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'It all goes back to listening': Spokane mayoral candidate Nadine Woodward discusses platform

Mayoral candidate Nadine Woodward sat down with KREM to discuss her positions, philosophies and vision for Spokane.

Former Spokane news anchor Nadine Woodward is one of the front-runners in the race for the city's next mayor. She's a well-known figure in the region and is raising money faster than any of her opponents.

On Tuesday morning, she sat down with KREM's political reporter Casey Decker to discuss her qualifications for the job, and her stances on issues like homelessness, public safety and the economy. She also discussed accountability and her ongoing fight with the Inlander.

The stand-out excerpts of the interview are featured in the video above. 

Below is the longer transcript of the full interview, edited lightly for brevity and clarity.

It's the first in a series of interviews KREM will be conducting with the five candidates for mayor over the course of the next two weeks.

KREM: I will start with the probably the most basic question you can ask any candidate. Why are you uniquely qualified to be Spokane’s next mayor?

Woodward: This race really is about trust. And I don't come from a place as a politician with political experience. Of course, I never thought that political experience was the best experience. But I come from a place where I have been entrenched in Spokane issues for 28 years, and in a position of public trust. 

When I left my last station and retired after 28 years here, the comments that I would get from our viewers, hundreds of people reached out and said, “Nadine, we watched you because we trusted you, you did your job in a fair way, you were objective and impartial. And that's why we chose you to get our news.” And when I'm on the campaign trail, what I hear is that people want someone that they can trust to lead the city, so I think that's extremely important.

I’m a business owner as well. ...We've seen the challenges that our city’s facing, we've talked to the businesses. So I think having that business experience and knowing what responsible fiscal management is about is extremely important.

KREM: Is there any particular thing that you learned as a journalist that you want to apply to being mayor?

Woodward: I think it's extremely important to listen. And for some reason, politicians think that that's a weakness, that they have to have an answer for everything. But I what I've loved in campaigning in this race is getting out and just talking to the people, but more important, listening.

When we decided to look into a deeper level into the homeless issue, we knew that we had to get out and listen to people who are dealing with this every day, 24/7, 365, boots on the ground. So we went out, we talked to nonprofits, law enforcement, businesses, mental health services, drug counselors, to get a deeper understanding of what the homeless issue is.

So I think listening, as reporters are trained to listen, to ask questions, to dig deeper, to analyze issues, research, those are all things that you need to do as a politician, especially when you're developing policy.

KREM: You're mentioning listening. What's the number one issue that you're hearing from voters when you're speaking to them, that they're bringing up to you?  Just generally speaking, what's the first thing to bring up?

Woodward: You know, it's kind of a double thing. It's homelessness and it's public safety, because those two issues really dovetail each other. Public safety is the number one issue in my campaign, and that is to make downtown safer, to make our neighborhood safer. But part of that is also the homeless issue.

We have people downtown, a very small percentage of the homeless population, that are committing the crimes that we see. They're doing the aggressive panhandling, they’re damaging property downtown, they’re sleeping in front of businesses and leaving garbage behind. Public defecation, public drug use. People want that cleaned up, and we absolutely have to do that. So by far, number one, it's homeless and public safety.

KREM: Is there a way to clean that aspect up while at the same time showing compassion that's necessary for the rest of the homeless population?

Woodward: Absolutely, absolutely. I think what the first thing that I want to do when I’m mayor is relocate a police precinct back into the heart of downtown. It used to be there several years ago. And when you had a police presence, when you had officers on the beat, on a foot beat, they provided a diversion to crime, just their presence. Getting to know the specific areas, some of the troublemakers. We need a precinct downtown that will clean up the criminal element. That's the very first thing that we have to do.

But we're a compassionate community. We are giving, genuine. We have a lots of nonprofits and programs that provide help for the homeless. The problem with a lot of those programs and nonprofits is that they enable, and they don't offer a path out of homelessness, and they don't offer long term solutions that get people off the streets. We have an abundance of programs that enable and that's not doing anybody any good. 

KREM: How do you mean enable?

Woodward: There's a great story, the guy by the name of Tyson West. And he was on the streets for 10 years in Spokane, if you've ever heard his story, he works for Adult and Teen Challenge. He's a guy from Palouse, Washington, and he was involved in sports, he was an honor roll student, came to Spokane for college, got hooked on drugs, and for 10 years lived on our streets. And he says if you want to be enabled, you come to Spokane. Because you'll never run out of food. 

There's always people who want to give you clothes, want to give you a blanket, want to give you a place to sleep in a bed at a shelter. He said but we enable people to death. If you're an addict, this is the place to be enabled. And I thought that was a powerful story.

