Portlanders vie for council seats

City commissioner hopefuls met at PSU Thursday night to debate topics ranging from publicly owned elections to the prosecution of marijuana offenses.

Dan Saltzman’s seat, City Council position 3, is up for grabs this year. The soft-spoken sustainability advocate is running against Amanda Fritz, an OHSU nurse and neighborhood activist; Michael Casper, a Shanghai Tunnel bartender and father of two; Chris Iverson, a biodiesel aficionado who is sponsoring a marijuana-related initiative; and Sharon Nasset, a realtor and neighborhood activist.

Casper, wearing a “vote for me” T-shirt, said that 18-35 year olds are the fastest-growing demographic in Portland but are underrepresented in government.

“I am armed and ready to lead,” he said. A full-time PCC student, Casper strongly supports affordable housing and a citywide living wage.

Iverson, who practices yoga and said he was a close friend of The Dandy Warhols, said that he lives his ideals. “I drive biodiesel and wear hemp,” he said, voicing a hope that Portland will become a progressive example for other cities.

Iverson also spoke about the initiative he is sponsoring to make marijuana prosecutions the city’s lowest legal priority. “We spend $66 million in Oregon to arrest people for marijuana every year,” he said, “[while we have] a $57 million school shortfall here in Portland.”

Nasset is concerned with the issue of city density or “skinny lots.” “We lose a billion dollars [to congestion] every year,” she said, “the majority of that here in Portland.”

Saltzman, the incumbent commissioner, said that sustainable development, cost-effective government and “making Portland a family-friendly city” were his three main goals. Saltzman, who is seeking a third term on the council, is the founder of the city’s Office of Sustainable Development and the Children’s Investment Fund.

Fritz, a psychiatric nurse from Yorkshire, England, whose campaign has been endorsed by former Mayor Bud Clark, was the only candidate in her race to qualify for public funding.

“I’m also very much supportive of children, and sustainability and fiscal responsibility,” she said, “and I’m not beholden to big campaign contributions – when I’m elected, you’ll know that I’m beholden to the people of Portland.”

In the race for City Council seat 2, incumbent commissioner Erik Sten is running against Democratic State Senator Ginny Burdick and a software developer named Dave Lister. Sten, who at 38 is the youngest person on the council, was co-sponsor of Portland’s “voter-owned elections” ordinance.

“Younger people are actually very interested in politics but they don’t take part in the political system because they’re rightfully cynical,” Sten said, explaining that he hoped to counter Portlanders’ apprehensions about “big money’s” influence in politics by using and promoting publicly funded elections. “I’m owned by the voters.”

Burdick, who said “[I am] pro-gay marriage, I am pro-choice, I have a 100 percent environmental rating, a 100 percent labor rating, and I came in dead last in approving corporate tax breaks,” was less thrilled about the publicly owned elections ordinance. The ordinance asks taxpayers “to pay for politicians’ campaigns with whom they disagree,” she said.

Burdick favors halting publicly funded elections until Portland’s voters have approved them. In addition to her work in Salem, Burdick works as a PR consultant for Gard and Gerber, the advertising agency that spearheaded the failed initiative to quash voter-owned elections.

Lister leapt into the debate characterizing Sten as the “adversary of business interests in Portland,” and said that the alienated business community had reacted to Sten’s provocations by recruiting Burdick to run against him. Senator Burdick’s list of campaign donors “reads like a who’s who of the powerful development interests in Portland,” Lister said.

Lister, who calls himself “the Eastsider,” posited himself as the outsider candidate. “I’m for everybody else,” he said. When asked about Portland’s decision to withdraw from the Joint Terrorism Task Force, Lister said he disagreed with the decision on the grounds that it makes it more difficult for Portland to interact with the federal government. “It’s OK to disagree with the federal authorities, but I don’t think we should give them the finger,” he said.

The forum was sponsored by the Mark O. Hatfield School of Business, ASPSU and The Portland Mercury. The last day to register to vote is April 27. The elections will be held May 18.