Jeff Colliton vs. Cherie Rodgers -- District 3 -- Political fates are sometimes strangely intertwined. Take current City Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers, for instance. She was first appointed to the City Council back in February 1997 to replace Chris Anderson (he'd missed 23 city council meetings in a row -- it was time). One of the council members who appointed her was Jeff Colliton, who's now running against her for the District 3 position in Northwest Spokane.
"I came on after the River Park Square vote, if I may point that out," says Rodgers, who's running for her second and last term, due to term limits. "Jeff was on when they made the decision to support River Park Square. Because of what happened with that, the main issue I'm running on is accountability in government."
Colliton served from 1996 to 2000, when he ran for re-election but lost to Steve Eugster.
"My opponent always wants to talk about River Park Square. We've been at 20-plus forums, and that's all she wants to talk about," Colliton says. "Occasionally we get to meth for a couple of minutes. I don't know, I mean, 90 percent of the folks I talk to say, 'Settle it'. The building is already here, I mean, we are not going to tear it down. We need a negotiated business settlement between the city and the developer."
But Rodgers, a longtime Spokane community activist, is not keen on that type of settlement.
"We don't even know what happened yet. I'd say we know about 60 percent of what happened," she says. "You need to know the truth before you can settle or mediate." She's all for aggressive discovery -- and yes, that does mean litigation.
"You just don't have people come to the negotiation table without litigation," she says. "After you know the truth, then you assess who's going to pay for what -- including the city's responsibility."
The candidates both support an expanded convention center, but Colliton is the one with most faith -- and longest involvement -- in the project.
"An expansion would step us up to mid-size conventions at around 5,000 participants," he says. "That way, we still wouldn't be competing with the big cities like Seattle. I hope the Public Facilities District takes it on, after a public vote, of course. It would be great for the city."
Rodgers says she's unsure if the convention center is ever going to materialize.
"I support it, but I think it's dead. I voted against it with Mayor Talbott, because they locked in on the site across the street partially owned by architect Glenn Cloninger. Cloninger wanted to be architect on that project, and I figured what's the surest way to jack up the price of that property? That's to lock in on it."
She says that by now it looks like Cloninger's is the only site left, since the DoubleTree Hotel just announced that it has backed completely out of the project.
"We are going to be held to the state deadlines, and I'm not sure that's doable either," says Rodgers.
The much-talked about street repair bond may be more doable, in Rodgers' opinion.
"I will support $50 million bond going out for a public vote, but even that's going to be hard to pass," she says. "We have to deal with it. I'm hearing that there is a $186 million backlog."
Colliton, who was raised in Spokane and is a retired Army colonel, agrees that Spokane has street issues, but he does not support a street bond.
"People need to realize that it costs money to fix and maintain the streets on an ongoing basis. A bond is just a Band-Aid fix," he says. "At some point, we are going to have some kind of tax -- gas, utility, whatever you want to call it -- to pay for fixing the streets. For a politician to go out and say I endorse taxing people may be political suicide -- but look, we already tried all the other things. A bond is not going to pass."
Rodgers, of course, objects to Colliton's characterization that she is all about River Park Square and little else.
"I'm very concerned about water quality and the amount of water the new power plants are taking out of this area, and I'm engaged in environmental issues as well," she says.
She supports the so-called one percent campaign, which aims to dedicate one percent of the city's budget to human services every year, and she supports the living wage movement.
Colliton does not support the one-percent campaign.
"I think we should continue doing what we are doing. Human services are already getting around $500,000, which leaves them in the top one-third of the budget," he says. "If they get this one percent, it would double the amount they receive -- and that money has to come from somewhere else."
Rodgers says there are many differences between her and Colliton, but above anything else there are a few things voters shouldn't forget.
"He was on the council that approved the River Park Square deal. Bad business decisions were made then, and we are still paying for that," says Rodgers. "That's hurt the public trust. A lot of the stuff that was done on Colliton's watch was not done at public meetings and out in the open. We need to get back to that openness. I do this full-time, I do my homework, and I do what's in the best interest of the public."
