"The oligarchy is dead," a friend said to me tonight at Shotski's Woodfired Pizza as we applauded Sally Cook's decisive Ward 7 victory over current City Councilor Warren Bednarz -- who was endorsed by the Salem Chamber of Commerce and other special interests.
The Marion County Democrats put on a Primary Election Night party. Even though the races for Salem Mayor and four City Council seats are nominally non-partisan, everyone knew that the battle for the contested seats was between the Progressives and the Establishment, a.k.a. the Oligarchy.
With most of the votes in, it looks like the Oligarchy lost 3-1.
Chuck Bennett, the Chamber of Commerce's pick for Mayor, beat progressive Carole Smith. But each of the City Council candidates backed by Progressive Salem came away winners: Cara Kaser beat Jan Kailuweit in Ward 1; Matt Ausec is beating Tiffany Partridge in Ward 5; Sally Cook beat Warren Bednarz in Ward 7.
I'm really happy that three out of the four creative, innovative, forward-looking candidates appear to have won. Here's Cara Kaser celebrating her victory. She's going to be a hugely better representative of the citizens in Ward 1, which includes Salem's downtown, than Chuck Bennett.
Bennett, who vastly outspent his opponent owing to his support from special interest PACs (political action committees), faces an interesting two year term as Mayor.
He got the Chamber of Commerce endorsement because he repeated the "jobs, jobs, jobs" mantra that the Salem Oligarchy likes.
And he favors the unneeded billion dollar Third Bridge that promises to enrich developers and construction companies while taking big bucks out of the pockets of ordinary citizens (get ready for a $1.50 toll each way on the current bridges and new bridge if Bennett gets his way; plus a property tax and gas tax also will be levied to pay for this boondoggle).
Yet Bennett will have to deal with four progressives on the nine-member Salem City Council: newly-elected Kaser, Ausec, and Cook, plus current councilor Tom Andersen. Also, I've heard progressives say that they think Bennett will show his liberal side once he becomes Mayor.
So Chuck Bennett is going to have to tread a delicate line between irritating the Chamber/Oligarchy types who supplied the big bucks to get him elected, and the Progressive types who obviously are on the upswing in Salem -- given the outcome of the three contested City Council races: wins for Kaser, Ausec, and Cook.
(As I write this at 10 pm on election night, Matt Ausec is only leading Tiffany Partridge by 94 votes, with one precinct in his ward not reporting; but since that precinct probably has about 250 votes total, it's unlikely that Partridge can beat him. Here's a photo of Ausec, on the left, outside Shotski's, listening to Progressive Salem leader Tina Calos and others discussing the first batch of election results that had him ahead.)
The defeat of Councilor Warren Bednarz by Sally Cook is especially satisfying for me and other progressives. And, I'd expect, especially disturbing for the Salem Oligarchy. Bednarz not only was an incumbent, he had the backing of the Chamber of Commerce and other special interests.
And Bednarz didn't only lose. He was crushed.
With six of the seven precincts in Ward 7 reporting (see p. 22), Cook is leading 61% to 39%. This is a sign that progressives are on the march in Salem. People Power won over Money Power in this election, as it hopefully will in 2018 and beyond.
I'll end with an observation about turnout.
With 84% of the precincts reporting in the city-wide Mayor's race, it looks like the final voter participation rate will be around 43%. Bennett is winning over Smith 61% to 38%. Thus he is the choice of 61% of 43% or so of the registered voters, which means about 26% of potential voters are electing Bennett.
The best way to reassure citizens that elections truly reflect the voice of the people is to have almost everybody vote. Voting rates vary widely in different parts of Salem. In North Salem's Ward 5, the Ausec-Patridge race, it looks like only about 30% of registered voters are going to cast a ballot.
Sure, I'm happy that it looks like Progressive Salem candidate Ausec is going to win.
But I'd be even happier if he was elected by more than 16% or so of the registered voters in his ward (53% of 30%, or thereabouts). There's got to be a way to get people in the lower-income areas of Salem more engaged in local politics and elections.
If the Chamber of Commerce really wanted to show that it is more than a special interest lobbying group, it would join forces with Progressive Salem and other civic organizations in an Everybody Counts in Salem movement -- an effort to bring people currently being left out of this town's political life into the citizen participation mainstream.
There was buzz among the liberals at tonight's Marion County Democrats election party when Dan Clem, CEO of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, showed up at Shotski's. Not at a table reserved for party participants (there was a $10 donation requested), but at a table elevated above the main floor.
Kind of fitting for a leading member of the Salem Oligarchy. But today's election reduced the power of the Oligarchy considerably, which is highly positive for ordinary people in this town.