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Q&A: Mayoral candidates provide insight to their thoughts on homelessness, religion, climate change and criminal justice

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By Lindsey Treffry

Mayor David Condon’s seat is opening at a time when many residents in Spokane are at odds over how the city should be run. Candidates for the position have been involved in heated debates over ethical issues, such as safety, drugs, jails, homelessness, climate change and religion. 

Come Aug. 6, Spokane voters will head to the polls to pick their top choice in the race, narrowing down the field to two candidates. And by Nov. 5, residents will decide in the general election who they believe should take the place of Condon, who can not be re-elected due to term limit rules. 

Ben Stuckart

Former TV news anchor and mayoral candidate Nadine Woodward, who for years read the headlines on air, is now making headlines in her comments on security downtown, including a possible ban on homeless people at the library there. She recently said the city needs to stop “warehousing people and handing out sandwiches.”  

Other candidates, which include Ben Stuckart (Spokane City Council President), Shawn Poole (a Spokane firefighter), Kelly Cruz (frequent volunteer and chair of the West Central Neighborhood Council) and Jonathan Bingle (business owner and pastor) have also spoken out on approaches to balance enforcing the law with helping the city’s homeless population.

All of the candidates were sent a questionnaire with the chance to answer controversial questions on faith, values and ethics, such as how our city should care for the homeless. The answers offer a look at how each candidate thinks our city should run and how they think they would run it. 

Kelly Cruz

Of the five hopefuls, Poole, Bingle and Woodward did not provide answers to SpokaneFaVS after multiple requests for comment.

Q & A With Stuckart and Cruz

1. Do you think local churches’ role in helping the homeless population is crucial to keeping people off the streets? Should the city and these religious facilities remain separate or should the city work with these places to better aid in battling homelessness?

BEN STUCKART: All of our community should be involved in helping the homeless population.   I believe that using Salem and Westminster Churches as warming shelters was great. We need to ensure that if churches receive city funding they are not interjecting their faith into the services provided. We will not be able to help people get off the streets until all institutions, including churches, are involved.

KELLY CRUZ: Only if they are willing and able to address the underlying issues around a person’s homelessness and provide programming around those issues. We have many facets to our homeless population. Some are homeless due to inadequate wage income, some are homeless due to mental health issues, some are homeless due to addiction issues and some are homeless because they want to live a nomadic lifestyle. 

2. How would you balance the line between helping the homeless with enforcing local law to keep Spokane safe?

STUCKART: In order to enforce the camping in public spaces ordinance the 9th circuit has been clear that you need to have beds (with no barriers) available. Thus we need to have more 24/7 low-barrier shelter space available. We also need to have (housing, mental health and addiction) referrals or services available in the shelters.  

CRUZ: I would make sure that our laws are applied equally to both housed and those who are homeless. I would further make sure that, whenever possible, we would use enforcement of our laws as a tool to get people into treatment or programming to help better their situation. 

3. Would your personal faith play a role in any laws or ethical decisions you make as mayor?

STUCKART: I grew up attending St. Ann’s Catholic Church. One of my most powerful memories that guides me today is the refugee family from El Salvador our church gave sanctuary to in the basement of the church when they fled the right-wing death squads. The entire Orellano family are contributing members of Spokane’s community to this day and those values I learned at church guide my actions as we look at what is happening with Border Patrol violating the Fourth Amendment at the Intermodal Center in Spokane.

CRUZ: Only to the point where it would not conflict with our Constitution or oath of office. I have the same belief on public service as the late President John F. Kennedy, who stated he would be president first and Catholic second. 

4. Do worshipers have a right to host services outside of Planned Parenthood? Is there a way to allow religious practices there but also protect those who are visiting PP for services?

STUCKART: The city is not doing a good enough job enforcing the noise ordinance or the driveway ordinance I helped pass. We need to enforce the laws on the books so people can have unimpeded access to health care.   

CRUZ: Under the U.S. Constitution we are all guaranteed the right to free speech and freedom of religion. I believe that maintaining a reasonable distance between opposing groups is the best way for each to present their message and not interfere with the patrons of any establishment. 

5. How can the city better its criminal justice system?

STUCKART: The city can lead by pushing for systemwide implementation of the Blueprint for Reform. The city can lead by breaking the municipal system off from putting our misdemeanants in the county jail and having our own system that focuses on rehabilitation. 

CRUZ: I believe that the city can better its criminal justice system by developing a separate intake system for those who suffer from mental health or addiction issues. I support a part of the county’s jail proposal from 2009 which would include the building of a three-story structure behind the current jail which would include a larger intake area staffed with medical personnel who could determine if a person who is brought in has a mental health or addiction issue and then could be assigned a bed based on their needs, therefore providing direct services. 

6. Do you believe in climate change? If so, how do you think the city could play its part in combating the change?

STUCKART: Climate change is real. Climate change is primarily caused by humans, and cities need to be leading the way in addressing this crisis. If I am lucky enough to be mayor, on Day 1 the sustainability director will be a cabinet-level position and the sustainability committee (that Mayor Condon has refused to appoint) will be appointed. We will develop a climate action plan and implement it. Spokane can be the leader nationwide in sustainable business practices and sustainable businesses.

CRUZ: I believe our planet is in a cyclical planetary change and that the best way for the city to combat the change is through long-range forecasting and providing infrastructure to deal with the type of change we will most likely see in our region. 

7. Anything else you’d like to add about religion, faith or ethics as it pertains to your mayoral race?

STUCKART: Ethics, morals and Jesus all teach us to care for each other. We live in one community and we take care of each other. If someone is drowning, we pull them out of the water. We do not ask them where they are from or drug test them before we pull them out of the water. Morals dictates that we do not ban entire groups of people from the library. Morals dictate that we base our policies on facts and data. What I see happening in the mayoral race is policies based on fear of the other and it makes me frightened.   

CRUZ:  I would ask those who wish to help to read “Toxic Charity” by Robert D. Lupton, which talks about how to be part of the solution and not a contributor to the problem. I would also like to let folks know that as mayor I bring a decade of community volunteering and the character of a servant to the office of mayor, something I believe is important if we are to have elected officials whom we can have faith in. 

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Lindsey Treffry

About Lindsey Treffry

Spokane born-and-raised, Lindsey Treffry works as a copy editor and page designer for The Spokesman-Review. She graduated from the University of Idaho in 2013 with a journalism degree, and now spends her weekends cooking vegan meals and walking her dog, Griffey. She returns to Spokane Faith and Values as a freelance writer, years after interning for the publication during its inception.

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