When I sat down with Lisa Brown in downtown Spokane's Davenport hotel for an interview on her decision to run for mayor of Spokane, it was a day after Gov. Jay Inslee announced he wouldn't seek a fourth term. So I couldn't help but kid her about "why aren't you running for governor?"
When I mentioned that the following day to a mutual friend, he said: "That's not as much of a joke as you think, Mike. She has better credentials to run for political office than Jay Inslee, who was merely a member of Congress with a healthy ego 12 years ago when he decided he wanted to be governor."
Those credentials include being the majority leader of the Washington State Senate, a role she held for eight years, then serving as chancellor of the WSU Spokane campus, in which role she helped set the stage for the launch of WSU's Elson Floyd Medical School. Then Inslee named her to be director of the state Department of Commerce, the role she is leaving to run for mayor.
She now hopes to parlay what she would characterize as a background of leadership into the job of Spokane mayor, seeking to unseat Nadine Woodward, who is running for a second term.
Both Woodward and Brown have more visible political ties than is usually the case in nonpartisan municipal races. Brown's Democratic ties, including close friendship with U.S. Sen, Maria Cantwell and in Olympia for at least the rest of Inslee's term, are a key part of her background. And Woodward has close ties to several Republican groups, including keynoting last weekend's Mainstream Republicans of Washington conference in Leavenworth.
And those partisan connections could play a role in the outcome of the race for the top elected position in the city that is the economic center for a region stretching over three-state and two Canadian provinces. It's a region viewed as more conservative than liberal.
But Brown polled 52 percent of the Spokane County vote in her unsuccessful run in 2018 against GOP incumbent Cathy McMorris Rogers in the heavily Republican Fifth Congressional District.
I asked former Spokane mayor John Powers, a Brown supporter, what are the key challenges Brown faces in her race against Woodward, who was a local TV personality before winning the race for mayor in 2019.
"There's a bit of a perception in centrist and conservative communities that she is too progressive," said Powers, who became head of economic development organizations in King and Kitsap counties before retiring and returning to Spokane to go into real estate.
"But I think that's not accurate," Powers said. "She understands better than most the process of getting things done by discussion, compromise and resolution," he added.
According to the local Spokesman-Review, 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," the newspaper noted.
"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."
"Visible homelessness, housing affordability and the perception that crime is worse downtown are real issues that I will take on," Brown told me. "But building on our strengths as an increasingly diversified regional economy is a key theme for me."
"I plan to be a mayor focused on economic development," Brown said.
'The cluster model we helped create at the Commerce Department is dramatically present in Spokane with the clusters of aerospace, healthcare and emerging technology, which can be built on to be keys to the future."
Spokane is my hometown, where I retain personal and business ties. So I've been intrigued to see the downtown develop into a surging business core while watching downtown Seattle decline to a level from which some bet it won't fully recover.
And I think a growing visibility for Spokane may accompany that Seattle core decline. And part of Spokane's economic success, dating back its 1974 World's Fair, has been that leaders have understood the importance of the fact The River Runs Through It.
And now that riverfront focus has extended along the north bank to include The Podium, the adjacent Spokane Arena that houses concerts and sports events and a new $35 million outdoor football and soccer stadium across the street which will open later this year.
So the area is developing into a true sports and entertainment district and that represents another cluster that will require close relations between city hall and the Public Facilities District that oversees those facilities and the role they will play in Spokane's economic future.
The realization of that cluster emerging, coupled with events already long part of the Spokane sports scene gave me the opportunity in February 2022 to suggest that Spokane should take the nickname "Sports Town USA."
The idea actually came to mind as I watched high school and college runners from across the country at a track event in February 2022 at the city's still gleaming new indoor 200-meter six-lane track that boasts the nation's newest and one of the few hydraulic-banked running tracks. That means the ends of the track in the $53 million Podium near downtown are hydraulically elevated for sprint events and lowered for other events.
There might actually be little argument if Spokane claimed the title of the nation's basketball capital. Afterall, it's not only home to a Gonzaga Bulldog basketball team that has dominated the nation's collegiate ranks for going on a quarter century, but the city also hosts on one weekend each year the 3-on-3 basketball tournament called Hoopfest that is the largest event of its kind in the world. Or as the event launched in 1989 touts itself, "the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament on earth," attracting a quarter-million fans, 450 courts spanning 45 city blocks and drawing 6,700 teams.
Then of course, for the world of runners, there's the Lilac Bloomsday Run. The 7.4-mile run marked its 46th anniversary this past weekend, celebrating the 1977 launch of the event by Spokane resident Don Kardong, who had finished fourth in the marathon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
I'm still waiting for someone in Spokane to have the courage to say: "Of course we should be Sports Town USA. And we are going to start a campaign to claim the title." Maybe Lisa Brown in her run for mayor.