Nadine Woodward, the star of the night, isn't anywhere to be seen. As her supporters at Barrister Winery anxiously await election results, Woodward is somewhere in the back, behind the black curtains separating her from the buzzing crowd.
Journalists with notebooks in hand post up outside the curtains, peeking in to catch a glimpse of the former TV anchor vying to become Spokane's next mayor. Can reporters come in? Nope. Is she going to come out? Yes, if things go well, her campaign manager says. If not, nobody's quite sure.
Then, a single guttural roar precedes a chorus of screams. Hands raise up in victory. Wine spills to the floor. Woodward has a five-point lead over her opponent, City Council President Ben Stuckart. She emerges minutes later from the curtains in a dress as dark as merlot. The crowd parts, clearing a path for her to join her family on stage.
After spending months railing against the current state of the city, Spokane's new mayor-elect is now optimistic.
"I firmly believe our best days lie ahead," she says.
To the joyous election night crowd, Woodward lays out the challenges: public safety, homelessness, housing, economic development.
That's only the beginning. The shifting power dynamics in Spokane create a number of things that Woodward, who has proudly advertised her lack of political experience, will face during her first days in office. (WILSON CRISCIONE)
10 Hurdles Nadine Woodward Will Face in Her First Days as Spokane's Mayor
1. Vacancies: She's got a ton of hiring to do
One by one, prominent city leaders retired or found other jobs in the last several months, and their positions were often left unfilled. The move was intentional: Mayor David Condon wanted his successor to have a chance to build a team with their own people. Departing Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley says there are currently about 40 major vacancies at the city.
Right now, there's no director in charge of finance, fleet services, asset management or public works. There's no assistant fire chief or deputy fire chief. And the directors of the parks and recreation, streets, budget, customer experience, development services, and the community housing and human services departments are all serving in interim or acting roles. Woodward will need to decide if she'll keep them. Condon's No. 2, Theresa Sanders, is leaving as well. Even the woman in charge of hiring people — Chris Cavanaugh, human resources director — is about ready to retire. (DANIEL WALTERS)
2. A steep learning curve: She's about to become the boss of 2,000 employees
City Administrator Theresa Sanders says that staff sometimes gets frustrated during an election season when they hear candidates opine about running the city.
"This natural dissonance between political rhetoric and operational reality just makes people go, 'Do you really have any idea what we do?'" Sanders says. "And the answer is, 'No, not really,' because until you start rolling around in the operation, you really can't."
During her campaign, Woodward repeatedly noted her lack of political experience, while arguing that her journalistic talent for listening and communication would be useful. But other than helping to manage about 10 employees at her family's Memories By Design business, Woodward has never been a boss in the traditional sense. Former Mayor Mary Verner tells the Inlander that a mayor needs to establish trust by spending time building relationships in each department. Listening is crucial. "Demanding trust seldom works," Verner says. (DW)
3.Questions about her independence: She was the beneficiary of big-money backers
This election season was far and away Spokane's largest test of how political money can change the leadership of a city, with more than $660,000 in independent political spending pouring into the race for mayor alone.
Independent groups, which candidates can't coordinate with, spent more than $423,000 either in favor of Woodward or against her opponent. By contrast Stuckart saw independent groups, including many unions, spend more than $236,000 to support him or oppose her.
Woodward's largest support came from the Washington Realtors Association PAC, which said it supported her for her openness to all types of development and outward expansion. She was also supported by the Spokane Good Government Alliance. That PAC drew its nearly $340,000 campaign chest from the likes of real estate developer Fritz Wolff and his wife, large businesses such as RA Pearson Company, the Cowles Company (which owns the Spokesman-Review) and BNSF, and other businesses across the construction and financial sectors.
"People don't understand that the money that was spent by the Realtors and the PAC, the political action committee, those are funds that are raised outside of a candidate's control," Woodward told KHQ in a post-election interview last week.
"When they say, 'You're bought and sold by the Realtors or the developers,' I got the Realtors endorsement, but my opponent wanted that endorsement, too," Woodward continued. "To vilify Realtors because of their political action spending, to me, is just ridiculous. And the claim that I'm in bed with the developers? I have no history or involvement with developers."