But Colliton says statements like that are entirely too negative. "What I can bring to the council is a positive spirit and progressiveness compared to her negativity and confrontational ways," he says. "What has she done in a positive manner? Compare that to the long list of positive issues I was involved in the last time I served."
Dennis Hession vs. Dean Lynch
Dean Lynch has served on the city council since he was appointed to replace Rob Higgins back in March of this year. Higgins won the position of City Council President after Spokane adopted the strong mayor form of government. So now Lynch is running his first-ever political campaign and trying his best to distance himself from the opponent, Dennis Hession, in District 2, which covers the South Hill and parts of downtown.
"Hession is not really campaigning against me on any of the issues," says Lynch. "He's campaigning against the atmosphere on the city council and against Steve Eugster -- but I'm not Steve."
Both Hession and Lynch have extensive community service records. Hession has served on the Park Board and has volunteered for Hoopfest and a long list of youth programs and non-profit organizations. Lynch is deeply involved in his neighborhood, Browne's Addition, and also spearheaded the campaign to preserve the Human Rights Ordinance.
"It's true," says Hession, "we really don't differ that much on the issues. But I can offer stronger leadership than my opponent. He says he can bring civility to the city council because he is a civil person -- I don't think that's going to do it. Leadership is a presence, and that's what I think I can provide. I don't have personal agenda, but I do think I can provide something the council needs."
Hession, who's a lawyer, says people are tired of the bickering and fighting going on in council sessions.
"The council has no common agenda. A lot of 7-0 votes doesn't show a common commitment or a common goal," he says. "I know all of the current council members, and I am convinced they want to do the right thing, but personal agendas and bickering has just put us in a very non-productive mode."
As for those who are looking to attorney Dennis Hession as someone who can put an end to the lawyer Steve Eugster's stream of legislative action against other council members and the city, Hession has this to say: "I have no intention of doing that at all. But on the council, I think you can make sure certain types of behavior are not tolerated, that you don't get anywhere with it and that you don't get any strokes for it."
Both candidates agree that the dispute over the River Park Square garage needs to be settled through mediation, saying that litigation is a much-too-expensive solution.
"Not only does that cost a lot of money in attorneys' fees, but people should consider how much it's going to cost us in lost opportunities as well, because it has created such a bad image for the city," says Hession. "The staff at City Hall is consumed by it now because it's so pervasive. And don't forget that if you lose, you pay everything."
Both support an expanded convention center.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that it's going to happen, but there are some major obstacles," says Lynch. "It has to be passed county-wide, but I think that's doable if we explain to the county how this will benefit all of us."
Hession sees the stalled convention center plans as an obvious place where the City Council could assume a leadership role.
"This project shouldn't be staff-driven. The council should provide the leadership to get it through and make the deadlines," he says.
As for committing one percent of the city's budget to human services, Lynch is a strong supporter.
"I'd be very surprised if the mayor doesn't have that in his budget proposal," says Lynch, who has retired from working in social services for 25 years.
Hession is supportive of that idea, too, but says he hasn't seen the big picture yet.
"We have an unacceptable poverty problem in this town, and I do believe the city has a responsibility in solving that problem, but I'm not sure on what level," he says.
When it comes to finding funds for fixing the streets, Hession says a gas tax is not likely ever to pass, since it's got to be approved county-wide. A street utility tax was ruled invalid in Seattle, he says, leaving Spokane with few street funding options.
"I'm usually not in favor of borrowing money for maintenance, but to make an impact, I'm for the $50 million bond issue," he says.
Lynch says he doesn't see any other choice either.
"I think a bond would pass," he says. "Especially if we really spell out what the money is going to be used for; I think people would approve."
As for issues facing the city and the new council, Hession says he's very concerned about water.
"The water issue could become quite controversial," he says. "How we ensure both the quantity and the quality of the water here, and our relationship to Idaho in this whole issue, has to be addressed."
Similarities aside, Lynch is confident he has an edge over Hession.
