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.