City News

Progressives to hold slight majority on new Salem City Council

Next year, decisions about the future of Salem’s development, budget and services will likely fall to a Salem City Council which progressives control.

The latest primary election results show likely wins by two of Progressive Salem’s candidates, who will join several sitting councilors also recruited by the group. When they take office in January, there will be at least five progressives on the nine-person council, maintaining a years-long majority streak.

That’s without an outcome yet in the southeast Salem Ward 3 race, and without knowing who will sit in the Ward 6 seat representing east Salem. 

Julie Hoy, who was backed by conservative groups, will take up the mantle as mayor at that time. Because her term on city council isn’t up until December 2026, her seat in east Salem will become vacant. Filling it will require a special election in May 2025, according to city spokeswoman Elizabeth Kennedy-Wong.

The votes indicate a continuing trend of Salem’s politics becoming more progressive in recent years, which Salem Reporter first reported in 2020

The results

With additional votes counted by Wednesday, May 29, Paul Tigan, who works in strategic communications and is on the city’s planning commission, has won the Ward 1 race to represent downtown, north central and portions of west Salem. He has 2,212 votes, nearly 700 more than his opponent Celine Coleman. Tigan’s platform included budget sustainability through new revenue, supporting homeless services, road and sidewalk safety and climate sustainability. He is considered progressive.

Irvin Brown, chair of the city Budget Committee, leads the Ward 5 race in northeast Salem against Michael Hoselton by over 100 votes. The count was 938 to 828, according to election officials. Brown’s platform included bringing in new revenue, getting more community members involved in city decisions, homelessness and public safety. He, too, is considered progressive.

Tigan and Brown led the “Save Salem Campaign” to promote the payroll tax ahead of the November special election. Tigan will replace Councilor Virginia Stapleton, who also worked on the tax campaign. Stapleton stepped down from the council race and won the Democratic nomination for state representative in House District 21.

Results remain too close to call a winner in the race for Ward 3 covering the Faye Wright Neighborhood, Fairview Park and Southeast Mill Creek, between Realtor Shane Matthews and Nathan Stoltz, state Sen. Lew Frederick’s chief of staff. Matthews has 2,075 votes, and Soltz 2,042. 

Brian Van Bergen, elections manager for Marion County, said that the deadline to certify the election is Monday, June 17. At that time, it will be determined whether ballots will be recounted or a winner declared. By law, a mandatory recount will be triggered if the race is within 0.20%, or one out of every 500 ballots.

What’s ahead for the new council

Tina Calos, a member of Progressive Salem’s board, said the group doesn’t take positions on specific issues, but instead recruits people who are competent, have good values and a strong work ethic.

Speaking as an individual, she said that she hopes the new set of councilors will make progress on the city’s progressive policies, like the Climate Action Plan.

“I’m hoping that we can have some progress on a moderately progressive agenda and not get into a deadlock situation,” she said. “Your guess is as good as mine in terms of what will happen.”

She said that she was disappointed by the result of the mayor’s race, where Julie Hoy unseated incumbent Chris Hoy. Progressive Salem recruited him to run for city council in 2017, and continued to back him.

As of Wednesday, Julie Hoy had 17,790 votes and Chris Hoy had 14,437.

Calos, speaking in her personal capacity, said she is concerned Julie Hoy doesn’t have the governmental knowledge to lead.

“She doesn’t have much of a plan for anything, except kind of vague ‘we can do better,’” she said.

Julie Hoy has said she will spend the next several months “building the ramp” to prepare to lead the city.

Of the likely settled council races, Calos said that Progressive Salem was impressed by Tigan’s knowledge of city issues and focus on environmental issues. She said Brown will bring knowledge working with the Oregon Legislature, and that his career in youth education would benefit discussions about gun violence in the community.

Tom Hoffert, CEO of the Salem Chamber of Commerce which supported Julie Hoy’s campaign, said the small business community would like to see the new council focus on public safety and infrastructure.

“Our message remains consistent, regardless of which city council members are elected every two years – prioritize public spending to maximize impact in building a stronger, more resilient Salem community,” he said in an email to Salem Reporter.

Zach Fischer, president of the Mid-Valley Association of REALTORS group which supported Julie Hoy and Matthews, said the group supported candidates it believed would work to expand housing development in Salem. 

“Affordability has gone way down based on average income, so we’ve got to change that if we want to continue to grow and prosper,” he said.

Councilor Vanessa Nordyke, who was appointed to the city council in November 2019 with Progressive Salem’s support, recently won an uncontested reelection.

She said that the city’s budget issues will be the main task for new councilors when they step into office.

“That must be addressed. This is not a can that can be kicked down the road. Hard decisions will need to be made next year,” she said.

Nordyke said that until the races are fully settled, it will be hard for her to predict how the council will advance on key city issues. She also believes most city issues aren’t clearly divided by partisan politics.

“The titles of progressive and conservative and so on, when you look at the voting record for some members of council it’s a little more mixed than others. I mean, my progressive peers all voted for the payroll tax but I did not,” she said.

She said that council decisions come after hearing from the staff and community members, and as a councilor she approaches issues with an open mind.

“I am looking forward to the year ahead. It’s just going to be a very different council with so many new faces,” she said. “My one piece of advice for every new councilor is that between now and the time they are sworn in, they should be going on a listening tour. This is their opportunity to talk less and listen more.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to Ward 3 as being in northeast Salem, and included an incorrect current voting margin in that race. Salem Reporter apologizes for the errors.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.