Steve Corker, 64, has been around local politics forever, or so it seems. He's been involved on various city boards and panels since the late 1970s, served on the City Council from 1999 to 2003 and then ran unsuccessfully for mayor in the last election.
Now he's back looking for a council seat.
Because of his experience, he says, voters can trust him to make informed choices and to help newer council members. The seven-member city council could have as many as five fresh faces after this election and the previous one, he notes.
Speaking of fresh faces, Nancy McLaughlin, 46, surprised the local political establishment by emerging from a primary crowded with more-familiar candidates. But it shouldn't have been such a surprise because, despite making her first run for office, McLaughlin has been active in the grassroots of city politics -- school and neighborhood issues -- nearly as long as Corker.
She is running, she says, because her sense of trust in city government was damaged this year by the sex scandal surrounding Mayor Jim West and by the city's continuing budget crisis.
On the flip side of trust: Is the ability to be some sort of mentor enough reason to vote for Corker? Some would argue new faces are a good idea.
On the flip side of trust: Is McLaughlin really running a stealth campaign for the Christian right, as at least one group -- the progressive Democracy for All -- suspects?
This is a more serious complaint than merely being part of the old guard. McLaughlin lists local anti-porn/anti-gay rights activist Penny Lancaster as a supporter, and she did lead an effort to overturn the city's new policy to extend benefits to domestic partners.
McLaughlin makes no bones about that. But a look at her campaign finance reports show a broad base of support, and McLaughlin says her faith does not constrain her politics.
"I can see eye to eye with most people, even if I don't agree with them," she says.
Corker, who has owned his own business, is an adjunct assistant professor of business at Gonzaga. McLaughlin helps her husband, Dave, run a construction and remodeling business.
Both cite experience in the business arena as helpful in resolving the persistent $6 million shortfall that has appeared in three of the last four general funds for the city budget.
And both seem to think it will take a bit of a shakeup to get things done. Corker says the old-boy downtown power brokers have driven out upstarts such as Dave Sabey, Bernard Daines and John Stone. Entrenched thinking has to change, he says, before Spokane can get off the edge of being broke all the time.
McLaughlin has the newcomer's energy to question everything about the city budget and also contends the old models are ripe for change.
Both candidates oppose the proposed sale of Albi Stadium for a bargain-basement $2.3 million. Each notes the land at Albi alone is valued at $15.5 million and the stadium another $11 million.
A key difference is in campaign funds. McLaughlin is out-spending Corker 3-to-1. Records on file with the state Public Disclosure Commission show she has raised more than $32,000 to date.
Developer Marshall Chesrown, whose proposed Kendall Yards development on the north bank of the Spokane River is in District 3, sent $4,000 to McLaughlin's campaign on Oct. 18, adding to the $2,000 he had contributed a couple of weeks earlier. (The open seat represents District Three, which covers Spokane from north of the river and west of Division Street.) Other heavy hitters on the list include tire magnate Duane Alton ($1,150), auto dealers George Gee and Richard Wendle ($350, $250); Bill and Judith Williams of the Liberty Lake high-tech firm Telect ($350), and Valley developer Raymond Hansen ($500).
The PDC Web site did not have a report from Corker posted earlier this week. Corker says he has raised about $10,000, including a $5,000 loan from himself. His biggest contributors include Bob Shaw, a banker and friend ($2,000); Don Barbieri ($500); former city recreation director Hal McGlathery ($500), and the Labor Council ($200).
"When the mayor scandal broke ... I decided to run," McLaughlin says. "I was so discouraged by the lack of integrity in leadership. And I voted for the man."
More accountability is needed, she says, "whether it is an ethics committee or by giving more authority to the Human Rights Commission. We deserve more respect from our leaders."
Corker, too, was offended by the scandal surrounding the mayor, and says it has less to do with misusing a city computer than with personal actions of angling for sex with young men.
"To me it's a matter of inappropriate behavior," Corker says. "I was impressed by Jim West. He was the first strong mayor who knew how to be a strong mayor. [The scandal] took the wind out of his sails."
Corker says the issue of accountability must be addressed either through a proposed ethics committee or by tweaking the strong mayor charter to insure the City Council "can seek a recall with five votes."
The relatively new strong mayor charter is only now being battle-tested, as it were, and the City Council discovered it had no check on the mayor. The all-mail recall election (ballots must be postmarked by Dec. 6) will have taken seven months from the time the scandal broke.
Corker contends his past experience on the workings of the council will be valuable as mayoral and budget issues are addressed. McLaughlin contends fresh perspectives are needed.