On May 17, Cara Kaser won the seat to be Salem city councilor in Ward 1, an area that includes downtown and several neighborhoods, including parts of West Salem. Cara’s 4-year term begins in January 2017. We caught up with her to learn how her thinking may have evolved since the election.
SW: How does it feel to know you will be Salem’s next Ward 1 councilor next year?
CK: After several weeks post-election, it’s finally setting in that I’ll be the next Ward 1 City Councilor, and that I’ll be working to represent the interests of roughly 20,000 people in my community. I’m still not used to unfamiliar people knowing who I am and wanting to meet me and shake my hand, but I’ll probably never get used to that. Overall, I feel that it’s an exciting, exacting opportunity, and frankly, I’m ready to get to work!
SW: During the campaign, what did constituents most often tell you they cared about, and are you considering ways of addressing those things?
CK: I believe I talked with between 600-800 people one-on-one during my campaign. As you can imagine, conversations varied considerably depending on that person’s particular interest. But one topic that consistently came up and resonated the most is that people in Ward 1 largely feel disengaged from our city government and leadership. They feel that they are generally unaware and largely left out of the legislative decisions of our city.
A few attributed this feeling to their own conscious decision to not participate, but most told me that they have consistently felt unheard, invalidated, and discouraged by our city’s decision-making process.
I want to ensure during my tenure on the City Council that I don’t make decisions in a vacuum of opinion nor in an echo chamber. I want — actually I need! — to know what people think of the issues, why they think what they do, and how they’d respond if they were in my position. All this to say that what I want to continue those conversations that I started with people during my campaign.
I plan to accomplish this by having weekly get-togethers with people at local cafes, parks, and other public spaces where we can talk about the issues and learn more about the processes of the city and how to get involved; I plan to continue having house parties where neighbors can meet each other and engage themselves and me in the issues; I plan to attend all six (yes, six!) neighborhood associations that are in Ward 1 on a regular basis; and I plan to be highly responsive whenever someone contacts me about an issue or just wants to voice an idea.
SW: Any special thoughts on Salem’s downtown?
CK: We need to make downtown more attractive for businesses and housing by incentivizing property owners to make investments in their buildings. Resolving life-safety issues in older buildings are some of the most difficult tasks to accomplish without significant financial investment.
If we want to see our historic buildings saved, then we need to make sure that they are used. And to make sure that they’re used, our city needs to reach out to property owners and know what points-of-pain exist in preventing owners from making investments in their buildings and see if there’s something the city can do to help.
SW: What topics come to mind when you think about the city as a whole these days?
CK: I read a lot about what other cities are doing both in and outside of the US in terms of community development, social justice, and public engagement, among other things.
I’m thinking a lot about transportation issues, especially as it pertains to making walking and biking in Salem easier for everyone, as well as public transportation. I’m also thinking about homelessness and if there’s something that’s been tried and tested in other cities that we could co-opt and try in Salem to help people right now.
And really, in general, I’m thinking about how best I can engage people in my ward to make sure that I’m truly representing their interests, but also how that might work for other areas of the city, too.
SW: What are you most excited about when you consider your upcoming term?
CK: I’m excited to work with a truly fresh, new council next year! I’m excited about getting to engage more with the people in my ward and the larger community. The best part of campaigning was canvassing and getting to not only meet so many people, but to see where and how they lived.
This act alone has given me so much experience and insight into better understanding my neighbors and the nuances of the ward, and I really am looking forward to continuing to talk and work for everyone as a City Councilor now.
Oh, and having more than three minutes to talk!