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Lisa Brown launches campaign for Spokane Mayor

Lisa Brown, addresses the crowd alongside supporters during her campaign launch Thursday, March 2, 2023.
Rebecca White / SPR
Lisa Brown, addresses the crowd alongside supporters during her campaign launch Thursday, March 2, 2023.

Two high profile women are now running to be the next mayor of Spokane – Lisa Brown, a former state senator and director of the Washington Department of Commerce, and Nadine Woodward, incumbent and a former TV anchor.

Brown launched her campaign in front of a crowd of supporters Thursday. She promised to hold a community conversation around public safety, and said she hopes to focus on both housing, and homelessness.

Woodward and Brown disagree on a number of topics, but the clearest delineation is how they believe the region should address homelessness.

Before leaving the Department of Commerce, Lisa Brown oversaw the distribution of $24 million dollars to close Camp Hope, which at its height last summer had over 600 residents. She’s used the funds to partner with several non-profits to open a 100-bed transitional housing project, Catalyst, as well as hire housing navigators and case workers.

Now there are less than 80 people living on the site. During her campaign launch, she said those types of partnerships are the future. She argues Mayor Nadine Woodward’s flagship congregant shelter is neither humane, or sustainable.

“This administration's emphasis primarily on one warehouse on Trent, being transformed into a large congregant shelter, is not a best practice for successfully transitioning people off the street,” she said.

Woodward, who held a press conference in response, argued Brown’s efforts haven’t led to success. After nine months - Camp Hope has not been disbanded.

"One of the concerns that I have with the way that Commerce has addressed this issue, is they have provided $24 million dollars to Spokane County, but we haven’t seen very many results," she said. "But the solution, and the policies out of Olympia throws money at the problem, but we're not really moving the needle."

She argued the $14 million Catalyst project, where 69 people from Camp Hope are now staying, was a misstep. She said more people should be served with that price tag, and neighbors around the facility are strongly against it.

The Catalyst Project, operated by Catholic Charities, is a place where people can stay for several months while caseworkers help them solve the barriers that led too, or keep them homeless. Governor Jay Inslee, as well as Brown when she led the Department of Commerce, strongly backed the project saying it was a long-term investment to permanently reduce homelessness in the region.

Woodward acknowledged that the Trent shelter has been costly and is still missing some infrastructure, but argued emergency action was needed.

“We're getting people out of the cold, we had six inches of snow earlier this week, yet there were people still in that encampment. That's not good, we expect more of community, our leaders, than that.”

City code requires the mayor to provide warming and cooling centers during extreme weather. Woodward, as well as Spokane County officials, also rapidly expanded the shelter in an effort to provide enough beds to close Camp Hope. Woodward wants to consolidate a smaller city shelter into Trent, saying the site will be a starting point for exiting homelessness.

Brown said she wants focus on crisis response teams in the field – saying the city needs to look beyond congregant shelters to address homelessness.

“The people at Camp Hope have provided us with an opportunity,” she said, “because it is one place, and there has been services provided there to actually meet them where they are, and transition them to something that doesn't just move them temporarily and they end up back on the street.”

Brown moved to Spokane to study economics and was previously a professor specializing in economics at Eastern Washington University. She also taught at Gonzaga university, and was the chancellor of WSU Spokane. She also unsuccessfully ran for Congress against Cathy McMorris Rodgers in 2018.

Brown appears to have the backing of the majority of Spokane's city council, who are progressive. She also has the support of several leaders of color in Spokane, including Reverend Walter Kendricks pastor of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church. Black leaders in Spokane have clashed with Woodward's administration over roundtables on police reform, and her decision to locate a police precinct in the former East Central Library.

Several other people have filed with the Public Disclosure Commission that they intend to run for mayor, including Spokane comedian Deece Casillas and Tim Archer, former president of the city of Spokane firefighter’s union. Two other candidates, Keith Kleven and Jonathan Legault have also filed.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.