SPOKANE, Wash. — Restaurant owner Mike Lish is taking on local school teacher Zack Zappone in the race for Spokane City Council District 3, as current councilmember Candace Mumm 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.
Lish and Zappone spoke with KREM via Zoom on Monday to discuss their platforms and what they plan on addressing if they win office. The following are their answers to KREM's questions.
Questions from KREM's Ian Smay are written in italics. Bold headers separate the questions by different policy areas. The answers may be lightly edited for clarity and brevity. For the full interview with Mike Lish, click here. For the full interview with Zack Zappone, click here. Both full interviews can also be found at the end of the article.
What made you decide to run for city council?
Mike Lish: It was seeing what was going on in the city, and has some interactions, and it just kind of pushed me towards seeing what I can do to make things better.
Zack Zappone: I'm a teacher born and raised here in the district, I graduated from North Central High School, just like my grandpa, and I now teach at NC. I see a lot of the challenges in our community, especially around affordable housing, homelessness, jobs, economic opportunity and infrastructure to support our economy. So, I decided to run for the seat because I have the skills and experiences to fight for working and middle class families. I went to Princeton [University] on a full-ride scholarship, after working at McDonald's and have got those skills to come back to serve our community. I want to work hard on advocating for middle and working class families to make sure that everybody in our area has a fair shot.
What are some of the biggest issues facing the city, or the issues that need to be tackled first?
Lish: I think it's public safety, homelessness, and then really, we need to start looking at our housing situation too.
When asked what he thinks is most important to address first: I think it kind of comes down to the homelessness and public safety aspect of it, making sure that we have some place where people can work freely and be able to do business. I'm afraid that if we don't get those two under control, we're going to start getting smaller as a community, we're not going to have as many businesses around.
Zappone: The top issues facing the city are affordable housing, real action on homelessness, infrastructure to support 21st century jobs and prioritizing public health and safety, especially when it comes to mental health.
When asked what he thinks is most important to address first: I think when it comes to my priorities, we have to tackle all of our major challenges at the same time. That's affordable housing, homelessness, prioritizing mental health or public health and safety. We need to get support and improve our public safety system. We need to get more police officers hired and folks trained with mental health, that way that the police can get back to fighting crime. Affordable housing, we need action, people are struggling. It's impacting middle and working families the most with rising costs that seniors on fixed incomes, new families. We need to make changes to our zoning, to our development, incentivize it, and build more immediately, but also having protections for renters and other people, too. The last one is infrastructure and growing local economy. We need apprenticeship programs to develop our workforce, we need to support manufacturing jobs and growing those good paying jobs in our economy, and infrastructure to support our local businesses.
How much influence have your biggest donors had on your campaign?
Lish (Biggest donors are realtor PACs): When I went into those interviews, I was just speaking as me and our views aligned, and that's why they were doing the independent expenditures on my behalf. I have nothing to do with them. They're [independent expenditures], I can't talk to them. I have no idea what they're doing or what they're spending the money on until I see it on the PDC.
Zappone (Biggest donors are union PACs): I'm extremely proud to have gone and got their endorsements. The maximum contribution is $1,000 in the general [election], there have been no large sums of outside money. I'm supported by a large array of people, the most individual donors, over 450 individual donors and labor unions. So when I'm running, I'm running and prioritizing working and middle class families. Like I mentioned, those are health care workers, essential workers, custodians, grocery workers, people who have been working hard and struggling to get ahead in this economy. Like I mentioned, I'm deeply concerned about the outside influence. The maximum, or the largest contributor in this race for city council has spent more money than either of our campaigns, is the National Realtors Association. The developers are spending a record amount spreading negative ads and mistruths in our community. I expect voters to be able to see through that and trust they know that I'm working to work hard for them and prioritize them, not big businesses that are outside our community. Spokane prides itself on being a city that feels like a small town, and we want to make sure that our city continues to feel like a small town and not being influenced by these outside influences.
If you had 30 seconds to give a pitch to an undecided voters to try to convince them to vote for you, what would you say?
Lish: I'm a father. I'm a husband. I've been running a family business here in town. I'm that guy in the neighborhood that's fed up with what's going on and can see that we have problems and that's willing to jump in there and do something about it. I don't think you need a Ivy League education to see what's going on right now in our city.
Zappone: You should vote for me because I'm the candidate who understands our issues and our community, and is deeply connected, and stepped up to serve our community. During the pandemic, I stepped up and served over 100,000 meals to some members in need. I've got the experience and skills to serve our community and will work hard to do that. I've got plans and specific policy. Pleased to start on day one, and I'm always accessible and ready to listen and show up in our community. I know every neighborhood in our community, unlike my opponent who has said that he's never been to certain neighborhoods, I'll work hard for you and I ask for your vote.