"One thing is I believe I'm more open to ideas," he says. "And I don't work; this is a full-time job for me. If people vote for me, they get someone who's independent and a known entity -- they've already seen what I can do."
Meanwhile, Hession is pushing higher standards: "I expect more from the City Council members than what I have seen. It may be difficult to make an immediate change, but that is why I'm here: to change the atmosphere on the council."
Robert Apple vs. Al French
The two candidates in District 1 agree on at least one thing: bringing more jobs to Spokane and to their economically strapped district in Northeast Spokane is their first priority.
"We need more jobs and better-paying jobs," says Robert Apple, who owns a roofing business and has lived all his life in Spokane. "I'm a big supporter of the north-south freeway. Once they put that in, we can get into warehousing. That would be good to get some of those jobs to Spokane." He adds that he thinks the city tends to get in the way of small and relocating businesses with regulations and requirements.
"The Growth Management Act has not left enough of an area for industry within the city limits," says Apple, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council 12 years ago. "Businesses should be allowed to expand if they are already successful here. If the city doesn't show it's willing to help these businesses, they are going to leave. We should provide infrastructure such as water, roads and sewer to them for free, as an incentive for them to build or expand here." To pay for that, he says, the city needs to annex profitable land in the county aggressively -- such as the area around the Division Y and the area east of Havana where the new Costco is located -- to gain more tax revenue.
French agrees that the city could benefit from more businesses and better jobs; as a matter of fact, he says he's already working on it.
"We are not doing enough to bring businesses inside the city, so that's why I've come up with a list of 25 [already existing] incentives for them to do so instead of locating in the county," says French, who's an architect and the current president of the Northeast Community Center Association. "I've served on the planing commission for seven years, and it's not correct that there is no more room for businesses here. There are plenty of spaces within the city limits." He's also been involved with the Spokane Neighborhood Economic Development Alliance (SNEDA) for the last 18 months.
"We already have a plan for job creation and retention," says French. "This program provides small business owners with the assistance they need, right at their site of business."
On River Park Square and an eventual solution to the controversy, the candidates differ widely.
"It's too late to settle that deal," says Apple. "We've got to wait until the IRS is done with its investigation, until the security exchange is done doing its investigation, and then HUD, before we do anything." He does believe that both the city and the developer are responsible for the deal going sour.
French is a strong supporter of a settlement, as soon as possible.
"This deal is going to be renegotiated, one way or the other, period," he says. "We need to mediate some type of solution where the financing matches the revenue, and look at the mistakes we made and make sure we don't repeat them again." In the meantime, French says, the whole River Park Square deal has robbed the community of two years of debate about other things that are happening in the community. Among those is the proposed convention center expansion, which French strongly favors.
Apple is a cautious supporter: "If we can afford it, I think it's a good idea."
French has served on the street repair committee, which did the groundwork for the $50 million street repair bond initiative that may be on the spring ballot. Does he think that's going to pass?
"I don't know. I really don't know," French says. "I guess, if it doesn't, what people are saying then is 'We don't trust the city government to spend our money.'" He's more in favor of what he calls a street utility tax, where individual landowners pay for access to the street, much as they pay for access to utilities now.
But Apple says the street repair issue is blown out of proportion and that new engineering standards and a surface coat is all we need.
"They should spend about $2.5 million on street repair right now. Actually, $4 million is more like it," he says. "They need to maintain the streets better, fill the cracks, surface-coat them and then take care of the weeds -- maintenance is the real problem. There are people looking to pass this $50 million bond that we can't really afford. I don't think that's necessary."
Where Apple has more of a local support system, French's name recognition is right up there from previous campaigns and service on boards and committees.
"I have a lot of experience working on these things; I already serve on 11 boards and commissions. I have a proven track record, and I understand the issues," he says. "That's what I'm bringing to the city council."
Apple is unfazed by his opponent's experience, saying he'd bring more openness into local government.
"I'll tell people why I vote the way I do every time I vote. That's not happening right now; they are too secretive on the council. They've made some bad mistakes, and they don't want people to know about that."