- FROM LEFT: Mayor David Condon and his two challengers, Shar Lichty, Michael Noder, Council President Ben Stuckart and challenger John Ahern
A quiet parade of people filed into a county building last week to take the first step in determining the balance of power at City Hall.
More than a dozen candidates — some well-funded and well-known, others with little name recognition or funds — turned out for last week's filing deadline for seats on the Spokane City Council and in the mayor's race.
Mayor David Condon, having amassed a sizable war chest, faces obscure challengers and could be in a position to accomplish something no mayor of Spokane has accomplished in more than four decades: get re-elected. Council President Ben Stuckart, who has been at odds with Condon, also has a fundraising advantage over his sole challenger. The balance of the city council, which tipped further left after last year's elections, is also up for grabs.
The last mayor re-elected by Spokane was David Rodgers in 1973. In 2011, Condon, then deputy chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, toppled Mayor Mary Verner by hammering her on the city's response to Otto Zehm, a developmentally disabled man who died in 2006 at the hands of police, while also promising economic growth for the city.
Condon is hoping to break the one-term curse by trumpeting a list of accomplishments including police reform, investments in infrastructure and economic growth.
"I really feel our administration has been inclusive in working on these tough issues," he says.
Condon has other factors working for him. He's managed to raise nearly a quarter of a million dollars so far for his campaign, and some of the bigger name candidates, such as Stuckart and Democratic state Rep. Marcus Riccelli, won't be challenging him.
"I don't think he's a great mayor, but people are intimidated by the amount of money he's got," says Joe Shogan, who served as a city councilman and council president between 2004 and 2011. Shogan doesn't know much about the "other lady" who is running.
That "other lady" is Shar Lichty, an organizer with the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, who is hoping to keep the one-term curse in place for a little longer.
Lichty, who says Condon is too close to business interests, has political experience working on the statewide campaign for Referendum 74, the ballot initiative that legalized same-sex marriage in 2012, as well as an unsuccessful effort to raise state income taxes in 2010. During the campaigns, she wondered if she might be more effective working "from the inside."
Lichty says she's undergone training with Progressive Majority, a political action committee that recruits and trains candidates, and has campaign staff who are currently working on an unpaid basis until she raises more funds. Currently, she's raised about $2,800.
"Talking to voters face-to-face, hearing their concerns, will be my number one strategy," says Lichty.
Michael Noder, a businessman who says he is involved with a company that produces mineral compounds used to treat cancer and other medical conditions, has launched his third run for mayor. He hopes to use his campaign to highlight what he says are problems with the size and unaccountability of city government.
"My objective is not to win," says Noder, who plans to raise no money. "My objective is to make my community a better place."
Stuckart, 43, loves to talk about all the council has accomplished in the areas of urban farming, improvements in infrastructure, making city code friendlier to the "sharing economy," hiring new police officers and putting apprenticeship requirements on public works projects.
All this productivity has also created adversaries for Stuckart, who regularly take to the Internet or show up at council meetings to berate these accomplishments. Despite the vocal opposition, he's only drawn one re-election challenger, John Ahern, an 80-year-old who served 10 years as a Republican state representative.
Ahern's two big issues are placing a moratorium on the sale and production of marijuana and undoing an ordinance that prohibits city employees from inquiring about people's immigration status, saying that it invites terrorists and foreign criminal elements into the city.
"The city council needs adult supervision and parental guidance," says Ahern.
Ahern lost his 2013 bid for city council, receiving just 35 percent of the vote. He's only raised about $1,000 compared to Stuckart's $60,000.
Stuckart isn't taking anything for granted.
"I think every time you run for re-election, you need to run like the world is on fire," he says.
An online effort was made to recruit state Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, to run against Stuckart. Parker declined, saying he wants to stay focused on the legislature. When asked why Stuckart didn't draw more challengers, he speculates that the "acrimonious" tone at city council might have something to do with it.
Last year, Karen Stratton was appointed to city council to complete Steve Salvatori's term, giving the the liberals on the city's legislative body a 5-2 majority that can overcome mayoral vetoes.
Three of the council's six seats are now up for grabs, and the liberal majority could be expanded further.
Stratton faces Evan Verduin, an architect who has served on the Spokane Plan Commission, along with Dave White, an opponent of the council's liberal orientation, and Kelly Cruz, a West Central neighborhood activist who finished with 6 percent of the vote in the primary when he ran for council in 2013.
So far, Stratton has raised nearly $16,000 to keep her seat. None of her opponents have reported raising any money.
Councilman Mike Allen, part of the council's conservative wing, declined to run for re-election and has endorsed LaVerne Biel, a Perry District business owner who has raised about $4,000.
She'll face off against more liberal opponents, including John Waite, a downtown business owner and perennial candidate who has raised $7,600, and Lori Kinnear, legislative assistant to Councilwoman Amber Waldref, who has raised $12,500.
Mike Fagan, the council's most conservative member, is being challenged by Randy Ramos, a recruiter with the Spokane Tribal College, and Ben Krauss, an analyst with the city who said he's running because of Fagan's views on pay differences between men and women working in city government. ♦