Both candidates in the recent race for Salem Mayor -- winner Chuck Bennett and loser Carole Smith -- had letters in the Statesman Journal this week, a day apart.
Not too much should be made of them. But also, not too little. So I'll try to strike a middle ground in my profoundly wise Salem Political Snark analysis of what the letters mean for this town.
Serious, yet not too serious.
My basic reaction is that the letters from Smith and Bennett had sort of a "ships that pass in the night" feel to them. Given that the mayoral candidates ran on very different platforms, this isn't terribly surprising.
But I hold out hope that goings-on at City Hall can be less divisive and more collaborative, less closed and more open.
If such is to happen during the Mayor Bennett era that begins in 2017, the differences evident in the Smith and Bennett letters will have to be addressed, since they represent divergent political attitudes and constituencies in Salem.
Here's the May 30 Carole Smith letter:
Smith: Election is over; let’s work together for a bright future
The election of mayor is over and Chuck Bennett has won. I encourage my supporters to join me in congratulating Chuck and pledge to work together. When Chuck and I arrived early for our Statesman Journal endorsement interview, I asked Chuck, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we could be co-mayors?” He agreed.
Now we go forward to work to build a better, more livable city for all our citizens. There will be opportunities to attract new, family-wage jobs to our community and lift many out of poverty. There will be opportunities to deal with homelessness and give people hope and help to regain what they have lost.
Bennett and city council give us hope we will see Downtown Urban Renewal funds used to create a downtown that will impress company CEOs looking to expand in, or move their companies to, Salem. Businesses want to locate in a city where they feel their employees will want to be.
So, here we are — an election behind us, and a new future ahead of us. I encourage all citizens to work together with our new mayor and city councilors to make our future bright and our city more livable.
A central Smith campaign issue was more citizen participation in City of Salem policy-making. Since she is a citizen, the call for her and Bennett to work together on Salem's livability makes sense.
Back in 2010, when City Councilor Bennett unsuccessfully ran for Mayor, a post on his "Chuck Bennett for Mayor" Facebook page about his return from a vacation has a positive glad you're back; don't leave us again comment from Carole Smith. Kind of poignant, since they've clearly grown apart during the past six years.
It's encouraging that Smith's letter starts off with the “Wouldn’t it be fun if we could be co-mayors?” anecdote. Question is, how sincere was Bennett's agreement? I can imagine a subtly sarcastic, "Oh, yeah, super fun" response that belies the outward words.
Or, perhaps Bennett responded as a candidate who wants to appear willing to collaborate with Smith after the election, but really isn't interested in this.
Issue-wise, Smith mentioned family wage jobs, homelessness, and downtown vitalization through Urban Renewal funds. Let's see what issues appeared in Chuck Bennett's letter.
Bennett grateful for opportunity to serve as Salem mayor
Thank you for the opportunity and challenge to serve as Salem’s next mayor.
The work ahead for our community is exciting and will require a willingness to work together on issues as diverse as economic development and jobs, homelessness, building a new police station, repairing streets and sidewalks and completing the study of another bridge across the Willamette River. And the list goes on.
None of this will occur without extensive, sometimes intense, public discussion and debate. Part of my job will be to lead the discussions and encourage both civility and progress on these and other issues we face.
I intend to conduct the office of mayor in a spirit of openness and willingness to listen to diverse opinions. I also plan to work closely with the City Council to make decisions that need to be made.
Salem is blessed with a spirit of volunteerism second to none. We also are served by a professional, dedicated city staff that provides outstanding management, public safety and a myriad of other services that make our community work so well. It is an honor to be part of this team and to serve our community.
Hey, the ships came together on a few things! Jobs and homelessness.
In addition, Bennett mentioned building a new police station, repairing streets and sidewalks, and moving forward with the required Third Bridge EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). Here Bennett and Smith take markedly different courses.
It will be interesting to see if Councilor Bennett supports the City's ill-considered current plan to build a $70-80 million over-priced and over-sized police facility on the old O'Brien auto dealership site just north of downtown. Smith is a proponent of a $50 million alternative: $30 million for the police facility, $20 million to make the Library and City Hall earthquake-safe, which was part of the City's "public safety" proposal until the size and price of the police facility doubled after out-of-town consultants were hired.
Bennett's responses to questions posted by the Salem Chamber of Commerce before he got their endorsement implies that he favors the $70-80 million plan. Bennett also expressed support for an unneeded billion-dollar Third Bridge across the Willamette, which must have been music to Chamber ears. Smith opposes the bridge.
I've heard Bennett say that he supports the downtown "streetscape" plan alluded to by Smith, which would transform the Historic District into a much more walkable and bikeable area, thereby attracting more visitors, residents, and businesses. This is from his campaign web site:
Downtown vitality depends in part on keeping the character of the core with appropriate redevelopment of historic buildings; more housing opportunities; an entertainment district; better traffic pattern with a two-way grid, and improved streetscape to encourage more pedestrian and bicycle use there. The city has a role in all these elements.
So as I said in a post about Salem becoming a true Collaboration Capital, hopefully Bennett will make use of Smith's downtown knowledge that she's gained from thirty years of being a business owner and resident there. Smith worked with some other people on a Historic District streetscape plan that was met with a yawn by folks at City Hall during the Mayor Peterson reign.
Bennett said in his letter that he wants "extensive, sometimes intense, public discussion and debate."
Great. Bring it on in 2017, soon-to-be Mayor Bennett.
I'd love to see you and Carole Smith engage each other, along with the entire Salem citizenry, in that sort of energetic public discussion/debate about what sort of city we want Salem to become.