Here's one unarguable takeaway from last night's City Council Candidate Forum:
If you take the intense in-your-face vibe of either the Republican or Democratic presidential debates (especially the Republican) and flip it upside down, like turning matter into antimatter, you'll end up with something closely akin to Salem's oh-so-decorous candidate forum.
Held in the Library's Anderson Room, and sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Marion and Polk Counties, along with the Salem City Club, the forum accurately reflected Salem's dual political personality: calm on the outside, seething on the inside.
So as I took notes about what the seven candidates said, I'd pen in an Angry Arrow next to comments that struck me as honestly edgy -- even though usually one had to read between the spoken lines to really understand what was going on.
Here, then, are what I felt were some snarky moments of the Candidate Forum, starting with an introduction to the "teams" each of the candidates belonged to, even though they weren't wearing any uniforms.
Progressive Team: Cara Kaser (Ward 1), Matt Ausec (Ward 5), and Sally Cook (Ward 7) are the Progressive Salem slate of candidates. I'd also put Ausec's opponent, Tiffany Partridge, on the progressive team. Interestingly, I'm pretty sure that only one of them ever spoke the word "progressive." (Kaser said that Salem was a diverse progressive city.)
Chamber of Commerce Team: Jan Kailuweit (Ward 1) and Councilor Warren Bednarz (Ward 7) are the Chamber of Commerce slate of candidates. Likely Councilor Brad Nanke (Ward 3) would join them, if he wasn't running unopposed in the May election. Kailuweit and Bednarz never referred to the Chamber, though their positions are clearly in line with what the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce favors.
Citizen involvement. Kailuweit and Nanke repeatedly referred to the City Council's Budget Committee as being a marvelous example of how open and transparent city government is. Why, anyone can be involved in the budgeting process. All you have to do is somehow learn that the Committee is meeting, then have the time and inclination to testify.
They were astounded that -- shock! -- often no citizens take part in the Budget Committee goings-on. But in line with the Chamber of Commerce Team motto, Everything is great in Salem, so keep things just as they are, Kailuweit and Nanke saw little or no need to do anything differently, citizen-outreach-wise.
On the other hand, the Progressive Team was big on encouraging more public involvement in City of Salem affairs. Ausec said that expensive consultants should be used less, and knowledgeable local people should be used more. Cook said that citizens should be talked to on the neighborhood level, rather than expecting citizens to troop down to City Hall at inconvenient times in order to weigh in on policy issues.
Making Library into Police Facility. Sally Cook took a good shot at Warren Bednarz, even though she didn't mention him by name. Each candidate was asked to talk about City Council decisions that they applaud or oppose. Cook's oppose was the out-of-the-box 2014 proposal by Councilor Bednarz that the Library be converted to a police facility.
Cook correctly said that this crazy notion, which should have been kept in the box, wasn't handled in a public way. The Library Advisory Committee wasn't involved at all by City officials, who worked on the Library conversion behind closed doors, then sprang it on citizens.
Expanding Urban Growth Boundary. Right-wingers hate Oregon's highly successful land use system, which requires urban growth boundaries to prevent unfettered sprawl into farm, forest, and other irreplaceable rural lands. The Chamber of Commerce Team's support for an unneeded billion dollar Third Bridge across the Willamette requires Salem to expand its urban growth boundary, so mention of the UGB caught my ear.
Jan Kailuweit rather confusingly said that (1) housing is affordable in Salem compared to Portland, but (2) an option is to expand the Urban Growth Boundary to make more land available for housing. He called for an undefined "sweet spot" between the two that apparently involves some sort of UGB expansion. Matt Ausec, though, said there was no need to expand the UGB, as there is plenty of under-developed space in Salem.
Downtown vitality. When it comes to downtown Salem, the Progressive and Chamber of Commerce teams had predictably different views. An audience member asked about empty buildings downtown. Bednarz said buildings are full there on the first and second floors, which caused me to jot down a large skeptical question mark, ?, in my notebook.
Carole Smith, who is running for Mayor against Chuck Bennett, says that downtown has the lowest rental rates in Salem, and the second-highest vacancy rate, which shows the need to revitalize the Historic District. Since Smith lives downtown and owns property there, I trust her take on the area more than Bednarz'.
Kailuweit also made the questionable claim that vacancies are normal in the downtown area. His opponent, Cara Kaser, disagreed, saying there are quite a few vacancies. Further, long-time owners of downtown buildings currently have little incentive to invest in upgrades. She said that Salem should join the Oregon Main Street program that has been successful in other cities.
Mass transit. Ah, this was one of my favorite subjects talked about at the forum, because the candidates got pleasingly into it with each other. Cara Kaser said she was disheartened when several members of the City Council contributed to the Chamber of Commerce-led campaign against a payroll tax to fund much-needed improvements to the Cherriots bus system.
(Salem, I've heard, is the only capital city west of the Mississippi with no evening or weekend bus service -- embarassing!)
Kaser wants the City Council to support the mass transit district by helping Cherriots find a way to fund its services. During her campaigning, she's heard from people who say they aren't able to get downtown, or anywhere else, on Saturday and in the evening. Ausec echoed this, saying that people are very concerned about the sorry state of mass transit in Salem. Many can't afford cars and need a bus to get around.
Jan Kailuweit, loyal Chamber of Commerce Team member that he is, regurgitated the nonsensical talking point that I found so irritating when the mass transit payroll tax was being debated last year. He said that since many business owners wouldn't benefit from Saturday and weekend bus service, because they aren't open then, there was no reason for these owners to vote "yes" on a payroll tax.
Have you ever thought that taxes often are levied for a communal public benefit, and that citizens willingly pay them because they feel a responsibility to care for other people? My wife and I don't have any children in school. Yet we happily pay property taxes that support schools.
This Chamber of Commerce notion that only those who directly benefit from a tax should support that tax is ludicrous. It goes against our entire system of taxation: people with more money pay a greater amount in taxes than people with less money; those in need are helped by others, because this is the freaking right thing to do.
I came away from the City Council Candidates Forum as convinced as ever that the Progressive Team should be voted for in this election. They stand for positive change in Salem that will make this town more livable, economically vibrant, compassionate, and caring.
More of the same -- the Chamber of Commerce Team mantra -- doesn't cut it for me. Hopefully voters will agree.