"Are you going to run for city council this year?" I asked him.
"No," he replied. "The last time I ran (in 2005 when he lost to Nancy McLaughlin), 14,000 people told me to go to hell."
Five days later Corker's name was on the candidate list.
"[Councilman] Al French called and asked if I would run," Corker explained last week. "He said there was so little experience on the council and that if he was going to be mayor, he needed someone he could work with who had been there before." (Corker served from 1999-2003)
Corker says he hadn't planned on running, but after Councilman Rob Crow decided to give up his Northwest district seat to run for council president, Corker jumped in and won a five-way primary. The former advertising and public relations executive took 39 percent of the vote; second place went to former Liberty Lake City Administrator Lewis Griffin with 20 percent.
Corker's strong showing came despite what political observers call his "high negatives." Some voters remember his outspoken -- and successful -- opposition to a 1995 plan to allow Seattle's Pacific Science Center to build in the pavilion at Riverfront Park. He was also tied closely to former Mayor John Talbott and fellow councilmembers Steve Eugster and Cherie Rodgers in opposing the River Park Square garage purchase. And, at a recent League of Women Voters forum, Griffin reminded Corker about Corker's association with a subsidiary of the bankrupt Metropolitan Mortgage company.
Despite his baggage, Corker's name recognition helped him win a summertime race against four relative unknowns. "When I did some early doorbelling, people remembered me and said they wanted me back on the council," he says.
Corker thinks he'd be a good fit on a relatively inexperienced council that he says has failed to exert its will with the mayor. His example: "The garbage thing."
"When the council voted 6-0 to ask the mayor to review his decision" to move garbage collection out of the alleys and into the streets of Corbin Park, the mayor essentially ignored them, Corker says. "He said, 'I give their views the same weight as I give the views of the rest of the people.' I was flabbergasted" at the mayor's lack of respect for the council.
Corker says he would work to tweak the strong mayor system that he helped to develop after voters scrapped the council-manager government in 1999 to give the council a stronger role in reviewing mayoral policies and appointments. He would also support allocating more money to help the council hire a support staff.
Like Corker, Lewis Griffin believes the council has no teeth. Like Corker, Griffin cites the Corbin Park garbage flap as evidence. And like Corker, he would work to strengthen the council's position, relative to the mayor.
But Griffin says his political style is different than his opponent's. Choosing his words carefully, he calls Corker "a polished professional" and himself "a straight-talk guy." He disagrees with Corker's assertion that Griffin would be less effective because he hasn't been an elected official.
Griffin cites his experience working as a staff member in four Eastern Washington cities. The retired Air Force veteran served in Newport and Airway Heights after getting his master's degree in public administration at Eastern Washington University in the mid-1990s. He also worked as city administrator in Colfax and Liberty Lake.
"I had the rare opportunity to start a city from scratch," Griffin recalls of his time in Liberty Lake. He worked with the mayor and councilmembers to develop the government framework for the city, to create a new police department and assess targeted development impact fees that have helped the city build its infrastructure.
Griffin's position in Liberty Lake was eliminated in 2005, but his experience there is reflected in the priorities he would set as a Spokane city councilmember, particularly his support for impact fees to expand the infrastructure in the rapidly growing Indian Trail and Five Mile areas. "The city didn't do anything upfront before allowing all this development," says Griffin. Neither Indian Trail nor Five Mile have adequate roads to handle current or future growth, he says. He places part of the blame for that on Corker as a former councilman.
Corker accepts the blame, but only to a point. "I was part of the council that approved the new comprehensive plan, but the strong mayor, John Powers, sat on it," and so have Powers' successors, he says. "I've been working my butt off the last six years trying to get sub-area planning at Five Mile. He [Griffin] hasn't been doing that."
Corker says he too supports impact fees, but on a regional scale.
"The $14 million we'd need to widen roads [at Five Mile] is too much for that area to pay," he says. "We need to spread the base and pool our impact fees so that everyone shares the burden." -- Doug Nadvornick
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & how us the money for a meth jail with more police officers to ethically annex new territory for the city. That sentence above serves as a handy synthesis of some of the issues at play in northeast Spokane as incumbent Bob Apple and challenger Donna McKereghan vie for the city council.
