Bonnie Heitsch, 62, withdrew her candidacy Sunday for the open seat on Salem City Council. (Courtesy/Bonnie Heitsch)
The pool of candidates for the open seat on Salem City Council is now down to two.
Oregon Department of Justice lawyer Bonnie Heitsch dropped out Sunday, saying she felt her qualifications overlapped too similarly with another candidate: her colleague, Vanessa Nordkye.
She told Salem Reporter on Monday morning that she didn’t want their similarities to lead Salem City Council to split votes when deciding who will represent Ward 7 for the next year.
“There’s another candidate that is pretty much in alignment with the positions that I have,” she said. “I didn’t see the need to divide — or potentially divide — the decision-making.”
Before she withdrew, Heitsch, Nordyke and Salem Health Finance Director Reid Sund made up the three finalists for the open seat, which represents neighborhoods in southwest Salem.
The seat has been vacant since Oct. 1 after Sally Cook resigned. The term for the seat is set to expire Dec. 31, 2020. Because there’s roughly a year left on the term, city council appoints the replacement.
Salem City Council will interview the finalists Monday night. City officials said Monday that they may or may not make a decision after the interviews.
Voters will ultimately decide next year who will win the next four-year term. So far, Sund is the only person who has filed to run for the seat.
Heitsch confirmed she worried neither she nor Nordyke would land the job in the interim if they split council's votes.
Heitsch has for two decades worked at the state Department of Justice, where Nordyke also works as an attorney. Heitsch said although they are colleagues, their work doesn't intersect at the agency.
However, she said they shared an "approach" and views towards what city council can do regarding homelessness and increasing expenses to the city's general fund.
“What we overlapped on was an approach and trying to reach a consensus, trying to assess some of these really pressing issues,” she said.
Heitsch talked about the importance of getting the community to support city council’s decisions before it makes a decision.
“The will to do it comes with understanding and community buy-in,” she said. “And that’s hard. That’s really hard. That’s the approach and there’s ways of doing it.”
Heitsch will retire from the Oregon Department of Justice next month. She’s worked in state government for 30 years total and has lived in Salem for as long. She also previously had stints serving on the Salem-Keizer School Board.
She said Monday that she still plans to stay involved and has ideas to be active in the community that aren’t serving on Salem City Council – even though she did want the seat.
“There was a piece of me that wanted to serve — of course, why else would I put my name in? But I felt there are other individuals with different perspective. I’m old. And with a different viewpoint, where they are in their career and where they are in their life.”
Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, [email protected] or @TroyWB.
Correction: A previous version of this article inaccurately described the city of Salem's tax revenues. Salem's tax revenues are increasing, though not as rapidly as expenses. The article has been corrected.