The Votes Are In

What last week's elections mean for Spokane and Coeur d'Alene

click to enlarge David Condon is the first mayor to win re-election since David Rodgers in 1973. - YOUNG KWAK
Young Kwak
David Condon is the first mayor to win re-election since David Rodgers in 1973.

So much changed and so much stayed the same. On Tuesday, the big day came and workers at the Spokane County Elections Office began counting 120,000 ballots to determine who would control the levers of power at City Hall and on the school board. Across the state line in Kootenai County, election workers did the same, tallying up more than 9,000 ballots.

In some ways, the election results aren't surprising, with many well-funded and established candidates winning their races. But in other races, voters handed victories to challengers, causing power dynamics to shift.

In Spokane, a mayor made history and strained relationships, an ambitious politician saw his clout expanded, a councilman saw his influence diminished, voters said "no" to a local progressive group for the third time and a 20-year school board veteran lost his seat. In Coeur d'Alene, urban renewal received a vote of confidence.

Condon broke the mayoral curse

On election night, a jubilant Mayor David Condon stood before supporters at Barrister Winery to tell them that voters had just disproved two myths about Spokane.

"The [myth of the] one-term mayor is over," he said to boisterous applause before turning to the second myth. "The myth that Spokane is stuck in a rut is over."

Last week, Condon prevailed over challenger Shar Lichty, a progressive political organizer, with nearly 63 percent of the vote, becoming the first mayor to win re-election since David Rodgers in 1973.

The win came despite recent dustups. Former Police Chief Frank Straub has filed a claim against the city for $4 million after suddenly being ousted, and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich recently accused City Administrator Theresa Sanders of trying to downplay allegations that a police officer sexually assaulted another officer at a party, a charge she fervently denies.

But Condon had amassed a $390,000 war chest and faced an opponent with little name recognition or money, who had never held political office and had aligned herself with the controversial Worker Bill of Rights initiative, which voters decisively rejected.

"I started this campaign four years ago, and it was about engaging our citizens," Condon told the Inlander on election night. "And we didn't let up until today."

As for the next four years, Condon said he would continue to work on economic growth, public safety and innovations in city government.

Stuckart gains more power; city council moves further to the left

Since Karen Stratton was appointed to Spokane City Council last year to fill out the term of Steve Salvatori, Council President Ben Stuckart has had a 5-2, veto-proof voting bloc that's enabled him to pass his progressive legislative agenda over the objections of Mayor Condon. Now, that bloc has grown to 6-1.

Condon, seeking to shift the council's balance, endorsed and campaigned for LaVerne Biel and Evan Verduin, two business owners with misgivings about the direction of the city's legislative body.

But Condon lost his gamble. Voters gave Stratton a full term and elected Lori Kinnear to the council. Both candidates aligned themselves with Stuckart, who last week won a second term by beating former state Rep. John Ahern with almost 63 percent of the vote.

Both Stratton and Kinnear call the mayor's involvement in their council races "unprecedented" and say it has damaged their relationships with him.

"I think Karen Stratton and I felt like we had two opponents instead of one in the general election," says Kinnear. "We need to do some mending."

Condon shrugs off any fallout from his candidates losing.

"Both Lori Kinnear and Karen Stratton are committed to our community also, and also Ben Stuckart," he says. "And we've come together in the past and we will continue to come together."

Councilman Mike Fagan was re-elected, defeating Randy Ramos, a former recruiter for the Spokane Tribal College. Fagan is now the council's sole conservative, which he's fine with.

"If both sides have an opportunity to present their opinions, then that's called healthy," says Fagan. "It's all about having the debate, period. I don't mind being in a severe minority at all. That just means I'm going to have to be in the newspaper a lot."

Envision lost, but it'll be back

The letdown came in over tacos at a Peaceful Valley home, where the campaign for Spokane's Worker Bill of Rights initiative learned it had been rejected by 64 percent of voters.

The Worker Bill of Rights is the fourth far-reaching initiative from Envision Spokane to qualify for the ballot. In 2009 and 2011, Envision's Community Bill of Rights was voted down. In 2013, opponents sued to keep another incarnation of the measure off the ballot; its fate will be decided by the Washington Supreme Court.

