Voters registration and polling data show that Salem is predominantly progressive. In recent years, however those values have not reflected in city government.
But Tuesday May 17th saw a sea change election in Salem, Oregon.
For the second consecutive election, the city had a large number of contested races; 3 out of the 4 council seats were competitive, with only incumbent Brad Nanke in Ward 3 unopposed. Salem also saw its first contested mayoral election since 2010.
In the city council races, progressive candidates won all 3 of the contested seats, and all three were younger than council members in recent memory. Both mayoral candidates were Democrats, meaning that in 2017, Salem may begin to witness attitudes in city government more reflective of its population.
Financial backing can be the difference between a win or loss. The mayoral seat was contested between Ward 1 city councilor Chuck Bennett and downtown business owner Carole Smith. According to the Secretary of State’s campaign financing tracking website, Orestar, Bennett, who prevailed in the race, spent $31,218 on his campaign. Of that, 7% came from contributions of $100 or less with 11% in total coming from individuals. At the same time, he received 69% of his funds from Political Action Committees (PACs), including the Build Jobs PAC (Salem Area Chamber of Commerce), the Mid-Valley Affordable Housing Coalition (Homebuilders Association), the Salem Association of Realtors, AFSCME and the Salem Fire PAC (Firefighters Union). Smith spent $20,265. 5% of her money came from contributions of $100 or less with 24% total from individuals. Smith received 0% of her money from PAC’s. She also loaned herself $20,000 for the campaign.
Bennett won decisively; 20,563 and 63% of the votes to 12,114 and 37% of the votes for Smith.
The ward to the south saw the highest spending in Salem council races, and the most dramatic upset. Incumbent businessman Warren Bednarz ran for reelection against young, progressive challenger, Sally Cook. Bednarz, who had money left over from his 2012 election campaign, spent an astounding $26,798 on his campaign. He received only 13% of his money from contributions of $100 or less and a total of 28% from individuals. 38% of his money came from three PAC’s, the Build Jobs PAC, the Mid-Valley Affordable Housing Coalition and the Salem Realtors Association. In addition Bednarz gave his campaign $4,190. Cook spent $9,813. She received 39% of her money from contributions of $100 or less and a total of 53% from individuals. Cook also received 43% of her money four PACs; Progressive Salem, SEIU, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and Oregon School Employees Association.
It turned out that Ward 7 was the most surprising result of the night. In what was expected to be a close race, challenger Sally Cook defeated incumbent Warren Bednarz 61%-39% and earned 3,696 votes to his 2,383.
The race here was between two Democrats, Matt Ausec and Tiffany Partridge. This campaign was the cheapest, partly because of the low voter turnout in the ward. Ausec spent $4,287. 27% of his contributions came from donations of $100 or less with a total of 31% coming from individuals. He received 58% of his campaign funds from one PAC, Progressive Salem. Partridge spent only $875. She received 20% of her money from contributions of $100 or less with a total of 38% coming from individuals. She also received 14% of her money from two PACs: SEIU and AFSCME. In addition Partridge contributed $1,300 to her campaign.
This was the closest race in Salem with Matt Ausec winning with 1,125 votes, 51%, to Tiffany Partridge’s 1,052 votes and 48%.
The Ward 1 race was between progressive candidate Cara Kaser and Chamber of Commerce backed Jan Kailuweit. Both raised and spent around $10,000 on their campaigns. Kaser spent $7,820 with 45% of her money came from donations of $100 or less. A total of 54% of her donations came from individuals, 41% from PACs including SEIU and Progressive Salem. Kailuweit spent $8,600 on his campaign. 14% of his money came from contributions of $100 or less with 22% coming from individual donors and 4% from businesses. He received a total of 71% from three PACs, the Build Jobs PAC, the Mid-Valley Affordable Housing Coalition and the Salem Association of Realtors.
In this race, “big money” was not a factor; Kailuweit was defeated in a landslide by Kaser who received 2,715 votes, 73%, to Kailuweit who got 975 votes and 26%.
A Generational Shift
Council members will begin their terms in January 2017, and the May 17th election saw a dramatic generational shift in that body. The oldest winning candidate is Matt Ausec, 39, while Sally Cook is 36 and Cara Kaser is the youngest at 33. Prior to the election, the average age of city councilors was 61. With the incoming councilors the average will drop to 54. It will be interesting to see what new blood and new ideas brings to our city council in the next several years.