Salem city hall (Salem Reporter)

Mike Swaim, a former Salem mayor known for positioning himself against development in the city, died Dec. 17. He was 76.

His wife, Kellie Swaim, said Swaim suffered a severe stroke while undergoing heart surgery at Salem Health. He was then flown to Oregon Health & Sciences University, but he never recovered.

In a letter provided to the Salem Reporter, Kellie Swaim said that her husband "died peacefully."

"His family was with him," she wrote.

Swaim, a longtime attorney who served as mayor from 1997 to 2002, left a legacy as an outspoken opponent of commercial development. In 2001, The Oregonian profiled the three-term mayor and said no one "could hardly call Swaim a shrinking violet."

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Swaim, according to the newspaper, "fled" California in the late 1970s and settled in Salem because the farmlands reminded him of his once-bucolic hometown of Lakewood, Calif., "before oranges, row crops and dairies were replaced by houses and shopping malls."

In the 1990s, Swaim started to see the same changes he disliked in California pop up in Salem.

He told Alternatives, a quarterly publication based in Detroit, that he decided to run for mayor on a platform of managing the city’s growth. 

The Oregonian reported that Swaim supported farm workers boycotting a local mushroom farm, calling on Fred Meyer executives to drop the grower's products from its shelves.

Politically, Swaim supported requiring a public vote whenever the city sought annexations. He also supported requiring developers to disclose more information on projects. He supported gay rights and conserving the environment.

"He was a real proponent of peace," said Bill Smaldone, a Salem City Council member from 1999 to 2002.

His local political career ended in 2002 when he pursued a seat on the state House of Representatives. He simultaneously lost the state race and saw Janet Taylor, a more development-friendly politician, win the mayoral race.

Though their politics clashed, Taylor on Monday remembered Swaim as a hard worker who gave neighborhoods a voice.

"He was a master at working with the neighborhoods and neighborhood associations," she said. "He was way more an advocate (for neighborhoods) than maybe we've had in anybody in that position. It was important work and helped a lot of people," Taylor said.

In later years, Swaim could be seen walking downtown with his wife and dog. People would bend his ear about Salem, the city he spent years trying to improve.

"Most people measure quality of life from their front step," Swaim told The Statesman-Journal in a 2014 article. "I tried while in office to improve that, and I still work to promote it for the future. It gave me some supporters and some opponents. I did my best."

Former Salem Mayor Mike Swaim died at 76 earlier this month. (Courtesy/Willamette Heritage Center)

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