Tonight there was a packed house in the City Council chambers for the swearing-in of newly elected Mayor Chuck Bennett and four city councilors: Cara Kaser, Sally Cook, Matt Ausec, and Brad Nanke.
Bennett and Nanke were already on the City Council (Bennett moved to Mayor from his Ward 1 seat now held by Kaser). So the big turnout mostly was due to progressives wanting to celebrate the election of Kaser, Cook, and Ausec.
The three of them join fellow progressive Tom Andersen to form a much-needed counterweight to the conservative majority that has dominated the City Council for quite a while. Now the tide has turned to a 4-4 progressive/conservative split, with one seat vacant.
(I'm putting Mayor Bennett in the conservative camp, because that's the way he's been voting on important issues such as the Billion Dollar Boondoggle, otherwise known as the Third Bridge/Salem River Crossing.)
So as I watched the smiles, laughter, good cheer, and platitudes fill the Council chambers during the speechifying and thank you's, I kept thinking about what wasn't being said, yet was on the minds of everybody with a sense of how the political winds are shifting in Salem.
Before Ward 6 councilor Daniel Benjamin resigned last November, which spurred an intense discussion of racism and bigotry in this town, it was felt that the next two years would be marked by a 5-4 conservative majority on the City Council (again, putting Bennett in the conservative camp, where he certainly seems to belong).
Progressives were looking forward to 2018 as their opportunity to vote out Bennett, Benjamin, Jim Lewis, and Steve McCoid. Taking any of those seats would tilt the balance of power in a left-leaning direction.
Now, though, all eyes are on a special March 14 election to fill the Ward 6 seat. Today the Statesman Journal reported that four candidates have filed for that city council position: Jonathan Crow, Greg Peterson, Christopher Hoy and Timothy Perkins.
I don't know anything about Crow and Perkins.
Peterson has a Facebook page promoting his candidacy. From what I've heard, he is the Chamber of Commerce candidate in the election. Which in my opinion is exactly what Ward 6 doesn't need. Daniel Benjamin was a Chamber pick; he turned out to be a bad city councilor.
Interestingly, Peterson is a buddy of Benjamin, as reported by KATU in "Close friend runs for seat of former city councilor who resigned amid racial controversy."
After former Salem City Councilor Daniel Benjamin stepped down amid a racially charged controversy in November, the city announced plans for a special election to fill his seat on March 14.
Now Greg Peterson, a businessman who says he considers Benjamin like family, is running to replace him.
“We’re different," Peterson, who is African-American, told KATU on Monday. "We have different views on life. But I’ve never felt anything negative from him as far as race.”
Peterson, who was born and raised in Compton, California, said Benjamin was the first person he met when he moved to Salem in 1991.
“His mom and dad are my daughter’s godparents," said Peterson. “His sister is my sister, his niece is my niece. His dog and cat was my dog and cat. We’re just like one family.”
Well, it'll be interesting to see if Peterson will be able to make his close friendship with Benjamin into an asset in the Ward 6 race. The KATU story quotes Peterson as saying that Benjamin "never displayed anything to me ever that seemed to be racist or hateful."
Many people in Salem, though, would argue with that assessment of Benjamin. [Update: I've included several KATU TV stories about the Daniel Benjamin uproar.]
Progressive Salem is endorsing Christopher Hoy (above), who also has a Facebook page. Hoy is Chief Deputy for the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office. His bio on the Sheriff's Office "Leadership Team" page says that Hoy has a bachelor's degree from Willamette University in Political Science, so he brings an interesting background to the Ward 6 race.
I'll end with some lighter moments I captured at the swearing-in ceremony.
I used my iPhone to record videos of each newly-elected person's "thank you" remarks after being sworn in. Ward 7 city councilor Sally Cook wins the prize for Most Entertaining, largely due to her expressive youngest daughter being both thrilled and reluctant to be photographed with her mom, dad, and Governor Brown.
All the seats in the City Council chamber were filled by the time I got there, so I had to stand by the after-swearing-in snack table. I was struck by the juxtaposition of a carrot cake cautiously labeled "No Nuts" and a tasty-looking bowl of the sometimes dangerous food a few inches away.
Ward 1 City Councilor Cara Kaser walked by and posed for a photo. I got her laughing by saying, "Congratulations! You now can look forward to four years of no pay and countless hours of boring meetings."
I always find them funny, because my Uncle Jack played them and he was a notorious jokester. Also, cows would moo when he bagpiped away. He tried to get me to learn how to play, sending me a chanter (mini-bagpipe) when I was young, but my musical ineptness prevented me from becoming a bagpiper.
To which my wife and neighbors likely would say, 'Thank god."
Lastly, at one point newly-departed Mayor Anna Peterson used one of her favorite descriptions of Salem during her term in office: Collaboration Capital. Someone I know who was standing behind me said, "Time to barf."
He was right. Ex-Mayor Peterson presided over a hugely uncollaborative City Hall administration. Her guiding principle was "my way or the highway." There were few attempts to genuinely involve citizens in policy decisions before they were decided upon.
So, yeah, the time to barf comment was apt. Like I said in 2015, "Salem Mayor Anna Peterson unduly proud of her 'collaboration capital.'"