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Spokane City Council District 1 candidates discuss plans for office

The race is one of two contested city council races on the ballot this year. Betsy Wilkerson is running unopposed to keep her seat in District 2.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Business owner Jonathan Bingle is taking on certified laboratory specialist Naghmana Sherazi in the race for Spokane City Council District 1, as current councilmember Kate Burke is vacating the seat.

Voters have until November 2 at 8 p.m. to drop their ballot in a drop box or have their ballot postmarked. The race is one of two contested city council races on the ballot this year. Betsy Wilkerson is running unopposed to keep her seat in District 2.

Bingle and Sherazi spoke with KREM via Zoom to discuss their platforms and what they plan on addressing if they win office. The following are their answers to KREM's questions.

The answers may be lightly edited for clarity and brevity. For the full interview with Jonathan Bingle, click here. For the full interview with Naghmana Sherazi, click here. Both full interviews can also be found at the end of the article.

General Questions

Why did you want to run?

Bingle: I'm born and raised in Spokane, I went to Rogers [High School]. My whole life, I've lived in this area. Over the last, you know, five, six, seven, 10 years, I've seen Spokane with an increased homeless population. I've I felt as if my city has gotten less safe. I want my wife to want to live in Spokane, and I want our son to grow up in a place that I'm not worried about him going to the park. So, when I was looking at my hometown, I just realized somebody's got to do something, and I have the ability to do it. That's the reason why I stepped up to run, is, I wanted Spokane to be the best place to live, work and raise your family.

Sherazi: I ran in 2019, I came very close to winning. That time, I decided to run because I felt that we needed representation at the city council level from people like me, being a renter, being a single-income family, single mother, being an educator and a scientist. Those things [are] exactly [the] same, those same things are still valid today, which is [why] when Kate Burke said that she's not running, I decided to put my hat into the ring.

What do you think the biggest issues facing the city are?

Bingle: There are a lot of big issues. The most pressing and the most urgent issues in my estimation are public safety being number one. We can see from a lot of very liberal cities that we have police departments that are getting defunded, and I have heard messages from our city council and from my opponent on people wanting to reimagine police, which is a fun way of saying we're going to take money away from the police and put it into different departments. Some of those departments aren't even necessarily bad, right? We should have mental health counselors with our police and the police know this, and they want the mental health counselors, but you can't sacrifice police officers at the expense of mental health counselors. We need we need a fully funded police department to keep our families and our neighborhood safe. So for me, that's the biggest one that we need. The second biggest issue is homelessness. When it comes to homeless there are groups of the homeless, and so the largest group of the homeless that we have here in the city of Spokane, and not just in the city of Spokane, but you know, all up and down the West coast or the temporarily homeless, and these are people who had a bad bill, or a big bill, you know, lost the job, you know, through their own fault or not, they just didn't have the money to pay rent, and they were already behind. So, they lost their housing. This group of people that are working, that are trying to make it, I want to make sure that we have the ability to connect them to resources quickly to help them get back on their feet. Because, you know, families should be in stable housing, it's best when they're in stable housing. So I want to make sure that we are connecting them to jobs, to medical care, whatever it is they need to make sure that they are getting their families taken care of. Then you have, you know, another group, which are the chronically homeless, these are people who have been homeless for two years or longer. The issues here are much different than a bad bill. The issues in this group are typically, you know, addiction and mental illness. Right now, we're building tons of housing, but we aren't doing a good job of helping to actually address the issue. The chronically homeless, which are, you know, mental health issues and addiction. These are areas where I want to make sure that we're focusing on treatment programs, and rehab facilities to make sure that we are helping to address the brokenness in the individual. That way, we're not just giving a man a fish, but we're teaching them how to fish so that they can be sustainable again, and you know, be back in society, being their best selves and contributing in a way that brings them great dignity. Then, you know, there's a couple more that I think are pretty big. Housing obviously, is a huge deal. We are tens of thousands of units short for a city our size. It really is, I mean, you know, the mayor called it an emergency. I would agree. We have people who need housing, and we need it now. We need to be acting on it. But, I also want to help develop the northeast, bring in some good jobs and investments so that we can see some wealth brought within reach of our constituents, because we have some of the poorest zip codes in the state, and we need to address that.

