After decades of living in City Council District 3, which covers Spokane north of the river and west of Division, both incumbent Karen Stratton and challenger Andy Rathbun agree that constituents are concerned with overdevelopment, housing availability, traffic and property crime.
Stratton, 60, has lived for the better part of three decades in the Audubon-Downriver Neighborhood, where she and her husband raised their son. The couple owns a marijuana farm, and prior to her election in 2015, Stratton had experience working in higher education, as a city employee, and for the state Legislature.
Rathbun, 55, has lived for about the same amount of time in West Central, where he and his wife raised their three daughters. He retired a year ago from the Air Force after three decades of service, and spent much of the last 20 years working with the West Central Community Center board and on the West Central Neighborhood Council.
Each candidate is hauling a substantial campaign chest: Stratton has raised just less than $41,000, with no independent expenditures made on her behalf, while Rathbun has just less than $67,000, which includes $30,000 of his own money, and the Washington Realtors Political Action Committee has spent more than $11,000 on his behalf.
Stratton makes the case that she'll continue to fight for her constituents and city employees, putting their interests ahead of those of major political players. Rathbun, meanwhile, contends that it's time for a change in City Hall, and that Stratton, to her own admission, has at times not been able to work through issues with Mayor David Condon.
The Inlander spoke with both candidates about the issues they think are important ahead of the Nov. 5 election. Their conversations have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
INLANDER: You're familiar with West Central, but what are the concerns you've heard in other parts of your district?
RATHBUN: I've doorbelled over 4,000 homes now, working up north into Indian Trail and Five Mile Prairie. People's concerns are property crime, and traffic is a big one up there. Over the years, traffic's just gotten increasingly worse and worse. That Indian Trail area, there's just one road in and one road out. (Rathbun suggested at the League of Women Voters forum last week that a connector road around or through an old landfill in that area could be one option to alleviate traffic concerns.)
You've mentioned concerns about housing availability. Where should that go and how do you address neighborhoods that voice concerns whenever an apartment building is proposed?
We definitely need to build everything we can up in the city. We need to build up and out. We have a definite housing crisis. We do not have enough homes of all types. We need to build all throughout the housing ladder, so to speak, so that people can move up and down in the market as their needs change, upscaling with kids and downscaling for empty nesters.
We have wonderful neighborhoods and they want to keep their identity. The master plan of the city is mostly building in the centers and corridors. We need to sit down with the builders and the planning department and permitting department and figure out how we can make more use of building up through those centers and corridors.
What experience do you have that sets you up for work on the council?
During my decades of work with the West Central Community Center we made lots of progress by working together. That's what we need to do for these important issues. On the City Council there's a lack of communication, and dysfunction. My opponent Karen Stratton is almost proud of the fact she doesn't talk with the mayor. We can't tackle complex issues if they won't meet with important policy makers. During my career in the Air Force we solved problems and got along and came up with solutions constantly.
What immediate changes would you take to address homelessness?
I kind of believe we're at a tipping point. People are very frustrated with what's going on downtown. It's not a crime to be homeless, but there's a small amount of people downtown giving the homeless a bad name due to bad behaviors. I don't know when it ever became alright that we put up with and tolerate the behaviors that are going on. There does come a point when jail is a corrective response. We need actual accountability with the people seeking services for homelessness, and we need to absolutely offer services for addiction and mental health issues. We need to help integrate people back into society. There's programs that are working and we need to bolster those and retake a look at where we're spending our money.
Is there a program you think is working well?
The Union Gospel Mission. It's pretty well documented they're able to integrate people back in because they have a jobs program. I think that's a big piece to help people lift themselves up.
INLANDER: What do you think most sets you two apart from each other?
STRATTON: First I'll say experience. I worked for two mayors and I worked in the Legislature. I've served one term and I have gotten to know our neighborhoods very, very well. I go to my neighborhood meetings, and I know the issues very well.
Contrary to what Mr. Rathbun quoted from the Inlander [at the League of Women Voters forum], I try very hard to get along with people. I actually welcome diverse ideas and discussions, and I think I've been lucky to have opportunities to sit across from people that have differing views and try to come up with good solutions. I just think that I'm better prepared. I'm not running with any intention other than improving my community and making Spokane a better place to live and to work.
Can you explain more about not meeting with Mayor Condon regularly?
Part of being an adult is recognizing that sometimes it's not a good use of time to have consistent meetings when you're just so different and there is really no trust in the relationship. It doesn't mean that I don't look out for the betterment of the community. It just means that's an individual I will not go to unless I need to, and I have. I've gone to sit down about employee issues because I support our employees very strongly. To me, when I recognized that relationship wasn't really benefiting either of us in weekly or monthly meetings, I said, "I promise you I will talk to you if I need you, but let's not go through this every month if neither of us is benefitting from that."
Do you have major issues with either mayoral candidate, Ben Stuckart or Nadine Woodward?
That's the lesson learned, trying to find that middle ground for the benefit of the people you represent. But I'm concerned. I will say right off the bat I've worked with Ben for four years. City government is a difficult nut to crack sometimes and he gets it. I worry that having somebody come in who doesn't have that experience is a little concerning to me. I do have big concerns about somebody walking in with ideas that all the homeless people need to go to jail.
The other issue I've heard, not only from Nadine Woodward but also from Cindy Wendle, is when you stand up as a candidate and you say every City Council member needs to go, we're glomming them into this big category, "they're all crazy liberals and need to go." What does that say to me? It's unfortunate because we're all good people and want to make positive changes. It doesn't set a good foundation for a relationship. You have to spend three times the effort to work past that.
What do you think are the best solutions for more housing capacity?
I really support looking into the urban core and our centers and corridors, where that activity not only benefits the neighborhood, but there are neighborhoods that would like to see it. There are lots of possibilities along North Monroe and that corridor. We need more housing of all types, not just affordable. There are residents that are looking to be in environments where they can hop on a bus and go to work, or eat in a neighborhood and get their prescriptions, where it's convenient, close and they're close to services. ♦