SPOKANE, Wash. — After a week of trailing to Cindy Wendle, Breean Beggs now leads the race for Spokane City Council President by just 316 votes.
There are still 5,600 votes in the county remain to be processed, though only some of those will pertain to council president.
At one point, the two were separated by just 7 votes.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been poured into the contest, shattering previous records for spending on the seat. But what kind of impact will it actually have on the council?
On a purely political level, it could have a lot. The council president serves as a figurehead for city government, along with the mayor, and their voice and leadership has a lot of sway.
Furthermore, they have some direction over council budget and staff, they lead meetings and supervise agenda-setting. They also nominate members for committees.
But all of those decisions are subject to the vote of the full council.
When it comes down to the actual legislative process, the outcome of this down-to-the-wire election probably won't change much.
As it sits, the current council has six members that lean more to the left: Ben Stuckart, Breean Beggs, Lori Kinnear, Candice Mumm, Karen Stratton, and Kate Burke.
Only one member, Mike Fagan, leans more to the right.
Mayor David Condon also leans right.
The mayor will stay right-leaning in 2020, as Nadine Woodward is poised to take office.
We should note that the above positions are non-partisan.
Mumm and Burke are in the middle of their terms, and so will remain on the council in 2020.
Kinnear is currently leading her race by a large margin, and will almost certainly stay on the council in 2020.
Stratton is leading by a very narrow margin, although her opponent Andy Rathbun has failed to gain significant ground in recent days, and it would take a sudden, though far from impossible, push in his favor to prevent Stratton from retaining her seat.
Michael Cathcart has a significant lead in the contest to replace Mike Fagan, and will likely join the council in 2020. Cathcart, like Fagan, leans right.
That leaves us with a conservative mayor, four liberal council members and one conservative member. The final two spots will be determined by the outcome of the council president race.
If Beggs wins, he becomes council president, leaving a vacancy in his current seat on the council representing District Two. That vacancy would be filled via an appointment process, and the new member will ultimately be determined by the rest of the council. Given the 5-1 liberal majority in this scenario, it's likely the seventh member is also left-leaning.
That means if Beggs wins, the balance on the council, at least numerically speaking, will be the same as it is right now.
If Cindy Wendle wins, Beggs keeps his current seat. That still leaves a 5-2 liberal majority.
Five votes are required to override a veto. Even if Wendle wins, the left-leaning council members could pass ordinances without the approval of the right-leaning ones and override a Woodward veto if they wanted to. Only a sudden Rathbun resurgence could prevent that supermajority.
The balance would be slightly more conservative, though probably not in a legislatively meaningful way.
For some context, in his eight years as mayor, Condon has issued ten vetoes.
Seven of those were overturned.
Even with a supermajority, the council doesn't always choose to override vetoes.
But also, if the mayor knows their veto is likely to be overturned, they may decide to not even bother and simply allow the ordinance to become law without their signature.
That doesn't mean the mayor is powerless if they face a supermajority that opposes them ideologically.
The mayor is still where the buck stops when it comes to what city staff do. They're in charge of thousands of employees.
If they want to, the mayor can essentially drag their feet on implementing certain initiatives, and generally maneuver to focus efforts on their own priorities rather than the council's, to an extent.
The outcome of the council president race will also be important because the relationship between the president and the mayor has a lot of import for the way the city operates.
Wendle and Woodward have been very supportive of each other throughout the general election, and so would surely have a positive working relationship. Though, they'd still have to work with the liberal-majority council.
Beggs does not align much with Woodard ideologically, however, he has a reputation as a cooperator. He's known as mild-mannered and not much prone to butting heads. So it's very possible he and Woodward would also maintain a good working relationship.