Is Spokane “Cured”?

Homelessness, Developers, and Election Propaganda

For two years Nadine Woodward has led the mayor’s office of the City of Spokane. Ms. Woodward came to the 2019 election from a long career as the familiar face and voice of local television news, projecting what is arguably an illusion of knowledge and management competence. Even as a public personality in the November 2019 general election Ms. Woodward beat former City Council President Ben Stuckart by a margin of just 848 votes, out of nearly 70,000 votes cast, 50.32 to 49.08%. 

Ms. Woodward’s and Mr. Stuckart’s campaigns each raised and spent close to $300,000 on the electoral contests, but local developer and realtor Political Action Committees (PACs) contributed another $330,000 in “independent expenditures” in support of Ms. Woodward.

Early on Ms. Woodward set the theme by posting a link to an inflammatory video entitled “Seattle is Dying”, a polemic “KOMO News Documentary” that presents Seattle as a city strewn with homeless camps with a mentally disturbed addict acting up on every corner. The video blames “liberal” Seattle government for this video-presented tragedy. The implication of the posting was that candidate Woodward would keep Spokane from descending into the same fate. 

Beyond the registered PACs funded by realtors and developers wanting control of the mayor’s office, wealthy local developer Larry B. Stone spent tens of thousands of dollars putting together a documentary video one might describe as the lite version of “Seattle is Dying”. “Curing Spokane” carefully avoids any mention of either candidate or the upcoming mayoral general election in 2019. Posted two and a half months ahead of the November general election, it spends 17 minutes discussing crime while depicting homeless camps and mentally disturbed people acting out on city streets. “Curing Spokane” details how Spokane and Boise, Idaho, are extremely similar, but portrays Boise as much clearer and safer. Boise is noted to have a higher jail capacity and half the homeless population of Spokane, implying the two are related. Mr. Stone’s video than presents “solutions”: a new, bigger jail, more cops on the streets, and, somewhat bizarrely, the development of more downtown parking and, lastly, putting the bus station underground. In a separate news video Mr. Stone is seen declaring that he is “neutral” regarding the mayoral candidates and that both candidates “really care”. The interviewer adds that Mr. Stone is not endorsing either candidate. 

Even so, it is impossible to miss that Ms. Woodward’s campaign leaned hard on promoting an increase in police presence downtown, proposed moving the location of the downtown police station, and supported building a new, bigger jail, all implying Ms. Woodward would offer Spokane the suggested “Cure”. A few weeks after Ms. Woodward won election as mayor by her slim majoritythe Spokesman quietly reported that Larry Stone’s L. B. Stone Properties was “seeking $1.2 million in tax exemptions [from the City of Spokane] for a major high-rise project on the north bank of the Spokane River”. The article further notes that the same L.B. Stone high-rise project “has already been approved for $300,000 in city money through the “Projects of Citywide Significance” program. Some might consider that tax break and grant a good return on investment for a few tens of thousands of dollars spent on making and spreading “Curing Spokane” while carefully couching the video as a non-political position statement.

Is Spokane “Cured”? Hardly. Mayor Woodward’s administration has for two years now seemed to wake up in late October to the idea that winter is coming, that increasing numbers of people have been made homeless by loss of jobs and rising rents. Ms. Woodward and her administration hurriedly opened, at great expense, a warming shelter at the Convention Center during a recent cold snap expecting 150 people. Then the administration seemed surprised when more than 300 people showed up, giving the lie to the city’s contention that a few scattered empty shelter beds counted elsewhere in the city were proof that everyone who needed a bed had one available to them. Then, in direct violation of the City of Spokane’s own ordinances, on a 19 degree Sunday morning, the City closed that Convention Center shelter and turned people out into the cold. A friend of mine who saw the spectacle said “I am ashamed of my city” as people shuffled out the Convention Center and out to the streets. The next day there were reports of police, presumably ordered to do so by the mayor’s office, clearing tents and belonging of these same people from under downtown overpasses. 

Admittedly, there has been a lot going on the past two years to keep the mayor occupied, but the problems of crime and homelessness are worse, not better. We can thank big money and propaganda from the realtor and developer community for a mayor’s office run by a television newscaster. The alternative was a man with administrative experience who understands the intertwining problems of homelessness, addiction, and mental illness. We need a mayor’s office that understands that winter comes every year, that a few open shelter beds around the city doesn’t mean that no one is homeless, and that doesn’t think that directing the police to clear the encampments of people with no place to go is a humane solution. 

Does the citizenry need to sue the mayor’s office to encourage it to comply with city ordinances?

Keep to the high ground,