Paul Dillon, Cyndi Donahue first to announce bids for South Hill city council seat
March 21, 2023 Updated Wed., March 22, 2023 at 9:09 a.m.
After an initial slow start to candidates declaring they intended to run for Spokane City Council, two people running for the same seat announced within 12 hours of each other Monday.
Paul Dillon, the vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, announced Monday morning he is running to represent District 2 on the Spokane City Council. By Monday night, so too had small-business owner and U.S. Air Force honorary commander Cyndi Donahue.
They’re both running for a seat held by Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who will reach her term limit at the end of the year. The district, which has two seats, is also represented by Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, whose term is not up until 2025 but is running for council president.
The district includes much of the city south of the Spokane River except for the downtown core, and it faces unique challenges. It is relatively economically diverse, its northern areas have experienced growing traffic problems, and it has seen an uptick in the homeless population, which has until recently been more concentrated elsewhere in the city.
It also contains the East Central Neighborhood, which was split in two by Interstate 90 when the highway was built in the ’60s, leaving a mark on the community to this day.
While Dillon and Donahue are the first to formally announce their candidacy, they are unlikely to be the last. Candidates will have until filing week, May 15- 19, to throw their hats into the ring.
Dillon, a relatively well-known figure in Spokane politics, said in a news release that he would be a “listen-first” candidate who would respond to the concerns of the community.
“I have been a fearless advocate for all in Spokane,” Dillon wrote in the news release. “Now I want to take my experience advancing good public policy to the Spokane City Council.”
Dillon is stepping away from his Planned Parenthood role to run for office to avoid potential conflicts of interest. He is transitioning to an educator role with that organization, he said in a news release.
Dillon, a longtime activist and organizer in Spokane, has often been the face of that organization as it has lobbied for abortion protections.
In February, when anti-abortion group The Church at Planned Parenthood was ordered to pay $960,000 after a Spokane County judge ruled that the group interfered with patient care at Planned Parenthood, it was Dillon who addressed the moment to the media.
“This is a critical victory for Planned Parenthood at a time of historical attacks on abortion access,” Dillon said at the time.
Dillon previously worked as a legislative assistant for state Sen. Andy Billig and, before that, former Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder. Further back in time, he was a columnist for the Inlander and writer for The Spokesman-Review.
Dillon has also long worked in politics behind the scenes.
He was one of two plaintiffs who filed a complaint in 2021 against Spokane City Council candidate Tyler LeMasters that resulted in LeMasters being disqualified in his race against Wilkerson. He is also involved in opposition to a new jail, which voters will decide whether to fund in November.
In a brief interview, Dillon said he would like to take the police reform baton from Council President Breean Beggs, who will be departing the council at the end of this year.
Dillon pointed to the city’s settlement last year with the family of David Novak, who was shot and killed by police, and called for the end of qualified immunity that shields officers from certain legal actions. He said he wanted more focus on domestic violence and proposed an assessment to ensure residents are getting a timely response when they call 911.
On homelessness, Dillon said he approved of a regional approach, but claimed Mayor Nadine Woodward had been combative with potential community partners, hampering an agreement.
He also argued that ordinances criminalizing the homeless were inhumane and said he would work to dismantle city sit-lie laws barring the homeless from lingering in certain areas.
If elected, Dillon also said he would focus on encouraging infill housing in District 2 and building on the city’s 2011 complete streets ordinance, which requires street projects to include pedestrian and bike infrastructure.
Lastly, he said he wanted to revisit the city’s laws around trains carrying hazardous materials through Spokane, noting how vulnerable the city could be to a derailment.
Donahue, an honorary commander for the 92nd Air Refueling Squadron at Fairchild Airforce Base, said in a news release that the sacrifice and dedication of local service members inspired her to “rise” into city leadership.
In a news release, Donahue focused on the issues of property crime, filling potholes and creating more affordable housing while protecting neighborhood character.
“We need to feel safer on our streets, support our local business owners and their dedicated, talented employees,” she wrote.
Donahue, a former yoga teacher and personal trainer at the Spokane Club, according to her LinkedIn account, worked until recently as the community engagement director for nonprofit startup accelerator Ignite Northwest.
She was appointed to the Downtown Spokane Partnership Business Improvement Board in 2022 and serves on the Community Economic Development Strategy Steering Committee. She graduated from the Leadership Spokane program in 2020 and was among the Spokane Coeur d’Alene magazine’s Top 20 Women in Business Leadership in 2019.
In a brief interview, Donahue declined to specify many policy proposals she would work to enact if elected, saying she didn’t know specifics about how to address the issues of potholes, public safety and housing.
Donahue did say she felt there needed to be better communication between the City Council and the mayor’s office, and more focus on providing basic services such as filling potholes. She added that elected leaders needed to demonstrate more trust in law enforcement.
“The larger issue is beginning to trust our police and trying to find collaborative solutions,” she said.
She agreed that a regional approach was necessary to address homelessness, and emphasized that she would work across the aisle and build bridges between disagreeing parties on various issues.
“With focusing on all these big issues, the one thing we need to remember is our working families and the underhoused,” Donahue added. “The people are the engine of our community, and they need child care options.”
Donahue could not provide any specific proposals to bolster child care in Spokane.
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