KHQ's Stephanie Vigil then asked what Woodward thought about Stuckart's comments in his concession speech that money is the root of all evil. (He actually said, "Money is the root of all problems in politics.")
"Well, the saying really is the love of money is the root of all evil, not money, so you have to look at that part of it," Woodward replied. "But there were far more attack ads against me than there were against Ben." (SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL)
4. The police contract: Things just got more complicated for Woodward
The Spokane Police Guild, the union representing rank-and-file officers, has been in ongoing contract negotiations with the city since 2016, when the last contract expired. And with last week's passage of Proposition 1 — which amends the city charter to require that all union contract negotiations with the city be made public — things could get trickier. The law won't take effect until Nov. 26, when the election results are certified, but after that date, any future bargaining sessions with representatives from the city and the guild will, theoretically, have to be held in public.
Marlene Feist, a city spokeswoman, says the city is still evaluating the measure.
"We are reviewing the language in Proposition 1," she says. "There are some conflicting laws and legal rulings that need to be evaluated as well."
Additionally, assuming that a contract is eventually finalized and features cost-of-living pay raises for officers, Woodward will have to figure out how to cover the back pay.
"There's going to have to be millions of dollars of back pay to the officers because there will be some kind of percentage increase for each year," says Councilman Breean Beggs. "That's going to be a big financial bill to pay, so she's going to have to figure out how to pay that."
Representatives of the Spokane Police Guild did not respond to requests for comment. (JOSH KELETY)
5. Police oversight: She'll face renewed concerns that the ombudsman system is broken
In late October, the Spokane Police Department released graphic body-camera footage depicting a violent arrest from last February where Officer Dan Lesser shouted vulgar threats — including "I'm going to f—-ing kill you" — at a suspect before siccing a police dog on him. The footage prompted outrage, but the department brass ruled Lesser's use of force was justified.
More troubling to some, though, is how it all came to light. The Police Department didn't inform the ombudsman about the controversial case; instead, someone leaked details to former cop and local blogger Brian Breen, who subsequently brought it to the attention of Ombudsman Bart Logue, the city's official law enforcement watchdog. Logue then filed a complaint, which triggered an internal affairs investigation.
Some officials argue that the string of events is reflective of a loophole in Spokane's police oversight system that keeps potential misconduct away from the ombudsman, proper scrutiny and, ultimately, the public view. And it's a question that Woodward, who ran as a pro-police candidate, will have to grapple with — especially if the Spokane City Council takes action on its own.
"The department is using a definition in the current ordinance that they don't have to notify the ombudsman unless they open up a formal internal-affairs investigation," Councilman Beggs says. "That's how they got around informing him of the Lesser case."
Beggs says that Woodward has the authority to instruct the department to change its practices regarding use-of-force case investigations. But he adds that the council may have to act on its own — a move which would automatically rope in Woodward.
"If the new mayor isn't going to do that," he says, "probably we're going to have to look at a change in the ordinance."
Where Woodward stands on this specific issue is unclear. However, she's made public comments indicating that she doesn't think the ombudsman should have any more authority or independence and that the position should have term limits. She was also endorsed by the Spokane Police Guild, the union representing rank-and-file officers, and promoted their support of her during the campaign.
"Within the city charter, the authority of the ombudsman is limited, and it needs to stay that way," Woodward said during the campaign. (JK)
6. The council: She'll still have to deal with a liberal majority
For all the talk about bringing change to the city, Woodward's election, in a sense, may not change much with the dynamics between the Mayor's Office and the City Council.
Woodward, like Condon, leans conservative on most issues. The seven-member City Council, on the other hand, will still have a liberal-leaning majority; whether or not it's a veto-proof majority will depend on the results of the still-too-close-to-call races for City Council president, between Beggs and Cindy Wendle, and the council race between Councilwoman Karen Stratton and Andy Rathbun. (Even if Beggs loses the council president race, he still has two more years in his term as a councilman; however, with the latest tallies released yesterday (Nov. 13), Beggs actually surged ahead of Wendle by more than 300 votes, with an estimated 5,600 still to count.)
On election night, Woodward said she was "anxious" to see a change on the council and criticized the current members.
