Shelaswau Crier hands a flier to Mark Phoenix, a resident of Salem's South Central neighborhood. Crier said she wants to improve health services throughout the county and bring about more affordable housing. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

Mark Phoenix watched from his sidewalk with an eyebrow cocked as Shelaswau Crier marched around Fairmount Avenue South to make her case.

When Crier approached with campaign fliers under arm, Phoenix, 61, gave her and a campaign volunteer a quick warning.

“I’m very conservative,” he said. “I’m a registered independent, but I vote more conservative than liberal.”

Crier is used to such conversations these days. Since March, when she announced her candidacy for Marion County commissioner, the former school teacher, attorney and law instructor has canvassed hard to make her case door-to-door, voter-by-voter.

“It’s vitally important,” said Crier, 43. “It’s a way to make a personal connection with someone. For me, it’s been a way to get an understanding” of what issues voters prioritize in the election, and how she can make her case.

With days to go before election day, Crier may need all the help in her race against incumbent Kevin Cameron.

Between the two, voters will elect a relative newcomer driven for new ideas or an established politician who says the county is succeeding under the current leadership.

The winner will take a seat on the county’s three-person commission, joining Commissioner Sam Brentano. Commissioner Janet Carlson is retiring, and her seat will go to the winner of a race between Colm Willis and Bill Burgess.

Cameron, who was appointed to the commission in 2014 and won election that same year, said he has worked hard during his tenure. That is partly why he hasn’t campaigned as much as Crier, he said.

“I’m doing my job,” Cameron said. “If I’m doing my job, I’m out there listening and talking.”

“I’m working really hard all the time, and someone’s challenging me out there knocking on doors. So that’s a challenge,” he added.

Recent voting history suggests the race could be tight. The two candidates finished within 800 votes of each other in the May primary — Crier with 16,279 votes, Cameron with 17,016. Registered Democrats slightly outnumber registered Republicans in Marion County, 60,341 to 59,256. And there are 69,151 non-affiliated voters.

Since the primary, Crier has raised $122,981 to Cameron’s $50,966, according to Salem Reporter’s analysis of campaign contributions. The contributions were both cash and in-kind.

Crier has raised more donations in smaller amounts — averaging about $361 — from individuals and unions. Susan Smith, Crier’s campaign manager and a professor at Willamette University, is her largest donor.  

Kevin Cameron, right, talks during a recent meeting at Marion County. Cameron, who was appointed and elected to the board of commissioners in 2014, said he aims to help businesses and the Detroit Reservoir if re-elected. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

Cameron’s are fewer but heftier — at $719 on average — with many from businesses and special interest groups. Oregon Right to Life PAC, the Ted L. Millar Living Trust, real estate developer Larry Tokarski and Freres Lumber Co. have each contributed $5,000 in cash or in-kind.

(Note: Larry Tokarski is a co-owner of Salem Reporter.)

Crier said she is being aggressive to get the word out about her platform. If she wins, she hopes to improve health care services, emphasizing mental health, addiction treatment and health education. Mental health is especially important to Crier because her eldest son committed suicide three years ago.

Crier also said she hoped to foster more affordable housing and family wage jobs. On the former, she said she would probe the ways permitting fees are spent and see whether the county can convince developers to offer homes at lower rates.

Cameron, a career restaurateur, said he would also work to keep the economy buzzing. He underscored to Salem Reporter how reliant industries are on the Detroit Reservoir, which recently bore toxic algal blooms and is also being considered for temporary drainage for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project.

On Oct. 2, Marion County joined a lawsuit to stop the federal agency’s plans for a new water temperature control, arguing it would harm the recreation and hospitality industries that rely on Detroit Lake.

Cameron said he hoped voters would recognize his experience. The 62-year-old has been in politics since he was appointed to the state House in 2005. He said it’s hard for new officials to be effective right away.

“You can’t find the bathroom in the first two years,” Cameron said of his time in the Legislature. “If you take over a restaurant, you don’t come in and say I know everything. You talk to the customers, you talk to the employees, then you say ‘OK, how do we make this better?’”

Crier said she is already asking those questions when she canvasses. After her talk with Phoenix, the conservative voter of on Fairmount Avenue South, he said he appreciated her efforts.

“If someone really cares about their candidacy — and they’re real — that’s a good thing to do,” he said. “Someone just hanging something on your doorknob, I don’t care for.”

Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, [email protected] or @TroyWB.