Well, regarding the title of this post, "duke it out" was more of my wish for what would happen when Carole Smith and Chuck Bennett met jointly with the Statesman Journal editorial board, seeking the newspaper's endorsement.
After watching half of the hour-long video of the session, I came away wanting more candidate-to-candidate interaction, rather than what actually happened -- Smith and Bennett separately answering questions posed by editorial page editor Dick Hughes.
As I noted in "Contrast between Smith and Bennett evident at Salem City Club Mayoral debate," there are major differences between the candidates. But this isn't as clear, or as obvious, when they're allowed to blur the lines between them through platitudes.
Bennett, for example, likes to talk about how great a town Salem is. Naturally Smith feels the same way. Why would anyone want to be Mayor of a town they detest?
(I'd find it refreshing, though, to have someone say, "I want to be Mayor of Salem because this town sucks, and I want to rid it of its suckishness.")
Here's the gist of what they said when Hughes asked that question: Why would you want to be Mayor?
Bennett spoke about how he's been a member of a bunch of committees and task forces during his nine years as a city councilor. He said, "I know how the job is done. I'm excited about the possibilities of what can be done."
This fits with his insider persona. Bennett is a professional lobbyist (he prefers the term "advocate"). He's been endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, some unions, and other establishment organizations.
Smith, though, jumped right into her main campaign theme: more public involvement. She said, "I'm concerned about the lack of citizen input... City staff often are rude to citizens... We need a culture of Yes at City Hall."
This fits with her outsider persona. Smith is a businesswoman who has been critical of City officials trying to foist policy decisions on the public with minimal citizen participation.
She's famous (or infamous, depending on one's point of view) for collecting 9,000 signatures on an initiative to stop downtown parking meters when this was the direction the City of Salem was heading toward.
I followed this issue closely back in 2013 and 2014. It came up several times in the editorial board session, once when the candidates were asked, "What's the biggest mistake you've made when it comes to civic engagement?"
Smith said that she underestimated the value of bike paths. At first she thought that bike paths were only for the "fearless" mostly male riders who zoom along on city streets. But now she realizes that bike paths are important to everybody in the community.
Getting in a dig at Bennett, Smith added that she favors the Salemtowne to Downtown multiuse trail in West Salem (Bennett's district). Bennett is on a City Council committee that oversees remaining funds in the 2008 Streets and Bridges bond which contains money to buy the right-of-way that would allow this path to be built with volunteer labor.
But Bennett hasn't done anything to move the multiuse trail project along, even though he claims to support better bicycle paths in Salem. Well, actions speak louder than words, which is why I gave him a WTF! for claiming to support the Marine Drive/Salemtowne to Downtown trail at a City Club debate with Smith.
Anyway, after Smith talked about her biggest civic engagement mistake, Bennett said that his was overestimating the value of discussing downtown parking. The reaction to paid onstreet parking downtown was so negative, Bennett said "I thought we could have a discussion, and I was mistaken."
Well, this also deserves a WTF!
Chuck Bennett served on a downtown parking task force that held a bunch of meetings, yet never engaged downtown businesses or people who visit downtown in the question of whether parking meters should be installed.
Citizens could attend the task force meetings, but they weren't allowed to take part in the discussion. So Bennett didn't speak truly when he strongly implied to the Statesman Journal editorial board that he sought a discussion of downtown parking.
Actually, the task force Bennett served on recommended downtown parking meters on their own in 2013, then encountered a firestorm of opposition -- largely led by Carole Smith, who feared that this would lead to fewer people shopping and visiting downtown.
Later, after Smith gathered the 9,000 signatures in opposition to the parking meter plan of Bennett, et. al., she and Bennett butted heads again over the City Council's decision to prevent the initiative from being voted on by Salem citizens.
See my blog post, "Salem's downtown parking debate: a view from Carole Smith." I would have loved to see this issue vigorously debated by Smith and Bennett at the editorial board meeting, but, alas, that didn't happen.
Another contrast between Smith and Bennett was evident in their responses to Dick Hughes' question about economic development.
Bennett said he wanted to create a welcoming environment for expanding existing businesses and bringing more businesses to Salem. He extolled the potential of the Mill Creek industrial park, even though there is a lot not to like about it -- as explained in a Salem Breakfast on Bikes post:
Despite $42 million in incentives, nearby Sanyo Solar just announced a second round of lay-offs. In May of 2013 they eliminated about 50 jobs, and this month they announced the elimination of about 50 more. From a high of about 200 employees, they now have about 85.
These office parks on the edges of cities require a lot of subsidy, and while they may enrich individual investors or developers, in totality, including municipal and other governmental subsidies and infrastructure, too often they cost more to service than they actually return to the community. In a memorable metaphor, they are like "dumping all [the] fertilizer on the weeds." (Via Happy City and Salon.)
Maybe we should focus instead on fertilizing our downtown and closer-in areas that already have infrastructure, meaningful adjacencies, and don't cost so much to maintain over their lifetime.
As with roads, so with industry and commercial real estate: Fix it first! It's that same old chestnut: Shouldn't we maintain and reinvest in what we already have instead of chasing after something new and shiny and expensive?
Smith spoke about economic development more along those lines. She said that Salem should polish up its image and bring in family-wage jobs (rather than, say, warehouse jobs in a freeway-adjacent distribution center).
Smith added, "If we make this town the way citizens want it, it will be a great community for people to live in and employees [of new companies] would be happy living here. There would be no need for big tax incentives."
So basically Bennett favors a Jobs First economic development strategy, while Smith considers that putting Livability First will attract businesses and people.
Me, I'm with Smith.
It seems that these days "creative class" firms, entrepreneurs, and such want to locate in cities with a high livability factor -- Portland being one of them, along with Eugene. Tax incentives and shovel-ready industrial land are fine to have in Salem's economic development toolbox, but first a desirable business with family-wage jobs has to want to locate in this town.
And that means making Salem attractive to managers and employees who ask the question, "Why should we live in Salem, instead of Portland, Eugene, or other more with-it places?"