"All they do is listen to themselves, they don't listen to the people," Woodward says. "We need to change that." (WC)
7. The new warming shelter: She'll need to sort out a growing controversy
The week of the election, questions were raised about the leadership of Jewels Helping Hands, the group recently selected to operate the city's soon-to-open warming shelter. It turns out that one of the group's founders, who serves as its treasurer, had pleaded guilty to mail fraud in 2013 and went to federal prison.
After that news broke, the city initially required Jewels Helping Hands to purchase additional insurance to protect the city, but when old allegations surfaced involving the other founder of Jewels, the city asked the agency to vacate the building until they could figure out what's going on. As of Monday, though, the city administration informed the council it still planned to move forward with Jewels as the shelter's operator.
Politically, the controversy might play into Woodward's hands. She's repeatedly criticized the city's rush to try to find a new shelter. But on the other hand, she'll want to avoid a repeat of last winter when a homeless encampment took up residence outside City Hall.
When the Inlander asked on election night if she would abandon the plans for a new shelter, Woodward declined to answer.
"Wait until I get into office, and we'll see," she said. (DW)
8. The homeless: She'll have to handle the annual count that she's criticized
Each January, the city of Spokane conducts its annual Point-in-Time Count, which serves as a snapshot of how many people are homeless at a given time. The count, mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was revamped a couple years ago to use better technology to get more accurate data.
In 2019, the count showed a 5 percent increase in homelessness, but a 6.5 percent decrease in those who were chronically homeless. Crucially, it asks those who are homeless about what caused them to lose a home — whether that's a lack of affordable housing, family conflict or drug use.
Why is it important? Because it's used by the city to write grant applications and seek funding for services. But Woodward has been skeptical of the Point-in-Time Count. During a debate, she said that it's "not an accurate reflection of what's going on."
"Unfortunately, we're using that as a base for a lot of our decisions," Woodward said.
So how will she handle this year's count? Will she use the information from the count, even though she frequently criticized the data on the campaign trail? (WC)
9. Growth: She'll hit roadblocks to expanding the city's border and urban growth area
On the campaign trail, Woodward said that she would be open to encouraging development of housing outside city limits, perhaps by offering city services and infrastructure to outside projects.
The main constraint on continuing to build outward is the Washington State Growth Management Act. The act is intended to protect the environment and prevent sprawl, while requiring fast-growing urban centers to plan for the larger population they'll need to serve 20 years down the road. Through what's called a comprehensive plan, Spokane establishes the "urban growth area," which guides where certain types of buildings can go. Planning to provide services and infrastructure in the urban growth area is meant to enable a city to be ready for annexation as its population grows, while still limiting how much the city spreads out.
State law strictly limits the ability of cities to offer services outside of that urban growth area. To offer services beyond those boundaries would likely take a change to the comprehensive plan.
But updating the comp plan tends to be lengthy public process, and any changes proposed by the administration must be approved by the City Council. (SW)
10. The media: She'll have to deal with pesky reporters
It was no doubt uncomfortable for someone who had sat behind an anchor desk — putting questions to public officials on a daily basis — to suddenly find herself on the other side.
As a candidate, Nadine Woodward bristled at reporters who asked about her political ideology and policy proposals, suggesting at various points that it wasn't relevant, that she would reveal some policies only after she was in office or that simply asking such questions somehow constituted "advocacy journalism." She frequently refused to make herself available for interviews (with the Inlander and other local media), canceled interviews that did get scheduled, failed to show up at several community forums and debates and called the media "pathetic" for "trying to distract voters" by reporting on something she had said. During the campaign, she went so far as to claim that some of her quotes had been misrepresented — even when recordings of those statements showed they had been reported accurately and put in proper context.
As an elected official, Woodward will face even greater scrutiny. As uncomfortable as it might be, she works for the citizens now, and every day she's in office, reporters will be there, too, examining records, attending meetings and asking questions in the watchdog role the Founding Fathers envisioned.
The campaign and the election may be over. But for the incoming mayor, the task of dealing with the local media — with the Inlander, the Spokesman-Review, her former colleagues at KXLY and the other TV and radio stations in town — is only just beginning. (JACOB H. FRIES) ♦