by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & Y & lt;/span & ou can tell your grandkids it happened during the taping of the League of Women Voters candidate forum last Wednesday. That's when the previously civil race for Spokane mayor started to get prickly with incumbent Dennis Hession taking a few pokes at challenger and City Councilwoman Mary Verner.

The eyebrows first went up when each candidate had answered a seemingly mild question from the nice ladies at LWV about how closely would they follow the cost-cutting tips in the Matrix study.

Hession said he would follow it closely. Verner said she would follow it somewhat less closely. You can feel the tension building, right?

Hession then offered a response that he was surprised Verner saw value in the study since she had previously said it was a mistake. Verner responded to the response that she didn't like the mayor putting words in her mouth.

A few questions later the candidates threw elbows over which of them was the first to have become actively concerned about global climate change. Not exactly rock 'em, sock 'em, but it was a start.

The next night, Verner campaign officials claim, Spokane residents reported getting calls from phone banks in Oregon and Colorado disparaging Verner for accepting $7,500 from the firefighters' union and then voting to give firefighters a $10 million "bonus," as the call center put it, a few days later.

The "bonus" is no such thing, Verner says, noting it was a city council vote on pension funding. And the firefighter donation was not linked to the pension vote -- the union had contributed to Al French in the primary and swung money her way only after French finished third.

This week, Hession raised more eyebrows at the North Rotary mayoral debate with his contention that Verner had approached him with a plan to place a casino in the condemned Rookery Block downtown. Verner denied that any such conversation took place. Hession says he can't remember when or where they talked but is sure they did.

The phone bank stunt smacks of Republican tactician Stan Shore, says Verner campaign manager Judith Gilmore. Shore has been paid $20,200 by the Hession campaign so far for consulting services. Hession has also paid $17,214 in consulting fees to Alliance Pacific, the public relations firm run by former Mayor Jack Geraghty and Kerry Lynch.

The hot buzz in local political circles the last few weeks was that Geraghty -- who ran Hession's campaign for city council president -- has split over differences with Shore. Geraghty says that isn't so.

He and Lynch, he says, "are spending almost all of our time over on the coast," working with public relations clients. He agrees he and Shore are like oil and water but says there was no infighting.

It's striking, however, that Geraghty took a high-road tone last week in an interview about the mayor's race. He was talking about how tough it was to campaign against Verner, who is relatively unknown in Spokane and "has no negatives."

"Mary Verner is a nice woman. She conducts herself in a positive manner. I think a candidate on the other side has a tough time going against that. Seems like you've got to out-nice-guy her to death," Geraghty says.

Doesn't seem like that's the way the campaign is going.

Instant Winner

Because Hession was appointed to ride out the rest of Jim West's term as mayor, his is considered a short term. And state law allows the winner of a normal term coming right after a short term to take office as soon as the votes are certified. So Hession or Verner could become mayor as soon as Nov. 27.

Shaky Penmanship, Shaky Democracy

John Hancock's original John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence is so bold and so clear it's a bulwark of our democratic process.

Yes, just like that mean penmanship teacher in grade school told you: Good handwriting equals good government. The Spokane County Elections office had to send 1,400 letters of stern admonishment to sloppy handwriters around the city after the August primary because of bad penmanship threatening our freedoms. Seems 1,400 people -- and you know who you are, Ted McGregor -- turned in ballots with signatures that didn't quite match the signature on file at the county.

"Yes, we check every one," says Paul Brandt of the elections office.

The sloppy John Hancocks were close enough that the ballots were counted ... this time. But the county wants a new signature for its records or future votes may not count.

Those Wealthy, Stealthy "Consumers"

The national insurance industry's drive (called Consumers Against Higher Insurance Rates) to repeal consumer protections embedded in Referendum 67 has reached nearly $10 million with kick-ins last week of $855,210 from AllState Insurance of Northbrook Ill., and $84,000 from Progressive Casualty Insurance of Mayfield Village, Ohio (bringing Progressive's total to nearly $300,000).

Good news however: The number of actual consumers in Consumers Against Higher Insurance Rates appears to have doubled to four with the addition of $250 from a Seattle neurosurgeon and $500 from the Washington chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Meanwhile those crafty attorneys -- sorry, we mean Trial Lawyers! -- are closing in on their second million aided by fresh money from Spokane, with $20,000 from the Inland Northwest Political Action Committee, $10,000 from Mark Kamitomo of the Markham Group and $2,000 from the law firm Winston Cashatt.

Virtual Idaho Womxn's March

Sat., Jan. 23, 3:30 p.m.
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