How do you plan on addressing Spokane's housing crisis?
Lish: I really want to get down and make sure that our regulations are of this century. Look at the permitting process, we need to look at zoning. I think those are two easy ones to start with, and then really getting creative in what we can do. We've been following centers and corridors for 20 to 30 years, something like that, and we don't really have anything to show for it. So, it's time to go back and really, really work on policy that's going to work for the city.
Zappone: For housing, I have a background in urban planning. I studied that in my master's program, and I've worked on these issues and our community. So, I'm the only candidate that has put forward ideas on these issues to make better housing better for our community. So first, we can increase accessory dwelling units. That's cottages, mother-in-law suites, make it easier to build those. That creates more options for people in the missing middle market, those beginner homes. We need to increase density where we have the infrastructure to support it. That's in-filling in downtown, along our centers and corridors, long transit lines where people can get to and from work. Third is that we can look at a permitting process and making sure that we fast-track those programs that have more affordable housing, and we can look at how we're using the multifamily tax exemption to make sure it's spurring development for affordability projects.
Do you think Spokane needs more single-family homes, more high-density housing like apartment complexes, or a mixture?
Lish: I really think it's a combination. I'm a big proponent of places like Kendall yards. The reason that that place is so expensive to live in right now, which, if you can live, work and play all in the same area, I think that's a great idea. It's exclusive. There's only one of those in Spokane. You know, we should be looking at these great little neighborhoods with high density and spreading them throughout everything else, to go along with the zoning, enhancing the single family zoning and stuff like that.
Zappone: Yeah, I think right now in Spokane, we need to see a mixture of housing options for people. We need more single-family housing, but we also need more multi-family housing, more duplexes and triplexes and more apartment complexes too .The important thing is to make sure that it's done where we have the infrastructure to support it. That's not in every neighborhood. It's along areas that we have bus lines and infrastructure to support it. I'm running to represent middle and working-class families. They've endorsed me because they know I have housing policies that are going to support them. That's firefighters, teachers, health care workers, essential workers like custodians, and grocery workers. Unfortunately, my opponent has been receiving a record amount of money from realtors and developers in this race. It's the most outside money that's been spent in a city council race, and he's running to prioritize their priorities to make a profit.
What are some tangible ways you want to tackle homelessness?
Lish: It looks like more mental health [resources], more rehabilitation facilities, and really working towards having some sort of like, a continuum of care. After we get people placed, or they they start making that road to recovery, but just really being able to check up and have some accountability with them as they go through the process and giving them the tools to be successful once they do get off the street.
We need the resources to be able to fix the problem that we have now, and then go from the future. I'm not sure what that looks like yet, but everything's got to start some place, and I think that would be a great spot to start.
Zappone: I'm the only candidate in this race has an idea of what we could do to tackle homelessness. I put forward a four point plan on what we could do to address homelessness and take real action. I've studied the issue. I've gone to shelters across the country, talked to the experts in our area, have the ideas that we need to address and get real action on homelessness. The first thing we need to do is keep people in their homes and from becoming homeless in the first place. Second, we need to get them off the streets with a coordinated outreach system. Third, we need a strong shelter system that gets mental health and substance abuse resources so that they can stabilize. Fourth, we need to make sure that they're transitioning out of homelessness. That's job training programs and affordable housing options that gets them back on their feet.
Lish: I've had lots of conversations with other business people in town, even just in the few blocks around our restaurant. It's tough. I mean, we're all doing the best we can to keep our employees safe to keep our customers safe and keep our properties clean, and it's been a tough grind the last two years. It's gotten to the point where people are losing employees, because they don't feel comfortable coming to that part of town to work, and they're taking jobs in the valley or Post Falls. I mean, that's not good for our local economy, either. We're pushing workers out of the city because they don't feel safe.
Zappone: For public safety, I think it's about using common sense changes to improve our public safety system. I support our police officers to do what they do best. That's to enforce laws, deter crime and respond to emergencies. They're not mental health counselors, nor should they be expected to. But police have been asking for help on mental health resources, and we need to be supporting programs like the mental health stabilization center that gets people the resources they need so they're not cycling in and out of jail. I've worked and continue to work in public health, around mental health and expanding those opportunities in our community. I know the challenges around that and want to work on making them stronger. We also have issues right now, around 10% vacancies in our police force. I hear, knocking on the doors, I've knocked on thousands and thousands of doors, and people are concerned about property crime in their community. I believe this is a lack of leadership from the administration. We have a hiring crisis throughout this, and we're losing millions of dollars on housing, vacant police officers, so we need leadership and prioritization. My job as a council member is to be advocating for what I hear in the community, and fighting for those needs in City Hall, and that's putting pressure to get our city back to hiring and recruiting and retaining police.
For the rest of the candidates' answers, watch their full interviews below.