Spokane voters signaled they were ready for a sea change at City Hall Tuesday night, with early election tallies putting Nadine Woodward nearly 5 percentage points ahead in her race for mayor against of sitting Council President Ben Stuckart.
Woodward took 52.1 percent of the nearly 39,000 votes that had been counted in the race, to Stuckart's 47.4 percent. In total Spokane County had an estimated 34,000 ballots left to count, though not all of those would necessarily be in city limits.
Stuckart quickly conceded the race at a watch party at Lucky You Lounge on the edge of Browne's Addition Tuesday evening, and urged citizens to get behind their new mayor.
"Nadine Woodward has won the election to be the mayor of Spokane," Stuckart told his supporters. "Elections are hard-fought and they can be loud and angry and expensive. The citizens of Spokane have had their voice heard and now it it is time to unite behind mayor-elect Woodward and allow her to lead Spokane through this next phase of growth for our great city."
Meanwhile, just a half a mile away in a part of downtown once infamous for its crime, but now seeing new life as part of the brewery district, Woodward celebrated her victory with family and friends at Barrister Winery.
"Spokane, we did it!" Woodward told a cheering crowd that included friends, family, and conservative supporters such as Spokane County Commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns, as well as County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner. "This is about our city. This is about our region. This is our victory tonight."
Smiling as she continued to speak to the happy crowd, Woodward spoke about the importance of collaboration moving forward.
"Alone, we can do so little, but together we can do so much," she said.
The night was a decisive victory for conservatives who'd across the board spread a message that current city leadership wasn't doing enough to address homelessness, drug addiction, housing affordability and availability, or economic development.
With the Washington Realtors Political Action Committee and other conservative PACs putting hundreds of thousands of dollars toward Woodward and City Council President candidate Cindy Wendle, who appeared to be besting her opponent City Councilman Breean Beggs, the night was also a sign that an influx of more money than Spokane elections have ever seen was a success.
Wendle was taking 50.8 percent of the early tally to Beggs' 48.8 percent, though only 784 votes were separating the two. Beggs declined to concede the race just yet on Tuesday night.
Woodward's win could be seen as a signal that voters connected with her messaging throughout the campaign that downtown isn't as safe as people would like it to be, with visible homelessness in particular becoming a divisive issue in recent years.
Homelessness, Woodward repeated tonight, was a key issue: "I mean everybody I talk to at the doorstep, that was their No. 1 concern and I think we can do a better job of managing and starting to reduce the number of our homeless people. Nobody talks about that."
Throughout the campaign, Woodward said the city wasn't taking the right steps to address homelessness, which she sees primarily as driven by drug addiction and mental health issues. She criticized City Council just before the election for approving an emergency warming shelter for those who would otherwise be left on the streets. She'd previously floated the idea that military-style tents could be a cheaper solution and encourage people to engage with services faster.
On election night, Woodward said the voters had sent a message: "I think people wanted a change. A change from the status quo. And they were willing to elect somebody with absolutely no political experience to bring that change about."
Meanwhile, Stuckart had tried to keep a cool head on the campaign trail and tout the city's real successes over his 8-year tenure on council, including increasing the size of the police force, reducing crime overall in the city, conducting a major rehabilitation on Riverfront Park, and helping the city's economy grow much faster than the national rate.
Staff writers Wilson Criscione and Daniel Walters contributed to this report.