Chane Griggs, left, and Chris Hoy are running for Mayor of Salem (Photos by Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

Two long-time civic volunteers are competing to be Salem’s next mayor, giving the community a rare truly contested run for the unpaid position.

Chris Hoy, city council president and a state representative, faces Chane Griggs, the chair of the city’s planning commission and president of the Rotary Club of Salem.

A review of their record and interviews with them and their supporters show that Griggs and Hoy don’t disagree on what Salem’s major issues are. The differences that do emerge are more about the details of governance rather than their views of the city they want to govern.

They have traded barbs at public forums but the race has generally been low key. Griggs dominates on the money front, and has raised substantially more from businesses, while both have drawn support from labor unions.

They’re pitching their community experience and relationships as they make the case for why voters should put them in the mayor’s seat on the May 17 election. They both stake a claim to having the better path ahead to address the city’s homelessness crisis, ensure affordable housing is built and promote the ongoing development and revitalization of downtown Salem.

Griggs, 67, stepped into the race because “some things in Salem are not working,” she said at the April 11 forum held by the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce. Homelessness and affordable housing are central to her pitch to voters, saying the city’s homelessness crisis hasn’t improved despite millions in spending in recent years.

“We can’t afford to continue to do business as usual,” she said.

She’s raised by far more money in the race, with $112,722 in cash and in-kind contributions as of April 26 – about $63,000 from individuals and small donors, $30,000 from businesses and $12,000 from political action committees. Her largest donors are Mountain West Investment Corporation, with $10,000, and the Salem firefighter union political action committee, with $7,500. (Disclosure: Larry Tokarski, Mountain West president, is also a co-founder of Salem Reporter.)

Hoy, 56, has served on the Salem City Council since 2017 and continued serving after his appointment last year to finish out Rep. Brian Clem’s term in the Oregon House. On the council, Hoy pushed for a Safe Parking program, allowing churches, businesses or organizations with parking lots to offer their space to people living in their cars.

He’s leaned into his city experience, saying he’s “ready to lead on day one” and will see through city efforts in recent years to establish a navigation center to connect homeless people with needed services, and additional shelters to get people off of Salem’s streets.

“The folks who are ready to take Salem forward are endorsing me,” Hoy said in an interview with Salem Reporter.

Hoy has raised $34,234, about $28,500 from individuals and small donors, and $5,000 from political action committees. His largest donor is the committee for the Service Employee International Union Local 503, representing state government workers, with $3,000 to date.

Homelessness

Griggs has emphasized the city’s response to homelessness as a key issue, but she supports existing city efforts to get people into housing, including expanding micro shelter camps run by homeless service provider Church at the Park and opening a long-awaited navigation center, which will help people without housing connect with services.

Griggs wants more accountability in the city’s homelessness programs, telling Salem Reporter that she’d probe programs run by service providers and paid for by the city to ensure they’re effective.

She said she wants to work with service providers to ensure sufficient shelter beds are available so that the city could then enforce its ordinances prohibiting camping on streets.

“No individual should live in the circumstances that some of our houseless population are living in. It’s not safe, it’s definitely not helping them progress toward more independent living,” she said.

Chane Griggs goes over walking routes with volunteers for her mayoral campaign on Saturday, April 23, 2022 (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

But in an interview with Salem Reporter, Griggs said she doesn’t support arresting people who refuse to seek shelter even if space is available. She said she’d speak with Police Chief Trevor Womack and Gretchen Bennett, the city’s homelessness liaison, about next steps if the city were in a position to enforce anti-camping laws.

“I don’t know at this point that that’s the appropriate step to take,” she said of arresting.

Hoy, meantime, said the work he’s done to support micro shelter villages and the navigation center position him to lead the city’s ongoing response to homelessness.

At the Chamber forum, he pushed back on the idea that city policies weren’t working and said the existing systems have accountability, including behavioral rules for people staying in micro shelters.

Hoy told Salem Reporter he understands people are frustrated with the scale of the problem, but he has emphasized in public forums and interviews that Salem is making meaningful progress, despite the visible presence of encampments around the city.

“This problem didn’t start overnight, it’s been building for decades,” he said. “It takes a long time to see results outwardly.”

