire positions that were funded in the budget -- his comments coming prior to Hession's announcement last week that unexpected budget strength would allow for beefing up police and fire.

But even before Hession's press conference, Corker had similarly concluded the city's robust budget year -- resulting in an $11 million surplus after years of shortfall -- appears likely to repeat itself.

"We have made great progress on the budget ... and Kendall Yards is going to have a tremendous impact. That, and a couple of annexations, could mean a half-million turnaround right there," Corker says.

He promises to stand up for neighborhood issues, citing the garbage imbroglio in Corbin Park as an example of the city (i.e., Hession) running roughshod over local issues. In the strong mayor form of government, Corker says, "The council must hold the mayor accountable."


A city administrator under strong mayors in Colfax and Liberty Lake, Griffin was a finalist two years ago to fill the vacancy that eventually went to Rob Crow. The 66-year-old retired Air Force chief master sergeant is in the mix again, promising to be a voice for neighborhoods and implementation of the city's comprehensive land use plan.

He's dealt with plenty of growth issues in booming Liberty Lake, Griffin says, adding that the use of tax-increment financing was appropriate to aid development of Kendall Yards, formerly a brownfields site, that will benefit the city. He would not support TIF to lure a big-box business (such as Cabela's) that would then have the advantage over existing local retailers, Griffin says.

The city's mysterious budget -- several years of gloom and budget cuts followed by the convenient election-year surplus -- needs to be nailed down, he says. "We need to have a come-to-Jesus meeting between the finance committee and the mayor."

The Northwest side, especially some areas of Indian Trail, have seen such topsy-turvy growth that there are serious access/egress issues when it comes to response to catastrophic wildfires, creating a situation similar to Spokane Valley's Ponderosa neighborhood.

"The biggest reason I got into this race is the comp plan," Griffin says. "It's not supposed to be a nice idea sitting on a shelf, but that's the way we treat it."

Implementing the comp plan allows for sensible, intentional growth, Griffin says, with the aims of boosting neighborhood economies and providing convenient services for residents.

He says the city needs to pay attention to sewerage issues because a 2016 deadline to get untreated stormwater out of the Spokane River is, in municipal timeframes, happening right now.

Griffin thanks the late Mayor Jim West for the current interest in Albi Stadium, "He wanted to sell it and got everybody fired up."


The 29-year-old is a quintessential north-sider, attending Woodridge Elementary, Salk Middle School and graduating from Shadle Park High where he played varsity football and baseball. Later, he joined a family business that manages an insurance company as well as the Moezy Inn, a North Monroe landmark tavern.

Huston, single but with a longtime girlfriend, opens the Moezy every morning and does the books before heading over to do the same at the insurance company in the afternoon.

"I pay all the bills and keep things running. I like numbers," he says.

Numbers are on his mind when it comes to his run for city council: the numbers of diamonds available for Little Leaguers, the number of pools open.

"There is a gang problem in Spokane. It's not huge, but I see it. To get rid of gangs you have to deal with kids. If you take pools away or sports, they will find something else creative to do," Huston says.

He favors Little League diamonds over adult rec softball when it comes to developing an athletic complex at Albi Stadium ("Most of the fields we play on are feasible for us; I'd rather see the kids have something to be proud of.") but also says the city should go ahead and set up a beer garden at Albi, saying adult players can drink responsibly.

Huston, while praising the Kendall Yards development in his district, says the city needs to monitor the effects of gentrification to make sure people don't get pushed out by higher taxes.

He also favors revisiting the city's taxes on gaming, citing the wild disparity -- 20 percent vs. the county's 2 percent -- that slices already thin margins in the tavern business.

"People think you are raking it in when they see someone put $100 into pulltabs and lose. In reality that goes to the Avista bill and to the city and insurance and minimum wage. Would you rather take less in taxes and have 60 people employed, or take higher tax and have people not working and empty buildings?" Huston asks.


The future of Albi Stadium is a central issue in the retired Qwest Communications worker's campaign. Peck, 50, moved to Spokane 17 years ago seeking good schools and a family-friendly city. He has four grown children from his first marriage, one from his second and started a Little League four years ago that has 1,500 kids.

Peck says the city's floundering and thrashing over what to do with Albi has, in part, informed his run for office. His involvement in the issue was an eye-opener, he says, showing some parties have too much behind-the-scenes pull and others don't know how to make a decision.

He is the lone candidate against the proposal to sell alcohol to rec softballers at the Albi complex, contending it is irresponsible and potentially dangerous to allow adults to drink in the same place kids are playing baseball, soccer or riding a BMX track.

His childhood home of Palmdale, Calif., grew from 12,000 to 125,000 while he lived there but Peck isn't worried about such explosive growth here. He hails Kendall Yards: "I'd like to see a park set aside in that area, maybe overlooking the river so people can go down and picnic and enjoy the view." But he says rising property values in West Central will likely push out renters and warns the city must not be caught flat-footed again with a shortage of low-income housing.

Though conservative about taxes, Peck says the city must fund Crime Check and should assign some police officers specifically to property crimes.

The mayor and council must communicate better with each other and with constituents, Peck says. "If elected, I'd like things to be more open and honest about what direction we're going instead of certain parties having too much pull."


The 42-year-old owner of Merlyn's Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Games was among 19 applicants to fill the vacant city council seat that went to Rob Crow a couple of years ago and was miffed when the list was cut to three finalists without interviews.

Now he's back, and speaking out mainly on tax and budget issues. "I own a business and I own a house so a lot of these budget issues and taxing things affect me greatly," says Waite, who has also served on a variety of city boards and commissions.

The bottom line for Spokane, he says, is to figure out a budget where revenues reliably cover expenses. He cites the recent yo-yo of several straight years of cuts and layoffs to police and fire and then the convenient multi-million-dollar surplus this election year.

"We need to broaden our tax structure," Waite says. "Right now we do sales taxes, property taxes and utility taxes. We need to see if there are other options we're not doing."

Waite says he intends to examine expenditures as well as alternate sources of revenue, such as a business and occupation tax. "Why are we the only big city in Washington not to have one?" he asks. "Even to mention a B & amp;O tax is political suicide but the reality is we are falling behind ... we can't even maintain what we have."

While praising developers and projects such as Kendall Yards for adding vitality to the city, Waite says the city "is too generous" with incentives and should hold a stronger line to make sure it can cover infrastructure and public safety costs.

He sees the breakdown in communication between the mayor and city council as creating any number of mini-crises such as the Corbin Park garbage fiasco. He says he has no problem with alcohol sales at Albi. On his Website, votejohnwaite,com, Waite says he hates election year eye-clutter and vows to place campaign signs only on private property.