Salem city hall (Salem Reporter)

Sally Cook plans to resign her seat on Salem City Council soon, she informed City Manager Steve Powers on Thursday.

The 39-year-old councilor said the sudden death of her husband three months ago and reality of being a single mother of two led to her decision.

“I need to be able to spend time with my family. It really is a large commitment, being a city councilor,” she told Salem Reporter. “I love the work. I am interested in doing more, but right now my family needs me more.”

With election season’s official start Thursday, Cook’s resignation adds another wrinkle to Salem City Council. The council will appoint a replacement to serve the remainder of her term, which expires Dec. 31, 2020.

That means there will be at least two new councilors seated by 2021. Councilor Brad Nanke declared on Thursday that he won’t seek reelection after serving nearly two decades. Nanke, 60, plans to finish his term. His decision was first reported by the Statesman Journal.

Of the nine seats, five total are up for re-election in 2020. Besides Cook and Nanke, the extra seats include those held by Cara Kaser, of Ward 1; and Matt Ausec, of Ward 5; and Mayor Chuck Bennett.

Terms for councilors Tom Andersen, Jackie Leung, Chris Hoy and Jim Lewis do not expire until 2022.

As of Friday morning one candidate has filed for Cook's seat, Reid Sund. He lists his occupation as Director of Finance at Salem Health on filings with the city recorder's office.

Another potential newcomer is Adam Lansky, who filed Thursday to run for mayor. Lansky lists his occupation as a filmmaker and audio engineer.

Prospective councilors have until March 10 to collect signatures and file to run for office. The primary is slated for May 19.

Cook said she hoped her resignation would give her replacement a stronger showing in front of potential voters.

“If someone is appointed, it will give a chance for neighbors to meet someone and see their ability to fill the role outside of a voters pamphlet,” she said. 

Cook won her first and only campaign in 2016, defeating incumbent Warren Bednarz. By then, her experience had been serving on the Sunnyslope Neighborhood Association. She also served on the advisory board for the Salem Public Library and the Community Police Review Board.

Her relatively short stint on council coincided with an ideological shift on the board. Since 2014, a contingent of liberal residents known as Progressive Salem have helped elect a handful of councilors, including Cook.

Collectively, the new councilors’ raison d’état was the end of a proposal to build a third bridge across the Willamette River, which had been in discussions since 2006. In February, those councilors and Cook struck down the bridge in a 6-3 vote.

A Salem native and a health worker in Marion County’s Health and Human Services Department, Cook said she intended to seek re-election – until everything changed.

Jason Cook, her 42-year-old husband, died of a heart attack in June during the couple’s trip to Lincoln City with their two daughters. Cook said she has leaned heavily on her parents and in-laws to help parenting trying to continue service as an elected official.

In Salem, councilors are volunteers who attend twice-monthly city council meetings, neighborhood meetings and serve on committees. It’s a workload at least one other councilor considers to be worth a stipend.

Despite describing herself as “well-suited” to be a councilor who enjoyed her service, Cook said her priorities are her 6- and 9-year-old daughters. She said she has been paying for baby sitters many nights a week in order to meet her obligations.

“As a single parent, it’s not just a time commitment. Financially, it’s a bigger commitment for me,” she said. “My kids need stability, they need their mom.”

The Sunnyslope resident said she would keep an eye on neighborhood association meetings. She said she doesn’t want what she’s learned as a councilor to go unused.

“I don’t have to forget all the information I’ve learned,” she said. “I’m still intending to help people.”

Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, troy@salemreporter.com or @TroyWB.