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.
CITY OF SPOKANE Mayor
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!