Likely general matchup: Lisa Brown versus Nadine Woodward
The presumptive finalists in the contest for Mayor of Spokane: Lisa Brown (left) and Nadine Woodward (right). Photos courtesy of their campaigns.

This year, vot­ers in Spokane have the respon­si­bil­i­ty of decid­ing who the city’s chief exec­u­tive should be for the next four years. They face a stark choice, between incum­bent Nadine Wood­ward, an acolyte of Repub­li­can Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers, or Lisa Brown, a for­mer Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­ate major­i­ty leader who is well known in the Lilac City and used to rep­re­sent it in the Legislature.

In tonight’s ini­tial results, Brown has over 46%, a plu­ral­i­ty, while Wood­ward is under forty per­cent, a result that like­ly comes as a sur­prise to many polit­i­cal observers. Wood­ward looks incred­i­bly vul­ner­a­ble, despite the enor­mous amount of mon­ey lined up behind her. It’s a bad night for the Wood­ward camp. Brown, mean­while, is rid­ing high, and looks well posi­tioned to be the next mayor.

Can­di­dateVoteVote %
Nadine Wood­ward
Patrick McK­ann
Tim Archer
Kel­ly Stevens
Lisa Brown
Total Votes36,276

Spokane oper­ates under a strong may­or form of gov­ern­ment, mean­ing the may­or is an inde­pen­dent­ly elect­ed posi­tion rather than a mem­ber of the city coun­cil. The may­or is respon­si­ble for appoint­ing and remov­ing depart­ment heads, propos­ing bud­gets to city coun­cil, and enforc­ing city laws and ordinances.

They can also veto leg­is­la­tion sent to them by the council.

As men­tioned, incum­bent Nadine Wood­ward is seek­ing a sec­ond term.

Pri­or to win­ning four years ago, Wood­ward worked as a news broad­cast­er at KREM and KXLY. Her cam­paign and sub­se­quent term has come under fire due to her heavy sup­port from the Spokane Asso­ci­a­tion of Real­tors. To date, the bulk of her $420,000 in cam­paign funds (a Spokane elec­tion fundrais­ing record) has come from busi­ness­es, real estate devel­op­ers, and cor­po­ra­tions.

Since tak­ing office in 2020, Wood­ward has faced heavy crit­i­cism from social ser­vice orga­ni­za­tions, pro­gres­sives, and the city council.

Some key issues raised dur­ing her tenure include the mis­man­age­ment of city funds, her insuf­fi­cient and lack­lus­ter response to Spokane’s home­less cri­sis, and the dis­as­trous Trent Shel­ter fias­co. Although the posi­tion of may­or is offi­cial­ly non­par­ti­san, Wood­ward is a Repub­li­can and is aligned with Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers and her sup­port­ers. Notably, there was a mishap with a tweet post­ed from her account that was clear­ly intend­ed to be post­ed to McMor­ris-Rodgers’.

Wood­ward has described her­self as a “cham­pi­on” for pub­lic safe­ty, hous­ing, eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, and home­less­ness in Spokane.

While it is true that the city estab­lished a vio­lent crimes task force and a behav­ioral health unit while she may­or, Spokane’s prop­er­ty crime rate remains stub­born­ly high, and Spokane res­i­dents have con­tin­ued to com­plain about slug­gish law enforce­ment response and a per­ceived lack of safety.

Mean­while, the unshel­tered pop­u­la­tion in Spokane has risen by over 52% since 2020. Wood­ward has sup­port­ed sit-lie laws (despite their uncon­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty if there is no shel­ter space avail­able – which in Spokane, there isn’t), and opposed man­dat­ing emer­gency warm­ing and cool­ing shel­ters to pro­tect peo­ple against Spokane’s increas­ing­ly extreme weath­er swings.

Wood­ward uses right wing log­ic in her polit­i­cal think­ing, which means that she believes that being home­less­ness is a choice, rather than the result of inter­lock­ing socioe­co­nom­ic fac­tors that leave those already strug­gling under struc­tur­al oppres­sion more vul­ner­a­ble to becom­ing home­less and stay­ing unhoused.

Late­ly, she has been pitch­ing her­self as the “law and order” candidate.

Brown, a for­mer Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Com­merce Direc­tor, made it clear she was in it to win it when she left her job to chal­lenge Woodward.

Brown has a lengthy his­to­ry of activism and pub­lic ser­vice, begin­ning in 1992 when she was elect­ed to the Wash­ing­ton State House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. She even­tu­al­ly moved to the State Sen­ate in 1996, and served as Demo­c­ra­t­ic Major­i­ty Leader from 2005 to 2012. She was the first woman to hold the posi­tion in state his­to­ry. In 2018, she ran to rep­re­sent Washington’s 5th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, chal­leng­ing McMor­ris Rodgers.

