With multiple charges of deception on the part of opponents, the race for a new Ward 8 Salem city councilor is considered the most contentious in memory. Yet the stated objectives of both candidates are notably similar.
Ward 8 is located in West Salem, within City of Salem city limits in Polk County. Residents in the ward who need to get downtown or to most other city neighborhoods must cross two bridges across the Willamette River between West Salem and Salem. Traffic on these bridges – especially during peak commute times – can be slow.
In this close election, Ward 8 candidates are Micki Varney, a salmon biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and incumbent Jim Lewis, a retired realtor. Both say the other campaign has misstated their positions and mischaracterized them, with the majority of the disputes related to a possible 3rdbridge across the Willamette River between Salem and West Salem.
Though both candidates support a third bridge (and Varney says she wants a fourth, in time,) acrimony has arisen over the details of what that bridge would be. Simply put, the issues surround Lewis advocating for a certain bridge project, the Salem River Crossing project (SRC) and Varney taking issue with a variety of problems that specific project poses.
Varney’s objections have led Lewis, among other allegations, to suggest that Varney is in favor of bad traffic. The candidates also dispute over how and if the SRC might be funded and with how the SRC plan might or might not mean the closure of the Rosemont exit off Highway 22. Disputes also involve subjects on which the candidates have no consensus at all, such as allegations that the other side has accused them of lying.
But the two candidates agree on core issues for their Ward, showing a strikingly similar understanding of the needs of Salem people living there.
In her message to voters, Varney says she wants a third bridge that won’t be paid for by tolling, to attract new businesses to West Salem, to reopen the Orchard Heights Fire Station 11, to improve local parks and bring a full-service library back to West Salem. Her message since February has also included an 8-point plan to relieve congestion for drivers on bridges, ramps and streets while waiting for a new bridge to be built.
Lewis’s platform emphasizes addressing homelessness and states his concerns about better roads, local jobs and a stronger local economy. Like Varney, Lewis also wants to reopen West Salem Fire Station 11 and make the West Salem Library more robust. His primary difference with Varney is his investment in the specific SRC bridge process, with his belief that it is essential to move forward with the SRC “now.”
The candidates have similar government experience; she was a city councilor in Dayton, Washington and he served on the Salem Planning Commission and has been councilor for the seat since 2015. Still, they have attracted support from different quarters; as of April 14, Varney’s campaign had been primarily funded by individuals (71%), with 40% of the total from small donors. Lewis’ support on that same date came primarily from homebuilding interests including 55% from homebuilders and 26% from realtors.
Whichever candidate will be elected to a 4-year term will work with a largely unchanged City Council; the 9-person body won’t see much new since three other contenders in the May 15 election (for two other Wards and for Mayor) are running unopposed.
More detailed and complete information is available online, on Lewis’ campaign website and Varney’s campaign Facebook page.
May 15 is the last date for supporters of either candidate to turn in a ballot in this tight race.