KREM: Don’t, though, drug addicts still deserve things like food and shelter and blankets?

Woodward: Oh they do. They do. But we need to do more than that. We have to get out of the business of just warehousing people and handing out sandwiches. We have got to get people out of their addiction. That's where the priority and the effort needs to be.

KREM: Do you have any ideas yet on how to do that; on long term solutions for homelessness? 

Woodward: That's going to be a tough one. Because number one… to fix the problem, you've got to identify the problem. Let me just say, in all the conversations that I've had, in this, the first several weeks of this campaign, I came to the realization that we are not going to solve homelessness. We're not going to fix it, we're not going to solve it, but we have to do a better job of managing it.

And that has to include drug treatment. Now some people don't like the idea of mandated treatment. But if you're a criminal, and somebody gives you the choice of jail or drug treatment, I would hope the majority would choose drug treatment. I would hate to get to a point where you where you're doing that. But at some point, we have to compel people to get help.

And then we have to be able to have the resources beyond what people would get if they just have Medicaid, and they don't have insurance, because those programs are extremely expensive, especially the in-house programs, which proved to be more successful than a 60 day or a 30 day program that you can get from government assistance. That's going to have to be a collaborative effort.

I really believe the city of Spokane is not going to be able to manage this alone. We have hard working taxpayers in the city, who are barely making it as it is, paycheck to paycheck. Should they be riddled with the responsibility of solving the homeless issue? I mean, it needs to be a collaborative effort. We have to work with the county, we should be working with our neighboring cities, some of whom send their homeless here. This needs to be a regional effort to get people off of drugs.

KREM: What's the number one thing you would do to affect property crime?

Woodward: Make it a number one priority within the police department. It's not. Our police department does an incredible job, and I'm extremely supportive of the job that they do, and the challenges they face. But I talked to a lot of officers who say… “we will take the report, but we don't we don't investigate it because we just don't have the staff and the manpower.”

Number one, we have to make it a priority. And number two, we have to staff the police department so that they can solve and investigate property crimes.

KREM: What to your understanding is the number one priority for the police now, if it's not property crime?

Woodward: Oh, I mean, they're making the arrest. But they don't have the staff and the tools to investigate. They don't have the time. They're so busy taking so many calls. I mean, look at all the calls that they take at Housing First, and at House of Charity, and domestic violence. I mean those tend to be the priority calls. But when they take a property crime report, oftentimes it does not go investigated. They'll be the first to admit it, they've admitted it to me. And we’ve got to change that.

KREM: So would that require then in order for all that new staffing and new investigations, more funding for the police department?

Woodward: It would. Absolutely, yes.

KREM: Would that require a tax increase?

Woodward: Not on my watch. I'm a responsible fiscal management type of person. And I think you've got to spend within your means.

So where do you get the money, that’s what you ask, right?  Well, let's talk about economic development. Because that's one thing that I don't hear a lot of candidates talking about. We’ve got to grow our tax base. We need a strong healthy tax base. And it's not on the back of the taxpayers. Let's get more business here.

I'm all about collaboration and building coalitions, and getting things done through partnerships. The city can't stand alone on all of these things. So I think we should be working regionally with our neighbors from Cheney, Airway Heights, Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake, Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene. Let's work up and down that I-90 corridor to attract businesses. We've got plenty of property, we have affordable utilities, why aren't we working collaboratively to get higher paying jobs? 

Tech startups, whatever you want it to be, why don't we we make that our magnet for economic development? That's how you grow a healthy tax base. And what's good for the region is good for Spokane.

KREM: I do want to ask one more question about the public safety issue because you raised the issue of putting a precinct downtown. Have you spoken with Chief Meidl about why there isn't one already? 

Woodward: Well there was one, and it was very effective. It was a very effective diversion to crime, but it got moved to the Intermodal station on the east side of downtown. And you don't see police at all. I went to that precinct two days in a row. And it wasn't even open.

KREM: Have the police that you've talked to suggested that moving downtown would help?

Woodward: A lot have, absolutely.

KREM: In terms of funding the police and bolstering the economy, obviously, that's something that takes a little bit of time in order to grow that kind of tax base.

Woodward: Absolutely. These things aren't going to happen overnight.

KREM: So will you be able to show the kinds of results you're hoping to show with, for example, property crime, if it's dependent on the economy growing enough to support funding the police officers? 