This is not a crackling, high-energy race. Neither candidate has raised or spent much money, and there doesn't seem to be any one issue that has them at loggerheads.
Northeast Spokane's District 1 is generally east of Division and north of the Spokane River. It is Spokane's poorest district yet provides a large chunk of the city's tax revenues thanks to shopping malls, big-box retailers and other commercial properties along Division as well as industrial sites.
And yet, both Apple and McKereghan say, the district gets less than its share of the take.
"Often we don't get our fair share of the capital. I serve on the parks board and just now we are getting parity (with the rest of the city). The Northeast Community Center has gotten less funding than other centers," Apple says.
"We have been treated like children of a lesser god for decades," McKereghan says. "It's a myth that the poor are powerless ... but it works as the truth as long as they believe it. I think the voters and businesspeople in the district have been alienated."
Apple, a roofing contractor and former operator of the Comet Tavern in Hillyard, won 45 percent of the vote in the five-way primary and has raised about $7,000 to McKereghan's $1,600.
But McKereghan, the owner of the Web development company Rave Web Design, is not worried.
"Sure Bob took 45 percent, but the other four of us were not running against each other -- we were all running against Bob," she says.
One of Apple's major goals for his second and final council term is constructing what he calls a meth jail that also works as a treatment facility to try and break the cycle of drug addiction and drug-fueled crimes.
"Law enforcement will tell you 70 percent of crime in Spokane is directly related to meth. If we get rid of the meth problem we will drastically reduce crime in Spokane and help the community," Apple says.
The opening is coming, Apple says, with the state authorizing money to replace the Geiger Correctional Institute.
It may seem a long shot that the funds will land here, and further that the players -- city, county, state -- will agree to something along the lines of a meth jail, but Apple is on a mission. McKereghan says it unrealistic.
It's better use of local resources, she says, to leverage with other agencies -- such as the recent sweep of gang-related crimes conducted by city police with the help of the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, as well as state and county law enforcement.
Apple says this approach doesn't address the problem of repeat offenders.
"We throw someone in on a 30-day hold for burglary and then they learn how to hotwire a car -- it's actually a training course for criminals," Apple says. "If we have a more holistic approach with in-house (drug) treatment ... These programs have been used in other states and they are very successful. That's the kind of model I'm looking at."
Another of Apple's priorities is aggressive annexation to bring the tax revenues currently going to the county into the coffers of the city, which he says spends millions on the sewer trunk lines, roads and other infrastructure used by the unincorporated areas.
McKereghan says she, too, will attack the underfunding of the Northeast as well as the alienation of voters in the district, who historically turn out in lower numbers than anywhere else in Spokane.
She sees the two as intertwined.
"It's going to take a real leader to lead that charge," she says of re-energizing the district's voters. And she offered an example. "Two weeks ago the city council violated the Open Meetings Act. I mentioned this to the city attorney and he said no they didn't. Who took it up with the (state) attorney general? I did. The council stepped up and rescinded those resolutions to redo them correctly.
"One person did that. One person can make a difference," McKereghan says.
McKereghan also vows to improve the city's code enforcement efforts to better deal with the sorts of issues -- abandoned or neglected properties, illegal hoarding or dumping, animal control -- that often plague impoverished neighborhoods.
-- Kevin Taylor
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & ednesday night, about 6:30, Spokane City Council chambers. Brad Stark and Richard Rush are seated at one end of the semi-circular dais, fielding questions from two representatives of the League of Women Voters. Both look a little nervous. Then, as the other candidates for City Council seats have, they get a chance to ask each other a question.
Stark pounces, saying that at a previous debate, Rush opined that the solution to domestic violence was in planting more trees, that Spokane could solve its gang problems by creating more parks. He mentions transcendental meditation, a centering technique Rush has practiced for the last 34 years. With all these "seemingly off-the-wall beliefs," Stark asks, how is it that he thinks he can fairly represent the people of Spokane?
Rush doesn't hesitate to respond. "You called my agenda 'radical' and 'extremist,'" he says. "But the only agenda I have is that of our comprehensive plan. If you think the people's plan is radical and extremist, then I would ask if you are the right person to represent it on the council?"
