Progressive Salem (PS), a local liberal political organization which focuses on Salem area races, has experienced some controversy this spring over the upcoming Ward 4 contest for Salem City Council.

The election is between incumbent Steve McCoid, generally considered a centrist moderate, and newcomer Jackie Leung, a progressive Democrat.

Incumbent Steve McCoid

The matter erupted after Brian Hines, a local blogger and PS member, called for PS to endorse Ms Leung who he described as a “liberal dream candidate.” Hines has a point; Leung is a graduate of Willamette University Law School. She has a Masters in Public Health from the University of Iowa. She served as a member and Vice Chair of Salem’s Human Rights and Relations Commission and as a Commissioner on the Oregon Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs.

Leung is, in short a bright, educated woman with a minority background who might be a natural for PS, a group which has in recent years succeeded in putting progressive candidates in office.

But the situation is more complicated. McCoid, while a white male who came to council from the business community and who generally receives financial support from real estate and construction interests, is an engaging and capable personality.

McCoid serves as President of the City Council, handles the consent calendar during council meetings and presides when the Mayor is absent. He has been described by Tom Andersen, the senior progressive councilor, as “a mature, thoughtful thinker…usually non doctrinaire, (who) offers a different, but needed perspective to council decisions.”

Newcomer Jackie Leung

So the May 15 Ward 4 stage is set, contrasting two strong candidates, one of whom is an obvious progressive.

What is PS’s position? After Hines said that PS was wrong to sit on the sidelines, a comment chain ensued in which two PS’s board members stated, among other things, that all five of the progressive councilors had already endorsed McCoid and that the situation was “nuanced.”

But the assertion that five progressive councilors endorsed McCoid brought heartburn to a number of progressives, many of whom belonged to PS.

Comments sent to Hine’s blog by PS board members justified the board’s decision for four basic reasons:

That five progressive councilors had endorsed McCoid;

That McCoid was a moderate independent with whom progressives could work; That Leung did not decide to run until months after PS had made its decision; and that PS wanted to focus its time and resources to support Micki Varney who is running against Councilor Jim Lewis in Ward 8, West Salem. Lewis is considered more conservative than Mr. McCoid.

To learn more, Salem Weekly sent a series of questions to PS’s board. The only response was a phone call saying the board would not respond because the issue had already been discussed on-line and was old news.

Salem Weekly also reviewed filing records and sent questions to Leung and the five progressive councilors. Leung and councilors Andersen, Kaser and Hoy responded.

In the Marion County Voter’s pamphlet, only two of the five progressive councilors, Andersen and Hoy, are listed as endorsing McCoid.

It appears McCoid is someone PS feels it can work with, even though he favors the West Salem bridge, a prime issues opposed by PS. Moreover, there appears to be a core of resentment against McCoid among some progressives dating back to his first election in 2014 when, aided by a much larger donation base and considerable personal resources, he defeated a popular progressive candidate who he outspent 3 – to – 1.

Leung did file later than the other candidate. Her filing form is dated January 3, 2018; McCoid’s is dated September 18 2017. Leung also says that while she discussed her candidacy with some PS members, she did not approach the board for an endorsement until February, 2018. She was told that the board had made its decision last summer to “leave Ward 4 alone due to time and energy.”

By all indications, PS has focused its efforts on the Ward 8 contest this spring. Jim Lewis filed for re-election last October followed by Varney in mid-November. The race could well be hard fought. Lewis is supported by a strong contingent of pro-bridge voters and there have been heated confrontation at recent West Salem Neighborhood Association meetings about the bridge issue.

The outcome of all these races will be decided in the May 15 primary.