Woodward: I think the first step is just changing the culture of the police department and telling our police officers “you will be investigating property crimes.” And I think that that's the first thing that you do. And we're going to get, with the latest public safety bond, we're going to get some new officers. In fact, five of those officers will be located downtown with a sergeant. So that's a good thing. 

But as we move forward, that needs to grow, we need to continue but not through taxes.

KREM: What would be your first step to improving the economy, to attract more businesses?

Woodward: Well, we’ve got to work with our partners, right? We’ve got to start having a conversation, we have to start saying “what are we going to do together?” Because we're stronger together when we’re alone. We've got so many things to offer, but nobody's ever done that.  There's not a lot of collaboration going on at all. So that that's the first step.

I'm a business owner. So we need a climate that continues to support small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy, and not give them extra fees and regulations. We have to be supportive of our local businesses. Downtown, a lot of them don't feel like they've been supported by our city council.

KREM: Why is that?

Woodward: With the homeless situation, they've complained about property damage, people sleeping in their doorways. I've talked to several businesses who've had to put gates on their doorways to keep the homeless people from sleeping there, and from leaving garbage behind, and needles. It's tough. I talked to one business owner who said I just spent $20 million in North Idaho.

I have three businesses downtown. And I'm not investing in downtown anymore, because we don't get support from our city council. That's not a good thing.

KREM: How would you show support to those businesses?

Woodward: Cleaning up downtown. Getting rid of the criminal element, for sure. Letting them know that we're here to help you. And we're going to move those people along.

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KREM: How would you improve the transparency the accountability in the mayor's office? 

Woodward: I think Mayor Condon has done a really good job in that area. So I would continue some of the practices he's done. I mean, for one thing, our city’s on great financial footing because of Mayor Condon. When he took over eight years ago, it was a mess, the budget was in the red. And the way that the previous mayor had increased revenue was by increasing utility rates 100% in four years. So it took his first term to balance the budget and bring those water rates back down to a manageable level. I think he's done a fantastic job.

I think our next mayor, though, really needs to be a communicator. I mean, we've got a balanced budget, we're spending within our means. Our bond ratings are good, our investments are good. So he did the great administrative job that needed to be done. I believe our next mayor has to be a good communicator, and tell people what's going on with the city, and be an advocate for the people.

I don't think a lot of people feel like they have a voice in city government right now, with the way our city council is. They've created an echo chamber and all they do is listen to themselves. And they don't listen to the people. I hear that all the time on the campaign trail. They say “Nadine, we don't feel like we have a voice anymore. In fact, our testimony is limited at City Council to once a month for three minutes.” And they want a voice. So I think being accountable to the people and being transparent and giving them a voice, it's something that I will do as mayor.

KREM: Is there any particular way you would be able to give them more of a voice?

Woodward: Well, how about listening? It also it all goes back, Casey, to listening. And that's what we do. And that's what I'm doing on the campaign trail, is listening, and just giving people the opportunity to be heard. That goes a long way.

KREM: Now, obviously, you as a journalist know that the press is one of the main ways that you're able to communicate with the people, and be held accountable by the people. And you've been accused by one of the major news outlets in Spokane of refusing to sit down with them. We don't necessarily need to get in the weeds on that. But I do want to ask, can you assure the voters that as a candidate and as a mayor, that you will be able to be available and held accountable by all the press in Spokane?

Woodward: Absolutely. We're having a discussion with the Inlander editor tomorrow on that very subject.

My issue with one reporter was completely mischaracterized in that article that you're referencing and this issue that you're referencing. I'm a journalist.  I did my job in a fair, impartial and objective way. And I know a real journalist from an advocate journalist. And if I'm going to deal with an advocate journalist, I want my statements in writing. I don't want them mischaracterized or misrepresented, and I think that shows strength, because I know a real journalist when I see one.

KREM: Do you think it's up to the mayor, though, to determine who's a real journalist or not?

Woodward: I think it's up to the mayor to know not to talk to someone who's going to misrepresent them. If the mayor wants to get his or her message out to the public through media, but they know somebody has an agenda, and is  going to misrepresent them, why would they go that way? If they do, they do it in a written statement, which is perfectly fine. You're not cutting them off. You're just doing it a different way.

KREM: What issue do you think that you're out in front on? One the other candidates maybe aren’t paying attention to. Is there something other than these main issues that we’ve been talking about?

Woodward: Well, I just think economic development is huge. And I don't hear a lot of the candidates talking about economic development.

KREM: Well, it’s on a lot of the candidates’ main platform pages.

Woodward: I haven't heard what they're saying. You'll find that out. I think, as I said, working together is important because we have other things that we need to be spending money on other than police and helping support jobs. And that's infrastructure.