She did­n’t win, but she did make an impres­sive show­ing for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date in a heav­i­ly Repub­li­can con­gres­sion­al district.

She then served as direc­tor of the Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Com­merce, start­ing in 2019. There, she devel­oped the Small Busi­ness Resilien­cy Net­work, worked to bring broad­band to under­served com­mu­ni­ties, and helped admin­is­ter fund­ing for local gov­ern­ments, tribes, non­prof­its, and small busi­ness­es dur­ing the dis­as­trous COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. She stepped down a few months ago, just before she announced her can­di­da­cy for Spokane’s top elect­ed position.

Brown has been active in Spokane’s com­mu­ni­ty for near­ly four decades, vol­un­teer­ing and advo­cat­ing with local orga­ni­za­tions to sup­port vic­tims of domes­tic vio­lence and LGBTQ+ populations.

She takes a marked­ly dif­fer­ent approach than her rival with regards to Spokane’s most press­ing issues. Where­as Wood­ward views home­less­ness as the result of per­son­al choic­es, Brown wants to focus on increas­ing afford­able hous­ing and more invest­ment in pre­ven­tion strate­gies, such as employ­ment ser­vices, men­tal health sup­port, strength­en­ing edu­ca­tion­al institutions.

She’d also work with local com­mu­ni­ty part­ners to ensure their pro­grams and resources are more acces­si­ble for all.

Though Brown doesn’t have the cor­po­rate finan­cial back­ing Wood­ward does, she brings expe­ri­ence, name recog­ni­tion, and a bevy of endorsements.

(Full dis­clo­sure: I am a vol­un­teer for Lisa’s cam­paign in my indi­vid­ual capac­i­ty as an activist. NPI does­n’t endorse can­di­dates for pub­lic office or engage in elec­tion­eer­ing for or against any can­di­date.)

Also chal­leng­ing Wood­ward is Tim Archer, Pres­i­dent of the Spokane Fire­fight­ers Union. Archer served as a fire­fight­er for twen­ty years before being dis­missed for refus­ing to become vac­ci­nat­ed against COVID-19. He, like oth­er right-lean­ing can­di­dates, has been cam­paign­ing on pub­lic safe­ty, decry­ing the “deplorable” state of Spokane’s streets. Accord­ing to Cross­cut, he is also opposed to repro­duc­tive free­dom and gen­der-affirm­ing health­care.

Archer had 11.44% of the vote in ear­ly returns.

In fourth place this evening is chal­lenger Patrick McK­ann. McK­ann declares on his web­site that he is “just a dad run­ning for May­or of Spokane.”

He has expe­ri­ence as a wildlife biol­o­gist, sta­tis­ti­cian, and craftsman.

He is now a small busi­ness own­er, build­ing yurts for clients online.

His envi­ron­men­tal­ly-focused cam­paign has promised to make per­ma­nent pro­tec­tions for the nat­ur­al lands sur­round­ing the area and imple­ment traf­fic safe­ty mea­sures to ease con­ges­tion and speed­ing issues.

In fifth place tonight is Kel­ly Stevens, an employ­ee of the Streets Department.

Her cam­paign has been focused on home­less­ness and pover­ty, with a par­tic­u­lar focus on gang vio­lence. She has first­hand expe­ri­ence with Spokane’s hous­ing crisis–she her­self lost her hous­ing dur­ing the 2008 recession.

How­ev­er, she lacks a cam­paign web­site, and has offered lit­tle in the way of cam­paign pro­mo­tion aside from some inter­view spots with local news stations.

It’s a rea­son­ably safe assump­tion that Wood­ward and Brown will be the final­ists com­pet­ing in the Novem­ber gen­er­al election.

Brown can expect an even big­ger avalanche of cor­po­rate mon­ey oppos­ing her may­oral bid in the fall. There will be prob­a­bly be mail­ers, radio ads, and tele­vi­sion spots decry­ing her can­di­da­cy from PACs financed by Wood­ward back­ers. It could be one of the ugli­est autumn cam­paigns the Lilac City has ever seen.

But for tonight, at least, Brown and Spokane pro­gres­sives can cel­e­brate a real­ly good ini­tial show­ing that will put the doubters on notice. Democ­rats have a real oppor­tu­ni­ty to change the lead­er­ship of the state’s sec­ond largest city this year.

It’s going to be a real race!

About the author

Caya is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor based out of Spokane, Washington, writing about Lilac City politics, the Evergreen State's 5th Congressional District, and related politics. She previously hosted the inaugural episodes of NPI's PNWcurrents podcast. She works at the Unemployment Law Project and is a graduate of Central Washington University, with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and sciences. Caya also has a minor from CWU in law and justice.

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