Today Carole Smith and Chuck Bennett debated at a Salem City Club meeting about who is best qualified to be this town's next Mayor.
Here's my main takeaways from the hour-long debate -- which, compared to the presidential debates, was very polite. Maybe excessively so, as I was looking forward to a more intense discussion of the policy differences between Smith and Bennett.
But the contrasts between the candidates were clear, regardless.
(1) Bennett's key mantra was jobs, jobs, jobs. Smith's was citizen involvement, citizen involvement, citizen involvement.
Bennett has been endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce. If I hadn't known that ahead of time, it would have been obvious from his remarks. He said that his top priority is job creation and economic development. Any other priority would limit that Numero Uno goal.
Smith said that citizen involvement was her most pressing issue. People have been left out of policy-making at City Hall. Important decisions are made by City staff and city councilors, and only then do citizens get to weigh in.
(2) Their visions of what "public participation" means differ a lot.
Smith repeatedly said that as Mayor, she would involve citizens early and often in deciding what sort of city Salem should become. She wants City officials to spend less money on paid consultants, and to have more citizen advisory committees, such as an Environmental Committee. Smith sees City Hall currently as being like a "castle wall" with "serfs" kept outside.
Bennett considers that things are fine, public participation-wise, because anyone can testify at City Council meetings either at the beginning (if an issue someone is concerned about is on the agenda) or at the end (if it isn't). People also can volunteer to be on existing City committees, come to meetings of those committees, and so on.
So it seems to me that Smith and Bennett differ as to which word in Representative Democracy should be emphasized. Smith sees it as Representative Democracy, with citizens playing a large role in public policy-making. Bennett sees it as Representative Democracy, with citizens being secondary to elected officials.
(3) Bennett basically wants more-of-the-same; Smith wants some major changes.
As background, Bennett said he was invited to run for Mayor by the person who now holds that office, Anna Peterson. And he's been a city councilor for about nine years, being appointed to fill a vacant councilor position, then being elected for two four-year terms.
Thus it isn't surprising that Bennett has a pretty rosy view of Salem as it is now.
He said this town is in the midst of a major economic recovery and needs to keep on doing what it is doing. Bennett thinks downtown is as vibrant as he's ever seen it. He sees the Mill Creek Corporate Center as being poised for great things.
Smith has a different perspective.
Being a long-time downtown business owner and resident, she is much more focused on the vitality of Salem's urban core, rather than outlying business parks. Smith said downtown has the lowest rental rates in Salem, and the second-highest vacancy rate, which shows the need to revitalize the Historic District.
(4) On trees and parking, Bennett and Smith are yin and yang.
During the Q & A part of the debate, a City Club member asked the candidates if the City of Salem should continue to get its Tree City USA award, given how poorly this town treats its trees.
Bennett said "yes," citing improvements that recently were made to the City of Salem tree ordinance -- which previously allowed one person, the Public Works Director, to make decisions about street tree removals.
Smith, though, said "I do question this. We cut down too many trees." She said that trees are a nuisance for Public Works. However, the bar is set so low to get a Tree City USA award, Salem will still be entitled to get it no matter how badly our trees are treated.
Regarding parking, Bennett criticized Smith's call for making the Library genuinely "free" by taking out the meters at the Library. He said that the parking meters help fund Library services, so the West Salem branch would have to close, or open days at the main Library reduced, if meters were removed.
Smith said that parking revenues go into the general fund, so a cut wouldn't need to harm Library services. She would replace that revenue by spending less money on hiring consultants to recommend City policies that citizens should be doing the weighing-in on.
Well, there's more I could say about the City Club debate -- and I probably will in another post. There were a few WTF? moments as I listened to Bennett and Smith that could merit some Snark.
I've done my best to be as neutral and factual as possible in this initial post about the debate.
I readily admit that I support Carole Smith for Mayor, because I'm a progressive, not a conservative. The debate solidified my previous belief that Bennett is the leaning-right candidate, and Smith is the leaning-left candidate.
Over on my other blog, I've argued that "Progressive Salem should endorse Carole Smith for Mayor." What I heard from Smith and Bennett today strengthened my conviction about this.
Brian, I appreciate your honesty about your priorities. It makes it easier to evaluate your comments. I appreciate your blogs since it's one of the few sources of information about our city councilors that we have.
That being said, my take on our mayoral candidates at this point (still evaluating): I hear a lot about Carole Smith's dedication to downtown. Very good, but I want a mayor who cares about every neighborhood and part of town, not just one. I don't like the amount of money Salem spends on consultants either. But there is a place for them when specific expertise is needed. Wisdom is knowing when that is.
Chuck Bennett- Yes, business is important because we need jobs and money in the local economy. But I feel livability is even more important. Make Salem a vibrant town where people want to live and talented workers and businesses wanting them and customers will come. I know Bennett listens to his constituents and tries to serve them as well as the Chamber. I feel he will be a good mayor if we get enough progressives on the Council to help him be more progressive.
From what I hear Progressive Salem is not endorsing Bennett. It has decided to stay neutral in that race and is working hard to get progressive council candidates elected.
Don't slam them for something they are not doing. Vote Sally, Cara and Matt everybody who can!
Posted by: Mary Ann Baclawski | April 09, 2016 at 07:37 AM
Mary Ann, you're right. So far Progressive Salem has chosen to remain neutral in the Mayor's race. I don't understand why. As both today's Statesman Journal story and my blog post make clear, Smith obviously is by far the most progressive candidate.
I listened to the debate yesterday for any sign that Bennett would be more progressive as Mayor than he has been as a city councilor. I heard nothing to support this. I don't know what Bennett is telling people behind the scenes. I just know what he is saying publicly, including what he said in his Chamber of Commerce questionnaire that earned him the Chamber's endorsement.
Bennett says he wants to keep on going down the Mayor Peterson/Chamber of Commerce track. His jobs, jobs, jobs talk is far different from Smith's emphasis on livability and citizen involvement. All Progressive Salem has to do is simply put out a press release saying "Carole is our choice for Mayor." That would take almost zero time and no money.
"I endorse Carole Smith." See how easy it is to do. Type four words. I don't understand why people who criticize the policies Bennett supports think that he will go in a different direction once he's elected.
Posted by: Brian Hines | April 09, 2016 at 08:35 AM
I read the answers from the debate, and I prefer Chuck. He has more hands on experience and had specific answers regarding the biggest issues facing Salem. When I read that he wants to hire two officers to patrol the park area that will be joined by the Courtney bridge, I knew he was the candidate for me.
Posted by: siouxiep | April 10, 2016 at 10:20 AM