I'm a proud member of Progressive Salem, an organization out to get progressive candidates elected to local offices. But I disagree with the board of directors' decision to stay neutral in the upcoming Mayor's race.
Of the two candidates, Carole Smith and Chuck Bennett, Smith clearly seems to be the most progressive. (I couldn't find a web site for Bennett.)
I say this for some good reasons.
(1) Tom Andersen being on the short side of 8-1 votes. Chuck Bennett currently is a Salem City Council member who represents Ward 1, the downtown area. Tom Andersen was elected to the City Council in 2014 with strong Progressive Salem support. For good reason Andersen is featured on the home page of Progressive Salem.
Numerous times I've heard Andersen speak about the frustration of being on the short side of important 8-1 votes in City Council meetings. Naturally Bennett was one of the eight who opposed progressive policies.
For example, ending the push for an unneeded billion dollar Third Bridge that would require $1.50 tolls each way on it and the current two bridges, along with decimating homes and businesses in the path of this freeway'ish monstrosity.
Andersen can rattle off various other issues where Bennett and seven other City Council members stood in the way of progressive policies.
(2) Bennett's Chamber of Commerce endorsement. When Chuck Bennett announced he was running for Mayor, and an explicit Chamber candidate didn't emerge, it seemed obvious that Bennett was the Chamber's guy.
Now this is definitive. On March 21 the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce endorsed Bennett. Here's how the endorsement was prefaced.
Salem’s City Council is the single most impactful decision making body as it relates to economic growth and prosperity in our community, and is responsible for the governance that determines the rate at which Salem will flourish.
With a sound process that is inclusive to all candidates, the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce reached out to all candidates that filed to seek election to these offices as of late January to answer a questionnaire for endorsement by our organization. This endorsement process also included an interview with our Public Policy Committee, and a vetting by our Board of Directors.
The core of these endorsements surrounds job creation and economic growth, and it is our pleasure to offer endorsements to the following candidates:
Mayor: Chuck Bennett (current Ward 1 Councilor)
The Chamber of Commerce and progressive policies are like matter and anti-matter. They are unable to coexist. If the Chamber likes Bennett, it is because he has voted their way in the past, and they're confident he'll vote for conservative, pro-big business Chamber priorities in the future.
(3) What Bennett said on his Chamber of Commerce questionnaire. This was put on the Chamber's website. To an environmentalist progressive like me, it's ghastly.
Bennett opposes business taxes, such as a payroll tax for mass transit that other cities have successfully used to improve livability and economic vitality. Yet Salem suffers from no weekend or evening bus service, a major embarrassment for Oregon's capital. Bennett said:
The city has successfully avoided any new business specific taxes or cost increases other than the growth of the property tax or costs that are worked out with all interested parties.
Bennett favors the above-mentioned billion dollar Third Bridge and, one must assume, the local taxes and tolling needed to pay for this boondoggle.
It’s clear the city needs to continue to be a major driver in completing the EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] for the third river crossing. That process is near completion with land use decisions planned for this summer but it must be followed as quickly as possible with a design and cost planning program that allows the regional, state and federal partners an opportunity to engage the community on this issue.
Bennett supports a supersized $80 million, 150,000 square foot new police facility that is way larger and more expensive than is needed, and squeezes out much-needed funding for seismic upgrades to the Library and City Hall that will make them earthquake-ready.
The structure needs to be large enough to meet the city’s needs over the next 30 to 40 years and that appears to be about 150,000 square feet if it also includes the 911 center. I am concerned that we not make the same mistakes made at City Hall where the Police Department was already looking for space eight years after it was built.
Also, I know Carole Smith quite well.
I've socialized with her. I've worked with her on various community issues, including trying to save the U.S. Bank trees from being needlessly killed in 2013 after a backroom deal was made between Peter Fernandez, the City of Salem Public Works Director, and Ryan Allbritton, the bank president and incoming Chamber of Commerce president.
Chuck Bennett supported that backroom deal and the removal of the beautiful, large, healthy trees on downtown's State Street for no good reason. To me, this alone is plenty of reason to not support Bennett for Mayor.
I'm trying to learn more about why Progressive Salem is sitting on the fence when it comes to the Mayor's race, which will be decided in the May 17 primary election. Hopefully they'll decide to jump onto the side where Carole Smith is waging a vigorous battle to be a genuinely progressive Mayor.