The exchange nearly sums up the hottest council race on the ballot in Spokane this fall. Clever retorts, biting rebuttals, allegations of financial foul play and big money have all played a part in the grab for a first-position seat in the city's second district, which includes South Hill, Browne's Addition and Latah Valley.
Stark has filled the contested seat for the last four years. A Gonzaga grad who studied under Democratic state Senator Lisa Brown and left-leaning Spokane County Commissioner John Roskelley, Stark self-identifies as "bold."
"I get faulted sometimes as being bold and being blunt and being forward," he says. "I've made mistakes over the last four years. You know what? I acknowledge that. I'm working on some of those issues ... I guarantee you I'll continue to make mistakes. But I've been an extraordinarily effective council member." During his time on the dais, he says, the council has resolved the River Park Square controversy, gotten passed a street repair bond measure that was long thought to be impossible and balanced the budget for the first time in 35 years.
He's pushing for further balanced budgeting, a new animal control system, greater water conservation and more in-fill development.
Rush has never held public office but has a record in Spokane as a civic activist. The Tuskegee, Ala., native and stay-at-home father had lived here only about a year when, in 1995, he got involved with the community process on the Comprehensive Plan, the lengthy blueprint for the city's growth and development that was partially written by the public before being adopted in 2001.
"I thought that was great to have people really empowered about how they wanted to live, what they wanted their city to look like, how their neighborhoods felt," he says, while roasting bell peppers on his gas range in preparation for a picnic at his kids' school.
But then the city announced it would need to cut down some trees in order to reconstruct Bernard Street as part of the street bond measure passed by voters -- while not improving sidewalks or crosswalks or leaving space for trees to be re-planted. "It was in complete contradiction to what's in the Comprehensive Plan," Rush says. "It just kind of pushed me over the edge." He decided that the plan was "only as good as the city government that stands behind it" and figured that if he couldn't beat 'em, he'd join 'em. Since then, he's helped rally for bike lanes on Southeast Boulevard. They were striped in last month.
Stark uses all of this -- the tree-hugging, the bike-riding, the transcendental meditation, his job as a stay-at-home father -- as ammunition to paint Rush as an out-there, extreme-left nut. Rush finds that unfortunate. "Sadly, Brad doesn't seem to have any vision of his own. I've been thanked for articulating a vision for our city. Brad essentially doesn't have much else to talk about, so he's just trying to scare people." He clarifies comments he's made at previous debates, saying that "it just happens to be the case that there's one study out there that was cited saying there seems to be correlation between neighborhoods that have a healthy urban forest and a reduction in domestic violence." As for parks solving gang problems, he says the city needs to find more ways to engage and empower young people. "Any time people feel disenfranchised and don't feel a sense of ... belonging in their community, their behavior turns destructive." In turn, Rush points to the fact that Stark received $5,000 in campaign contributions just before the City Council voted to approve the Kendall Yards project as evidence that Stark is in bed with developers. "It's clear that he's not going to represent the people who live in the [district]," he says. "He's representing the interests that want special land-use changes that will allow them to make a faster buck."
Stark says that assertion is preposterous and insists that Chesrown's money didn't buy him any votes. "That's like saying that Richard Rush is beholden to the radical environmentalist groups that have given him money," he says. "It's the same thing, and I don't buy it." Stark says he approached Chesrown for funding because they had "shared values and ... ideology" -- because, as he and Rush both believe, the kind of dense, mixed-use development proposed for Kendall Yards could be just what the city needs.
Stark denies trying to use Rush's meditation practices as a case against him and balks after opining that he has a beef with "somebody who has never had a job in the city of Spokane, [but] who believes that they can represent the working families of our community." But the debate keeps coming back to the comp plan. Stark says he finds Rush's adherence to the document too extreme for the community, pointing out that the city has already implemented several of its recommendations, including neighborhood planning across the South Hill, key development regulations he helped author and a new water conservation program.
"The other important thing to remember is the comp plan is a culmination of multiple different policies," he says, "and there's some conflicting policies even just in the comp plan."
But Rush says picking and choosing recommendations from the plan "doesn't make your comprehensive plan very comprehensive any longer." He would like to see more energy-efficient buildings in Spokane and believes a light rail system would spur economic development throughout the region.
-- Joel Smith