Since I like debates, and the Salem City Club called today's program a debate between the two candidates for Mayor, Chris Hoy and Chane Griggs, after I settled into my chair for the noon Zoom meeting, I was looking forward to some argumentative fireworks.
Instead, what transpired was more like a sparkler that fizzled a bit now and then, but mostly just gave off some smoke without any real heat. Or to mix my metaphors, Griggs and Hoy acted like two fighters who were so concerned about not getting knocked out, they neglected to throw any genuine punches.
Part of the problem was the mostly softball questions asked by the City Club moderator. Based on my sometimes legible notes, they included:
-- How do you see your role as Salem Mayor? Answers were predictable. Like, engage different communities. Treat people with respect. Nothing to debate here.
-- Your top three priorities? Both said homelessness. Griggs said public safety. Hoy said getting through the pandemic. Nothing much to debate here.
-- Most important factors in choosing new City Manager? Unsurprisingly, Griggs and Hoy want a City Manager who listens well, has the capacity to lead the City of Salem, fosters trust. Nothing to debate here.
-- Do you support the Salem Climate Action Plan? Hoy absolutely supports it. Griggs is very supportive of it. Nothing to debate here.
-- Any dramatic new priorities for the city? No, at least not by my definition of "dramatic." They both want to pass a new bond measure in November. If you view that as dramatic, you would have liked the debate more than I did. Nothing to debate here.
-- Thoughts about the bond measure? Unshockingly, Griggs wants to keep the public safe and combat homelessness. Hoy wants to build roads, like Marine Drive in West Salem, improve parks, add branch libraries, and construct affordable housing. A few differences, but nothing much to debate here.
Questions from the audience were a bit more interesting. Probably the entire debate should have focused on audience questions, since the ones the City Club came up with were pretty lame.
Both Griggs and Hoy are in favor of more low-barrier shelters for the homeless, and otherwise agreed on the obvious: the homeless need homes. Nothing to debate here.
When an audience member asked, "What are your thoughts about the Third Bridge?," I perked up, desperately hoping for some disagreement between Griggs and Hoy. There was, but not very much.
Griggs said it was unfortunate that the Third Bridge proposal was rejected by the City Council, but she isn't saying the bridge was in the right location. Hoy gave some good reasons why the Third Bridge was rejected: flyover ramps, displaced homes/businesses, tax burden on Salem residents, tolls. But he said "we do need to look at other options, such as another location for a Third Bridge."
Neither Hoy nor Griggs are in favor of making a payment to neighbors of managed homeless sites. Nothing to debate here.
A question was asked about developer-oriented planning. Griggs said that city code determines whether a development proposal can be approved. Unless the code is changed, such as by adding more protections for trees, there's no liberty to make any other decision. Hoy said Griggs was 100% correct. Nothing to debate here.
Regarding the Covanta garbage burner, Hoy said that the legislature wrote a law that leaves Salem garbage collection 100% up to the Marion County Commission. The city has no choice in the matter. After Griggs said this means that the Mayor needs a good relationship with the county commissioners, which she has, Hoy chimed in that he also has a good relationship with them. Nothing to debate here.
When asked how they would meet the needs of the Latinx community, 1 in 4 Salem residents, not surprisingly both Griggs and Hoy touted their ability to work with them. Nothing to debate here.
Since there was so much agreement between Hoy and Griggs, each must have decided that they didn't want to appear aggressive toward the other candidate. But the downside of this strategy is that voters were left with few reasons to prefer one candidate over the other.
Which means I have to fill that void.
I'm a strong supporter of Chris Hoy. With Hoy, I'm confident that what you see is what you get. He's a moderate progressive, which describes me also. Hoy strikes me as being relatively low on the political scheming scale.
(All politicians are schemers to some extent, as are all human beings, really -- including toddlers, something I remember well from my child-rearing days.)
Chane Griggs, on the other hand, strikes me as a moderate conservative who has a high probability of tilting decidedly rightward if she were to be elected Mayor, which I hope doesn't happen. Clearly she's smart, polished, and adept at saying the right things to stand a chance of becoming Mayor of a liberal-leaning city.
However, she's the candidate of the Powers That Be in Salem. Chamber of Commerce. Realtors. Developers. Those who profit from unfettered development regardless of how it affects the livability and quality of life in Salem.
A friend who watched the City Club debate told me that Hoy is the "shovel ready" candidate. Meaning, he's had experience on the City Council and a temporary appointment to the state legislature. Hoy can start working to build a better Salem on his first day in office.
Griggs, though is much more of a question mark. Her answers today to City Club questions seemed more calculated than Hoy's. She appeared determined to look like a common sense conservative who shared most of the values of liberals.
Which I have difficulty believing. I suspect Griggs would do a "bait and switch" not long after she became Mayor, revealing that the moderate Chane Griggs on display at today's City Club debate actually was a mask hiding a Chane Griggs who is considerably more right-wing.