Last year former President Jimmy Carter made headlines when he said the U.S. had become an “oligarchy” — a government run by a small group of wealthy and influential people. We believe this is what Salem has become in the past 14 years.

Fourteen years ago, when progressive Mayor Mike Swaim decided not to run for reelection, the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, along with allied business groups like the Salem Association of Realtors and the Homebuilders Association of Marion & Polk Counties, saw an opening to install a more conservative City Council that would be much more friendly to their interests. They recruited candidates and generously funded their campaigns. In some cases they even used a hand-picked campaign consultant to run the campaigns. The strategy worked, and for 14 years the Mayor and City Council majority have been beholden to the Chamber and its allies.

This is true today. You’ll seldom find any difference between what the Chamber and its allied special interests want to have happen at the Council and what the Mayor and the Council majority delivers with great consistency. There are occasions when the business interests do not get their way, but they are very rare.

That’s why in 2016 we need a new beginning. The ordinary citizens of Salem need to throw out the Salem oligarchs and start over with a Mayor and City Council who are beholden to no one except the people they represent.  We need a Council that will prioritize the provision of public services such as housing, parks, the library, and residential streets.

On this simple basis the Salem Weekly endorses the following candidates in the May 17th primary election …

For Mayor we endorse Carole Smith. She will not be beholden to the Chamber and its allied interest groups. She will be a champion for our downtown and central city and pursue smart growth strategies, not the suburban sprawl that the Chamber and its allies want to perpetuate. Her opponent Chuck Bennett, worked hard to get the Chamber endorsement. Although Chuck’s experience and knowledge of the system may allow him to work smoothly with diverse constituencies, we worry that he might be overly influenced by the Chamber. In our opinion, this could perpetuate our oligarchical past more than is healthy for the entire community

For City Council in Ward 1 we endorse Cara Kaser over the Chamber candidate Jan Kailuweit who has received a large share of his campaign funds directly from the Chamber PAC. Kaser holds a Master’s degree in public history and has worked as a preservation specialist for the State Historic Preservation Office, a background that makes her highly qualified to represent Salem’s historic downtown and historic central neighborhoods. She has also been very active in her Grant Neighborhood Association.

For City Council in Ward 5 we endorse Matt Ausec over Tiffany Partridge. Neither were endorsed by the Chamber, but Matt has a far superior record of professional accomplishment and has run an impressive grassroots campaign. He rightly thinks North Salem does not get its fair share of city services and investment and he wants to change that.

For City Council in Ward 7 we endorse Sally Cook over incumbent Warren Bednarz, the Chamber candidate. Bednarz has had a hard time separating his family’s extensive real estate interests from his City Council business on issues like the 3rd Bridge and where to site the new police facility. His accomplishments for his constituents in Ward 7 have been negligible. Sally Cook, on the other hand, is a dynamo. She founded the best community garden in the city in her Sunnyslope neighborhood and she has already served the city as Chair of the Citizens Police Review Board and as a member of the Library Advisory Board. Like Kaser, Sally has been a leader in her neighborhood association.

This year can be the year when we can take back our city from the business interests that have been running the show for their own benefit for 14 long years. All we have to do is elect Carole Smith, Cara Kaser, Matt Ausec and Sally Cook in the May 17th election.

Salem Weekly editorial board members:  Russ Beaton, Jim Scheppke, William Smaldone, Naseem Rakha, A.P. Walther.