Finally somebody managed to fulfill the title 'strong mayor'

click to enlarge CALEB WALSH ILLUSTRATION
Caleb Walsh illustration

To his credit, Spokane Mayor David Condon followed the famous "Daley Rule." Six-term Chicago Mayor Richard Daley once said that city mayors, no matter what else they do, must plow the streets and pick up the garbage. Get that right, and they can survive some mistakes. Get that wrong, and they're toast.

When Mayor Mary Verner said, during a particularly bad winter storm, "It's only snow, people," I knew she would never be re-elected.

With the mayoral election now over, and Condon approaching his final month in office, it's a good time to get out the scorecard. And why not start with something as basic as snow plowing? Condon not only avoided any such fatal gaffe, the city's snowplowing operation also made major strides during his tenure.

SNOWPLOWING: A

I also score him high on a matter that was never highlighted. Mayor Condon quietly supported preservation and rehabilitation projects, even making trips to Olympia to push them forward.

PRESERVATION: A

Mayors are the face of the city, and Condon played the part well. He was available, articulate and welcoming, even when meeting with critics like me.

ACCESSIBILITY: A

Condon also deserves credit for staying with the Riverfront Park renovation, which faced stretches of bad press and weak leadership.

RIVERFRONT PARK: B

Now we get to what he didn't do so well: What he allowed to happen in the planning department was worse than bad. The problems began when he hired Jan Quintrall and turned her loose to wreak havoc. Condon eventually showed her the door, but too late. Quintrall's worst decision was forcing out Scott Chesney, who along with a number of builders had come up with some very imaginative ways to rezone and rehabilitate West Central. They even had the support of the Spokane Home Builders. Alas, when Chesney left, so too did all the planning he had done, along with the promise that it held. Kendall Yards developer Jim Frank urged Condon to bring back Chesney. Alas, Condon stubbornly backed Quintrall, killing innovation.

Related to this is the much-discussed Comprehensive Plan. While the Mayor wants to take credit for the successes driven by the Comp Plan, the truth is that he had nothing to do with the framing of the plan, nor has he ever made clear his ideas for revisions, which are in order. What we do know is that the opposition to Ben Stuckart in this recent election came from interests that would just as soon scrap the Comp Plan, or at least water it down so as to encourage sprawl.

PLANNING: D

And then there were the Police Department fiascos. Condon's handling of the firing of Chief Frank Straub was amateurish in the extreme. Either Straub was fired or he wasn't, what was it? For months, the public was left to wonder. The ship seems to have been righted, but trust was broken and the fallout continues to be felt, especially in the area of police oversight.

POLICE: C-

All my criticisms over the past years aside, I'd say Mayor Condon has done a much better job than I ever expected. I'd add that part of his success has been due to a strong City Council and outgoing Council President Ben Stuckart. And that is by design.

As one who was deeply involved in the passage of the strong mayor proposal back in 2000, it's nice to see the system work the way it is supposed to — a council and mayor not always agreeing, but creating success for the city together.

All in all, Mayor Condon has been the best of a generally unsuccessful string of strong mayors.

STRONG MAYOR: B-

Over the decades as a professor for Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University, Robert Herold handed out a lot of grades.

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About The Author

Robert Herold

Robert Herold is a retired professor of public administration and political science at both Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University. Robert Herold's collection of Inlander columns dating back to 1995, Robert's Rules, is available at Auntie's.