North Division Street looks like a war zone. The streets are scarred and corrugated, scraped down to their foundations, as construction crews — seemingly omnipresent — pour out layers of the mayor’s street-bond dollars, laboring inside thick clouds of asphalt aroma. Traffic is tense, the sidewalks gape with open sores.
But it’s not stopping motorists from pulling into the broad corner lot off of Carlisle Street. They’re coming in almost faster than volunteers with the Citizens for Integrity in Government can handle them, adding their names to the list of those who’d like to see Spokane Mayor Jim West up for a recall vote this fall. In Volkswagens and Subarus and dinged-up pickup trucks, they pull up, motors running, exchanging pleasantries with the volunteers and then speeding back into the construction zone. It never seems to stop.
“They’re mad, but when they leave, they feel empowered,” says Rita Amenrud, as a couple of cars pull out of the parking lot. Five or six volunteers in white “Recall Jim West” T-shirts scurry out to greet more drivers. A donation bucket near where the cars are stopping reads, “Help clean up Spokane in more ways than one!”
Almost since the recall process began, Amenrud has been a kind of right-hand woman to Shannon Sullivan, who spearheaded the campaign and pushed it through the state Supreme Court last week. She doesn’t describe Sullivan the way most people do — as a David or as a rabble-rouser (take your pick). She calls Sullivan a “catalyst,” the spark that has jump-started the outrage of the community. Referring to what she says are the thousands of people in Spokane who called for the mayor’s resignation when the scandal broke in May, she says, “For Jim West and his little cronies to run over them like they didn’t even matter — that’s outrageous.”
The operation seems far from the hushed courtrooms of the Supreme Court in Olympia. HQ is a fifth-wheel trailer donated, along with the lot, by Sherri Young, who owns the property and the strip mall on it. Volunteers sit in the shade of the trailer’s canopy between cars. They don’t wait long. The site is open 24/7; Sullivan, Amenrud and the rest take turns sleeping and gathering signatures. The former says a volunteer named Ralph showed up one day and now just won’t leave.
People are coming out of the woodwork to help. Asked about her master strategy for gathering the 12,000 to 16,000 signatures she’ll need to put the issue on the ballot, Sullivan just shrugs. They’re carefully filing away dozens of completed petition sheets every two hours at the Division site (in the time I spent with them, they racked up 340 signatures), but people with no connection to the campaign are taking it upon themselves to go door-to-door in the community. They’ll probably show up at Pig Out in the Park this weekend, too. Sullivan isn’t sure. The effort has taken on a life of its own.
A middle-aged woman in an SUV begins to pull away but stops when she spots Sullivan and leans out her window. “Thank you,” she calls across the lot. “I’ve read everything about you, and I’m horribly impressed. Good luck to you.” She pulls out into the tumult, her street bond dollars at work.
Pressed about the seemingly fortuitous timing of Pig Out, Sullivan doesn’t say anything, just smiles a little strangely. The event promises to bring tens of thousands of prime targets to downtown Spokane — it’s a canvasser’s dream.
“I guess the mayor’s stall tactics worked for me,” she says finally. “I should send him a thank-you card.”