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Betsy Wilkerson announces bid for Spokane City Council President

Spokane City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson has announced a bid for city council president. Wilkerson would be the first person of color to hold the job if she wins.

Wilkerson has been on the city council for three years, owns a group home for people with disabilities and has long been an advocate for Spokane’s historically Black East Central neighborhood.

During her campaign launch at the Carl Maxey Center in Spokane, Wilkerson pointed to her track record of community involvement and experience as an organizer.

“I have stood for what I said I was going to stand for,” she said. “If I say it, I’m going to do it.”

Wilkerson promised to work across the aisle, and actively seek the input of marginalized groups, especially local tribes. She also promised transparency, and to run a positive campaign.

“We won’t use fear tactics to scare people into voting for us,” she said.

Wilkerson has been targeted in the past by conservative activists and politicians for her efforts toward equity. She was also the target of a misleading campaign [RW1] last year implying she refused to assist police with investigating a murder near her business. Wilkerson did assist police once they obtained a warrant, saying she was concerned about giving law enforcement unfettered access to her security footage because of the vulnerable people she serves.

In her role as a city council member, Wilkerson’s clashed with the mayor over a number of issues, including locating a police precinct in the former East Central library. Wilkerson argued the old library should be turned into a medical clinic or community cultural center.

Breean Beggs, the current city council president, has decided not to run for reelection, and threw his support behind Wilkerson during her campaign launch Friday.  

Wilkerson is the second announced candidate in the race.

Kim Plese, who previously ran for Spokane County commissioner and owned a marketing business, is running on a conservative platform. Plese has been critical of sitting council members, saying they’ve increased their own budget and wasted time on non-city issues, such as voting to bar the police department from assisting with out-of-state abortion investigations.

In an ad released Thursday, Plese also said she planned to focus on public safety.

“Spokane needs leaders who know the difference between helping people up, and protecting our community from crime,” she said. “Leaders who will advocate for public safety, not against it.”

If either win, they would be the first woman to hold the office.

Plese’s approach to public safety is similar to incumbent mayor, Nadine Woodward, who is running for reelection. Woodward is facing former state legislator and Washington Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown, who announced she was running for mayor last week. Brown supports Wilkerson.

For a significant portion of its history, Spokane has had a mayor and city council. In 2001, it switched to a strong mayor form of government and created a city council president position.

The city council president slightly more power than a regular city council member. They run city council meetings and are the only council member elected city-wide.

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.