The Young, the Old and the Ballot

Boy Wonder Ben Stuckart faces Fighting Phoenix Dennis Hession in the race for Spokane Council President.

The Upstart and the Old Hand. A fresh perspective versus deep experience. The race is to replace Joe Shogan, his egg timer and his famously short fuse. And most people watching the race agree: Neither of the candidates shows the fierce temper of the man in the seat now.

But it doesn’t mean the campaign has been sedate. Hession, a former mayor, threw his name in late and upended the race. Stuckart began as a no-name, but has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of — and money for — his candidacy.

With ballots in the hands of the city’s numerous voters, who will remain after Nov. 8?

The Fighting Phoenix

(aka Dennis Hession)

Super Power: To come back from the dead.

Origin Story: Hession, 61, once ruled Spokane — first as council president under Mayor Jim West; then, after West’s infamous fall, as mayor. But when Hession ran to keep the mayor’s office in 2007, he suffered defeat at the hands of Mary Verner. For the last four years, he’s been in the political wilderness. He has kept busy: he ran the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, did some work as a lawyer and directed the special projects for Blue Water Technologies, a wastewater treatment firm. When he announced his candidacy for council president this spring, it was at the last minute and sent shock waves through what was then a quiet, two-man race. But after the primary vote, it was clear that many Spokane voters hadn’t forgotten Hession — he garnered almost 40 percent of the vote, compared to the next best at 30 percent.

Utility Belt: Hession is running on his experience at City Hall. Even before his name was on a ballot, he sat on the city’s Park Board. As he says, he knows the government at City Hall because he used to pull the levers there. He recommends crafting a city budget every two years, rather than once a year. He says the city’s utility tax is “unsustainable” and unfair to poor people, and would change it. His knowledge of the city’s permitting process, budgeting, and hotel and B&O taxes is wide and likely only equaled by the current mayor.

Weakness: He was voted out of office four years ago. And with a name that might remind voters of old times — Jim West, River Park Square and the beginning of the Otto Zehm tragedy — he could face a head wind.

Boy Wonder

(aka Ben Stuckart)

Super Power: To appear out of nowhere.

Origin Story: For many years of his life, Stuckart, 39, sold tickets. He lived in California’s Bay Area selling tickets as assistant tickets manager for the Oakland Raiders. He lived in Spokane selling tickets as TicketsWest’s regional manager. After getting a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga, Stuckart started organizing. He led the campaign for the Children’s Investment Fund initiative last year, and helped found Pedals2People. And now, he’s trying his hand at leadership. Still in his 30s, Stuckart bested longtime City Councilman Steve Corker in the primary, only to get his support soon after. He’s raised $107,000 — the most money in any city race this year save for the mayoral candidates. He’s gathered an impressive list of endorsements — from an array of labor groups, to bigwig Democrats to even the Spokesman-Review.

Utility Belt: From the get-go Stuckart has said that because the council president is elected citywide — like the mayor — he would act like a citywide leader. As for policy ideas, Stuckart has focused on the city’s role in economic growth and helping small businesses. He’s schooled himself in the ways of business improvement districts and tax-increment financing, and he says helping out may be as simple as getting out of the way — which could entail loosening parking permits for developers building in neighborhood centers. Also, unlike his opponent, Stuckart has the progressive community behind him, which aligns him with other members of the Council and could make the city’s legislative body a counterpoint to the powerful mayor’s office.

Weakness: Inexperience. Much like his opponent, his strength could also be his weakness. With little name recognition, Stuckart could lose the vote simply because his name is unfamiliar.

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About The Author

Nicholas Deshais

Nicholas Deshais is a former news editor and staff writer for The Inlander. He has reported on city, county and state politics, as well as medical marijuana, transportation and development. In May 2012, he was named as a finalist for the prestigious Livingston Award for an Inlander story about (now former) Assistant...