While waiting for the court, Envision formed an offshoot political committee and sponsored the Worker Bill of Rights, which would have required businesses of 150 or more employees to pay an undetermined family wage, estimated to be between $17 and $23 an hour, while giving workers new rights and restricting the power of corporations.

Opponents of the measure, which included local politicians spanning the political spectrum, argued that it would stifle the local economy, bring lawsuits and cost jobs. They also argued that it was being driven by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit law firm that has pushed for similar measures elsewhere. Michael Cathcart, who headed the Alliance to Protect Local Jobs campaign against the measure, said in an email that the results were a vindication.

But Kai Huschke, Envision campaign coordinator, was undeterred on election night.

"You take a little time off and then regroup," said Huschke. "But this isn't going away."

The education union won

This year, a question hung over the Spokane Public Schools school board race: Would voters seek to punish the Spokane Education Association for its more aggressive strategy? In the spring, the union had voted for a one-day walkout to protest underfunding of education by the legislature. In the fall, it had threatened a strike during negotiations with the district.

Rocky Treppiedi, a school board member since 1996, believed that the public opposed these actions.

"The union leadership believes that [strikes] are a strategy, believes that it's a good thing, that it's an appropriate thing to do," Treppiedi said in a recent school board meeting. "The public doesn't... They're not in favor of strikes. They're not in favor of disrupting the school year. They're not in favor of disrupting their family life."

But the election didn't turn out that way.

Treppiedi saw his tiny initial lead disappear as the final ballots were counted. Jerrall Haynes, a young, union-endorsed aircraft maintenance craftsman who hasn't finished college, beat Treppiedi with 50.7 percent of the vote.

It was the first time Treppiedi had been up for re-election since 2012, when he was fired by Mayor David Condon as a Spokane assistant city attorney for his controversial role in a high-profile police brutality case.

In the other school board race, Central Valley teacher Paul Schneider easily bested nonprofit leader Patricia Kienholz by 10 points. Both were victories for the union.

"All the candidates we endorsed won," says Jenny Rose, president of the Spokane Education Association. "This is the most active in a school board race [the union has been]. ... It finally clicked on: We've got to get involved if we want to make changes."

Here's the thing about school board races in off-year elections: The low turnout rewards active organization, and unions are particularly good at organizing their members.

This year, slightly less than 42 percent of eligible voters in Spokane County cast a ballot. And of those who did vote in the Spokane Public Schools boundaries, over 20 percent chose not to vote in the Treppiedi-Haynes race, while over 22 percent chose not to vote in the Schneider-Kienholz race.

Going forward, Rose says, she's looking to restart regular meetings between the school board, the district and the union. It's not just the loss of Treppiedi's two decades of experience that will change the flavor of the board. Both Schneider and Haynes say they oppose charter schools, creating a new dynamic on a board that has, uniquely, been in favor of them.

Coeur d'Alene wants urban renewal

With victories by Ron Edinger and Dan English, Coeur d'Alene's urban renewal district may have just gotten a boost.

Edinger, a 41-year veteran of city council who also served one term as mayor, straddled the line when it came to questions about ignite cda (formerly the Lake City Development Corporation), the city's independent urban development agency. Edinger said he disagreed with some of the renewal projects, but agreed with others.

Edinger's challenger, conservative business owner Toby Schindelbeck, expressed his frustration with the fact that ignite cda was given control of public money without public input.

During his campaign, Edinger promised to advocate for full funding of the police and fire departments.

In the only other contested race, former Kootenai County Clerk Dan English unseated incumbent Steve Adams, a fiscal conservative, with 56 percent of the vote to Adams' 38 percent. Bruce MacNeil, the third candidate, received less than 6 percent of the vote.

Of the three, English was the only one to come out in support of ignite cda.♦

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About The Authors

Mitch Ryals

Mitch covers cops, crime and courts for the Inlander. He moved to Spokane in 2015 from his hometown of St. Louis, and is a graduate of the University of Missouri. He likes bikes, beer and baseball. And coffee. He dislikes lemon candy, close-mindedness and liars. And temperatures below 40 degrees.

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, staff writer Daniel Walters is the Inlander's City Hall reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...