Sherazi: The biggest issue, of course, that we have in our in our area is that we don't have affordable housing. There are a lot of people living here in this district who are in the same situation as I am, who are single income families, for instance, people who live on fixed income, like most of us senior citizens do. Payouts have not gone up in the last three years, at least that I know of. My pay hadn't increased in three years. So, I was struggling to put food on the table. So, you know, a lot of people in the same situation as I am. Once you pay your rent or your mortgage, once you've paid your daycare expenses, there's nothing left over to fall back on, except where food is concerned, or perhaps you can pull back on medicine. A lot of our senior citizens that I've been talking to have been telling me the same thing. So, a lot of folks, senior citizens, people like me, who cannot afford very high rents, or mortgages are being priced out of our homes right this minute. So, this is the biggest issue. Then, of course, the infrastructure. We have 61 miles of unpaved streets and roads in District One, I want to make sure that we address that. Definitely, the top-most priority is to get rent and utility assistance and mortgage assistance to people who are struggling to make those payments, whether they are homeowners or renters or small business owners, because business owners are also renters and mortgage owners, and the 30% businesses have gone under in the last one year, more than 30% actually. We know that District One is the largest generator of sales tax for the entire city of Spokane. So, we want to be making sure that our families can get back to work, and that they have the ability to do what we need to do. Basically, just get people back to work and so that they can earn the money and take the money back home to the families and their families are thriving.

How big of an influence have your biggest donors had on your campaign?

Bingle (Realtor groups are biggest donors): My donors aren't giving me money so that they'll have influence. My donors are giving me money because they agree with the message that I'm bringing. So I hear this a lot, and it makes me laugh a little bit as if like, oh, you know, for example, we know that the Realtors Association has spent a lot of money on my campaign. The realtors aren't making decisions. I'm the one making decisions. As I met with them, as both of my opponents in the primary met with them, Naghmana Sherazi and Luc [Jasmin] both met with them as well. They're both trying to win that endorsement. You know, the realtors don't have and none of my big donors have any undue influence on me. They gave money to my campaign because they believed in the message of public safety, common sense solutions when it comes to the homeless, you know, approving housing building, the business climate here in the city of Spokane. That message resonated with my donors and with the community, not just with my donors, but the community that message is resonating. And I think it's going to lead to to a good victory for us here in November.

Sherazi (Labor unions are biggest donors): Mine is a grassroots organization. It's a grassroots campaign. Ten years before I moved to Spokane, I didn't know a single soul. My biggest donors are $1,000 donors, mostly the unions, actually. I have been blessed to get a lot of endorsements from them. I am a unionized campaign. I'm a union sibling. So, of course, I believe in workers' rights, I believe in fair wages, and therefore I believe in unionizing. I believe in campaigning, you know, organizing. So resultantly, that is a big deal for me to make sure that, you know, middle class America was built on the back of unions. That's the first history lesson I got when I moved to the States. So you know, that's for me, it's a big deal. It offers me protection as an employer as well, because I'm also kind of covered by knowing that I'm not paying over the top, or unfairly, or being demanded of unfairly. So that's important to me, my donors. I know this because the Realtors PAC came in and helped my opponents race. I was looking at the PDC [Public Disclosure Commission] earlier today, and I think there's like $126,000 in just this race alone, have been put into his race as an independent expenditure. I've seen some of those hate ads that have come my way they would send it to me. It's like we're trying to like, here you go, and we're sending this to you so you know what we what we think of you. It's been interesting. But suffice to say, my campaign funds have been raised by local groups, by people that I know in Seattle, mostly it's people that I know.

Housing

How do you plan on addressing Spokane's housing crisis?

Bingle: The first thing that we do is stop bad votes. We have a lot of developments that are being voted down. It's not even that the reasons aren't valid, they're just not as important as the lack of housing right now. So in my estimation, those votes are bad. We have a city housing plan, we have a Centers and Corridors Plan that we're not even sticking to. So, if that's the only way that we can build housing, but then we also vote down developments that perfectly fit our plan, there's no wonder why we're so short when it comes to housing. So, we've stopped the bad votes, number one. Number two, we would move to make many things legal throughout the city that currently aren't legal. You know, developments such as Kendall yards, which are only legal in that area, we need to make legal throughout the city. We need to enhance single-family zoning by allowing mother-in-law suites, which are called accessory dwelling units. We need to address those. We need to incentivize developers to be building  workforce housing, which is what we need right now. I think we need housing of all kinds right now. We need the five bedroom, six bedroom houses as well for families with with many children or you know, need that space. We also need  two bedroom, three bedroom, one bath, two bath homes, for families who are just starting out or families that are wanting to move down from you know, they had a six bedroom house because they had many children. Now the children are gone, they're off to college, they're doing whatever now they can they can downgrade, which frees up you know, another, young new family with with lots of children. We need lots of workforce housing, intro-rate market housing, to help people transition into homeownership. Like I said, in my area, we have lots of generational poverty. I think one of the main areas that we can help to change the trajectory of, you know, the lineage of a family is through homeownership. If we can transition people out of renting and into homeownership, not if they want it, not that renting is bad, but if people want to transition into homeownership, I want to make sure that option is available for them at a reasonable price that they can afford, so that we can start to see communities putting down roots. It's better for families, it's better for children who aren't moving from school district to school district. They're able to stay so we don't have as much circulation. People are able to stay where they are. Neighborhoods are safer, because you know your neighbors, you're looking out for them. You know, property taxes increase, so your schools are better. There's just so much benefit in homeownership that's good for the individual. It's good for the future. It's good for schools, it's good for the community. Homeownership is is one of my priorities.