And I know other people are talking about infrastructure too. But I think we have to be talking about economic development to pay for the things that we know we need to do, and the things that we want to do.

Our city is growing, we're at a pivotal point right now in our city. And we have to be, I think, keeping up with infrastructure and roads, and not narrowing our main arterials, but possibly widening them. We have these road diet projects that are causing all kinds of problems for our commuters. I talked to businesses upon North Monroe, where they went from five lanes down to one in each direction, and a turn lane in the middle. STA buses, they don't have space to pull off. So now you've got one lane of traffic stuck behind an STA bus. And commuters are using the turn lane as a passing lane. And that's creating really dangerous situations. So I think we need to rethink what we're doing in that area.

It all, Casey, though, goes back to economic development, and building up our our tax base so it's strong and healthy. So we're not taxing people when we should be raising revenue elsewhere.

KREM: Usually, when your politicians talk about economic development, they're talking about things like tax cuts, lease incentives, land purchase agreements, and things like that. But you specifically said that you want to pay different things through this economic development and increasing the tax base. So what is your plan for increasing economic development if it doesn't include tax incentives, et cetera?

Woodward: Oh, I think we have lots of things to offer. We already have property that's affordable. We already have utilities that are incredibly affordable.

KREM: So what’s preventing businesses from coming here?

Woodward: They need to know what we have to offer. I think we need to market the area together collectively and work collectively with our neighboring cities so that we're all offering the same type of thing. So we're not competing against each other. When we work together, we can attract more than when we're operating as separate entities. And I think collaboration is extremely important in that area.

KREM: I had another question about the homeless situation, because you had mentioned that we have the government-provided programs that are available for people once they're on the street. And if you have Medicaid, Medicare, or health care, a lot of times you can get coverage for treatment. But we all know there is a gap: people who are low income who won't get the government assistance and can't afford the insurance. Do you have any kind of a plan to help those people from falling through the cracks and ended up on the street?

Woodward: Well, this is the one thing that I'm hearing a lot too. I talked to one gal in a warming shelter when they were still open for the season. And she said “I'm celebrating 60 days of sobriety.” I said “great.” She goes “no, that's a problem.” She goes, “I got my kids taken away from me because of my addiction. But because I'm helping myself now, the way that the government does it, I only get put to the top of the list for treatment if I'm chronically addicted. But the fact that I've been helping myself has pushed me down on that list.” Government has it backwards, we need to think how we do things.

The other thing is if somebody actually wants to get help, and they get an evaluation, that happens rather quickly. Then they wait weeks to get paired up with a treatment program that's covered by the government. We’ve got to cut through the bureaucratic red tape to help give them help. We have to make it harder to be chronically homeless and easier to get help for your addiction.

And you know what, it's about addiction. The homeless issue is about addiction. 20 to 30% is mental illness, 60% or more is addiction. You combine those two, and that's what 90% of what we're seeing is all about. Homelessness is a label, and it doesn't talk about the underlying issues that cause it.

KREM: One of the things I see routinely on Facebook and Twitter comments from people is this idea that people choose addiction. I would be interested in your thoughts about that. Do you think these people are making a choice?

Woodward: I think it's really hard to get out of addiction. I talked about Tyson West, I mean that that guy, he's now working as a drug counselor, and he'll tell you that it's you're in a wilderness when you're an addict. That you don't care about anything else but getting that next hit, and you'll get it no matter what it takes. Crime, 90% of our property crime is fueled by people who are getting their next hit. And it took him until he was in jail, in a jail cell, his parents coming to visit him, that he said “I cannot continue to live this way.”

And I don't know what where that place is for everybody. You know, there are as many solutions as there are people who are addicted on the street.

KREM: Can we can compel people to make the choice [to stop using]? 

Woodward: Yeah, we can. When we give them a choice, if they're committing crime, and we say, Okay, you go to jail, or you get help.” Is that a compelling question? Is that a compelling choice? Maybe, and maybe that's what it takes for some people to actually get the help.

But for those who do want help, we have to be able to make it easy for them to get help. And let's face it, addicts, take what, five to seven relapses before they're successful. We’ve got to, as a community, also be patient in the kind of programs that we offer, and the amount of time that's going to take them to get off their addiction.

Everybody wants an answer right now, everybody wants to say, what's the first thing you're going to do as mayor to solve homelessness. “I'm going to wave my magic wand and make it go away.” There's no silver bullet. This is going to take collaboration, it's going to take time. There are no easy answers.

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