I had to laugh when a reader predicted the day will come soon when Mayor David Condon will start doing “all that Republican stuff.” I imagined him decreeing March 11 as Rupert Murdoch Day all across Spokane, or perhaps invading Post Falls. (I think we all know they’re up to something over there.)
Condon did invite the paranoia by labeling himself “nonpartisan” — and then taking GOP money to pay for his campaign.
Despite the traditional fate we inflict on our mayors, Spokane does grant a honeymoon period. Condon had best take full advantage.
Spokane wants a great mayor, but voters don’t really seem to know what one looks like. We do know what we don’t want — doing “Republican stuff,” lecturing “It’s just snow, people” and inappropriate online dating are just three examples. Here’s my take on the elements of a successful Spokane mayor.
Boil it down, and running a city is keeping the streets passable, the toilets flushing and the bad guys in jail. Condon is no dummy, and he had his street crews nail it when the lone storm of his term hit. Nothing will get you unelected faster than blowing the basics.
Being competent also means having the right people running the city and its departments. I continue to be surprised by how rarely our mayors conduct national searches for the most dynamic, entrepreneurial management candidates they can find.
Mayor Condon already understands that he can get on TV any time he wants — as he did during his snow test. Some might call it grandstanding, but I call it a basic function of the mayor’s office.
I also applaud the way Council President Ben Stuckart has staked out his position — separate from the mayor, but together when it’s proper. Even if they disagree, Condon and Stuckart can be good for each other — like Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton. More important, they can be good for the city, as the sparks that may fly show citizens the system is working — that many points of view are being heard. Don’t be afraid of good, clean politics.
No amount of communication will fix Spokane’s problems — they are real, they are big and they could swamp Condon’s tenure.
Perhaps the economy and tax receipts will improve someday, but until then, Spokane, like too many of its citizens, has a perennial payday-loan kind of problem. Then there’s the Police Department. If Condon backpedals on his campaign promises, the city’s lack of trust in its leaders will land in his inbox, too.
A review of cities that have dealt with costly police mistakes and best-practice solutions could result in anything from a combined regional police department to a new chief. But to rebuild trust, any new chief must come from outside the SPD.
Mayors should dream big. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Boston’s Quincy Market and New York’s reborn Times Square are all proof of the difference a mayor can make. Yet the big picture only emerges when you rise above the endless meetings and mountains of reports. You can spend four years lost in that maze.
A medical school, more access to the Spokane River, a greater Native American presence in the city center — the more audacious the idea, and even a little crazy, the better. We could use a little more audacious around here.
Extend a Hand
Especially for a guy coming from a partisan job, Condon would endear himself to the citizens by staking out his independence early and showing his allegiance is to Spokane now, and not to the sacred cows of his past. Being bitterly divided fills the campaign coffers of the crowd Condon used to mix with, but the people are his boss now, not the richest campaign donors.
The best way to win the people is to stand up for them — especially in the face of bad policy, social injustice and even unresponsive city staff.
David Condon may be our last chance to prove whether this experiment with strong mayors has worked. So far, it really hasn’t. And it’s become obvious that firing our mayors every four years is no recipe for civic success. If he wants to break the one-term curse, Condon will have to learn from the mistakes of the past and figure out what kind mayor we want him to be.
Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the editor and publisher of The Inlander.