Last night progressives were heartened by the results of four Salem City Council races -- even one in which the liberal candidate is narrowly behind. Spending on these races set a record, about $220,000, with most of the money coming from individuals and groups aligned with business interests.
The Chamber of Commerce and builder/realtor PACs went all out to change the left-leaning political landscape of the City Council. And in the end, they ended up with at best, the same balance of power.
As the image below that a friend sent me shows, the election started with a 6-3 progressive majority on the council. Currently it is assured that the six progressive seats will remain, plus two conservative council members (Mayor Bennet and Councilor Lewis), with the Ward 5 race too close to call.
Progressives have made a great comeback in Salem. Back in 2015 there was just one progressive on the City Council. Starting in 2018, there have been six.
Here's screenshots of the current election results for the four City Council races. I haven't shown the mayor's race. Mayor Bennett, who sits on the Council, won easily over Brooke Jackson, 64% to 35%. Scroll down for my comments on each race.
Ward 1: Stapleton (58%) vs. Kailuweit (41%) If there was a near-sure-thing in this election, it was Virginia Stapleton winning. This is the most liberal-leaning ward in Salem. Stapleton had the strong support of Cara Kaser, the progressive incumbent who decided not to run again. Kailuweit had run against Kaser four years ago and lost by a large margin. I give credit to Kailuweit for giving his candidacy a second try. However, the outcome was about the same as in 2016.
Ward 3: Philips (57%) vs. Nanke (43%) The Salem Reporter called this an upset, and the margin of victory by Phillips certainly was surprising. However, last fall Nanke had said that he wasn't going to run again after 20 years on the City Council, then decided to enter the race at the last minute after being pressured to do so. So he was a rather reluctant candidate. In fact, last night I observed in a Zoom election night get-together that Nanke probably was almost as happy with the outcome as Phillips is.
Ward 5: Oakes-Miller (49%) vs. Gonzalez (50%) This is a very close race, with just 18 votes separating Oakes-Miller and Gonzalez. The Salem Reporter story says:
Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess said that race is too close to call and his office still has more than 1,000 ballots to count. He said final results could be two to three weeks away.
Few gave Oakes-Miller much of a chance. She was outspent by Gonzalez by a 12:1 margin. She's an avowed Democratic Socialist.
But Oakes-Miller was able to send out a mailing that apparently resonated with Ward 3 voters. Here's her positions as shown on the mailer. So I count this as a progressive-plus, even if Oakes-Miller doesn't prevail once all the votes are counted. She showed that a progressive in Salem with little money can go up against a well-funded business-backed candidate and hold their own.
Ward 7: Nordyke (58%) vs. Sund (42%) Since Nordyke had been appointed to the Ward 7 seat after Sally Cook resigned following the untimely death of her husband, Nordyke had the advantage of incumbency.
Still, Sund broke a fund-raising record for a City Council race, raking in $71,715 while Nordyke raised considerably less than half that amount, $29,039. Clearly the Chamber of Commerce and business PACs wanted to squash Nordyke's political career in the bud, since she is a compelling candidate who, in my opinion, is well-suited to seek a higher office.
Sund ended up spending almost $30 per vote that he ended up getting, while Nordyke spent less than $9. (Hollie Oakes-Miller wins the thrift prize for cost per vote: $1.70.)
So the balance of power between progressives and conservatives on the Salem City Council will end up about the same. However, this is a win for progressives, since they were defending three seats and conservatives only one.
And if Oakes-Miller ends up pulling out a victory, that would expand the progressive majority to 7-2 from the current 6-3. One interesting twist in this Ward 5 race is that to my understanding, write-in votes are counted in the vote total. So Gonzalez needs to get 50% of the total number of votes plus at least one more vote to avoid a November runoff election.
Currently he is at 50.3%. Thus it's possible that if Oakes-Miller narrows the margin but doesn't take the lead, she could still force Gonzalez into a runoff.