Two political newcomers compete to represent Northwest Spokane

click to enlarge Mike Lish (left) and Zack Zappone
Mike Lish (left) and Zack Zappone

A school teacher and a small businessman are running to represent Spokane City Council District 3, which encompasses Northwest Spokane. Neither has experience in elected office, but both say their careers and real-world experience give them the tools needed to sway voters and refocus a city hall in dire need of realignment.

MIKE LISH is the President of D. Lish's Hamburgers. He says running the business has given him a unique understanding of the city's issues. He talks about the challenges of staying afloat during the pandemic and finding employees in a city hostile to younger renters in the workforce.

ZACK ZAPPONE's background is in education and nonprofits. While pursuing a master's in public affairs at Princeton, Zappone says he learned from experts about the practical solutions needed to address issues like homelessness. When he returned to Spokane to teach middle school English and history, Zappone saw firsthand how poverty and addiction can affect the mental health of children.

Both candidates like emphasizing how much time they spend listening and talking to voters. In doing so, they tell the Inlander they generally hear three main concerns: housing, homelessness and public safety.

HOMELESSNESS

When it comes to homelessness, Zappone says there needs to be a variety of shelter types to meet the needs of different populations. That includes shelters for women and youth. He's supportive of Mayor Nadine Woodward's recent 2022 budget proposal for more low-barrier shelters. Lish thinks the city needs some low-barrier shelters, but he's not yet sure how many. What's more important, he says, is accountability.

Lish says his philosophy is informed by formerly homeless people he has met while doorbelling and walking around downtown. He says they told him that being held accountable helped them escape issues like drug addiction and become successful.

To Lish, more rigorous enforcement of drug and property crimes can help.

"We need to be able to hold people accountable — the bad actors," Lish says. "There's probably a small subset of the homeless downtown that are giving everybody else a bad name."

Zappone says he's also spent time talking with homeless people. He pushes back on Lish's model of "compassionate accountability" and says there's an urgent need to expand shelter capacity. He's also guided by his studies at Princeton and research on best practices from other cities.

Lish is wary of adopting plans from other cities. "I'm ready for the Spokane solution," he says, "I don't want the solution to Seattle."

Zappone has a four-point plan for addressing homelessness that involves preventative measures like eviction protections, coordinated outreach to get people into shelters, and mental health and substance use resources once people are in shelters. The final step focuses on transitional housing and job placement.

Lish criticizes Zappone's plan for being too aligned with the current city council. He says a housing-first approach has been tried and clearly isn't working.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Lish's approach to public safety is guided by his experience managing a small business. He highlighted a recent incident when a random man showed up at his restaurant and started harassing employees when they tried to leave. His employees had to call the police three times before they came, Lish says.

Lish says addressing public safety needs to involve filling staffing shortages in the Spokane Police Department. Zappone agrees and says the shortage results from a lack of leadership from the mayor's office.

"There have been no proposals about additional funding needed to recruit and retain police officers. There's been no foresight," Zappone says.

When he was running for state legislature in the summer of 2020, Zappone signed a pledge from Fuse Washington that called for significant statewide policing reforms. Lish pressed him on the pledge during an Oct. 7 debate hosted by Rotary 21, and asked if Zappone still supported defunding the police. Zappone said he does not support defunding the police, but didn't elaborate on whether or not he still stands behind the pledge. (The Fuse Washington Pledge doesn't actually include the word "defund," but it does call for de-militarization and redirecting police department funding to community-based alternatives.)

Zappone says he is a supporter of police, though he acknowledges that police aren't necessarily trained to address root causes like substance abuse and mental health issues. He's a big supporter of the recently opened Spokane Regional Stabilization Center and Spokane's Therapeutic Drug Court.

HOUSING

When it was Zappone's turn to ask a question during the debate, he asked his opponent to name three concrete policies for making sure working and middle-class families can get ahead in the economy. Lish didn't really name concrete policies — "I'm still pretty new to this," he said — but he did name three general ideas: Re-zone neighborhoods and get rid of red tape, improve safety and attract higher-paying jobs.

Zappone agrees that re-zoning is necessary to encourage much-needed housing development in the Spokane area. The growth needs to be smart, he says, and focused on areas that have the infrastructure to support it. He also wants to change accessory dwelling regulations to make it easier to build housing for people who need smaller units.

"That's the missing middle part of our market," Zappone says.

Next year, Spokane will receive $40 million in federal COVID relief funding. Both candidates preface any talk of spending the money by emphasizing the need to listen to the community. In more concrete terms, Lish says he would like to see the money spent helping those who have been hit hardest by COVID-19, like small businesses and people who have lost work. Zappone brings up homelessness and affordable housing, as well as 21st-century infrastructure, bike routes, walkable neighborhoods and childcare.

Zappone says the difference between him and his opponent is best highlighted by their endorsements; Zappone has significant backing from local labor unions, while Lish's endorsements are more reflective of the business community. Lish has also received almost $145,000 from the Spokane Realtors Association, but he says the support wouldn't influence any of his decisions. ♦

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