Sherazi: Housing is a human right. I am one of those folks who lives one paycheck away from being on the street. We do need to make sure that people can get safely back to work. For that, whatever kind of mandates that are in existence, whatever we need to do, to make sure that people need to get the help that they need. Once we have all that in place, we need to build. We have the North-South Freeway going over here, we probably need to look at STA [Spokane Transit Authority] to see what kind of land is going to be available. Perhaps we need to build, we need to be building right now. So I think, finding the space. We're thousands of thousands of units short. So, we need to make sure that we are addressing that immediately so that people can stay housed and that there is affordable housing available for people to be able to move into section eight vouchers. There's a three year waitlist right now. We need to build.

Homelessness

How would you address Spokane's homelessness problem?

Bingle: I think that people who are receiving services from the city, there has to be benchmarks to show that people are getting to the path of self sustainability. Again, if all we're doing is just providing every need for every single person, then they're not going to provide for themselves again, and they're going to eventually become just wards of the state. This is not good for them. This is not good for us, this is not good for the community. What we need is to create a pathway showing, OK, we've dealt with the brokenness number one. If it's addiction or mental illness, let's show that number one, first, [what] we're going to address is the brokenness on the individual. Second, how are we connecting them to housing? Are we connecting them to jobs? Are these tangible benchmarks that we need to be putting down? And if people aren't meeting their benchmarks, if people aren't moving towards that path, that we should look at  a different pathway for them. So, we need to make sure that people are on the trajectory towards self sustainability.

Sherazi: As I said, housing is a human right, we have to make sure that we have all kinds of housing available. We need to be building right away, we need to make sure that people who need help get the help that they need. We don't sit on the ERP dollars that are coming in so that people can stay housed. We need to create that stability, and we need to build. That's what we need to do.

Business

How do you plan on supporting businesses and attracting new ones to Spokane?

Bingle: I think one of the big things is that, you know, when, Washington shut down certain sectors, the government really picked winners and losers. I think that businesses need to survive or fail on their own merits, I don't think the government should be making it harder. For example, I owned an events and entertainment business. Our business was shut down for I mean, the better part of the year, more than a year.  I didn't do anything wrong, our business was very successful. But with the stroke of a pen, you know, what I did was was illegal, and we couldn't provide for our families anymore. So, what I want to make sure that we do is, number one, businesses that were affected, let's make sure that they still have the support, to make it through the end of the pandemic. But I also want to make sure that the business policies that are coming out are fair and level for all businesses, regardless of their size. I want to make sure that, you know, businesses have the ability to compete on their own merits.

Sherazi: I feel Spokane has diversified a lot since I've lived here for 10 years. When I moved here it wasn't easy to find, I mean, even just looking at restaurants for instance. The kinds of restaurants that we have, the kind of cuisine that we have available. That's just a small, a very basic description of, talking about businesses. But at the end of the day, District One, again, I'm going to talk about my district, because I think that's where the biggest issues are. It's the largest generator of sales tax for the entire city of Spokane. As I said earlier, 61 miles of unpaved streets and roads, once that's and freeways are finished being built, the industrial park area is going to mushroom overnight. That growth is going to happen. The city needs to look at how we can incentivize, how we can maybe pave the streets and roads and be ready with sewage connections and electricity, connections and landscaping, and put the curbs in so that when a small business comes in, they don't have to spend the money to get all that up and ready and going. Because by virtue of definition, a small business is a small business. They don't have a ton of money, they want to just get in and they want to start making money so that they can start paying off on their loans and debts, et cetera. So, we really need to help businesses be successful by actually laying the groundwork. That's what I think is most important for the upcoming five years, six years or so.

For the rest of the candidates' answers, watch their full interviews below.

Full interview with Spokane City Council District 1 candidate Jonathan Bingle

Full interview with Spokane City Council District 1 candidate Naghmana Sherazi