He said people who propose simple solutions or suggest it’s easy to build more shelters quickly often don’t understand the complexities.

“There’s almost always much more nuance to a situation,” he said. As a state representative, he was the chief sponsor of a bill that would allow the city to use undeveloped state land to site micro shelters. It passed during the 2022 session.

Five years ago, he said, the city did little to address homelessness. Hoy said when he explains to voters all the city now has in the works, he gets a positive response.

“The challenge is getting that word out,” he said.

Chris Hoy speaks with campaign volunteers while canvassing for mayor on Saturday, April 23, 2022 (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

Housing and development

Both candidates described providing more affordable housing in Salem as a priority, including creating a vibrant downtown to live and work in. Hoy said the city needs to incentivize apartment construction and affordable projects, and Griggs said she'll work with developers to expedite projects.

Both support and played a role in shaping Our Salem, a substantial overhaul of the city’s zoning code which is expected to be finalized later this year. The proposal opens more city land to housing along key bus routes and aims to promote mixing denser housing with businesses in neighborhoods so residents don’t have to travel for ordinary chores.

Hoy and others councilors approved such goals in late 2020, and Griggs served as a nonprofit representative on a city task force that shaped the draft plan.

Griggs has received substantial campaign contributions from real estate and developer businesses, owners and political action committees.

Hoy said Griggs represents an approach where developers and businesses advance their needs without city officials balancing competing environmental concerns.

“We absolutely need more housing and more development, there’s no doubt about it, but we can do it in a way that takes the environment into consideration,” he said.

On the city council, Hoy voted against developing the Meyer Farm south of Salem in a late February meeting, then voted in March for a revised plan that preserved more significant trees.

Griggs said she understands it’s easy to criticize developers, but said they’re important partners to build affordable housing. She said their support reflects her efforts to bring differing interests together on the city’s planning commission.

“These are the ones that are stepping up to partner in a public-private partnership to provide affordable housing, to provide multifamily housing,” she told Salem Reporter. “I think we need to be conscious of the benefits that development brings to the table and not look at it through such a negative lens.”

Governance

Unlike many larger cities, where the mayor serves an executive role, the Salem mayor serves as leader of the city council, appointing councilors to various local boards and commissions.

But day-to-day operations of the city are left to the city manager.

The mayor, however, wields the power by influencing what gets on the city council agenda – a key gateway to decisions on countless issues.

“The mayor is a cheerleader, a tone-setter, an example settler and hopefully a person who can coalesce the council behind a set of policies,” Hoy said when asked to describe the role.

He said the mayor should focus on the entire city, generally leaving to councilors issues in wards. The mayor also represents Salem in meetings with civic, business and governmental leaders.

Griggs said she sees the mayor’s responsibilities as twofold. One is ensuring the city manager and city employees have the resources they need to do their jobs. The second is partnering with SEDCOR “to encourage new businesses to come into Salem,” and with state and local leaders to resolve city issues.

“There’s quite a bit of power behind the scenes for the mayor to set that agenda with city staff,” Griggs said.

Endorsements and politics

Hoy describes himself as a progressive Democrat and has sought to cast his opponent as a more conservative though he acknowledged that city issues rarely are partisan.

“I think it’s about our approach to life and the way we see Salem moving forward. I think that my approach is more consistent with things you see on the more progressive end of the spectrum and my opponent’s aren’t,” he said.

He said he’s proudest of his endorsement from AFSCME 2067, the union representing rank and file city workers.

Salem city Councilor Trevor Phillips canvasses for Chris Hoy's mayoral campaign on Saturday, April 23, 2022 (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

Kathy Knock, the union president, said Hoy has elevated city employee concerns and stood up for union members when they’re not getting resources they need.

In late 2020, she said union leaders reached out to Hoy and other councilors after requesting bulletproof vests for code enforcement officers and getting pushback from city management.

Hoy and other councilors “asked more direct questions that seemed to change management’s point of view, which is what a city councilor should be doing,” Knock said.

Knock also pointed to Hoy's experience.

“The fact that we’re going to be having a new city manager and potentially a lot of new councilors, to have also a new mayor, someone who’s really never come to council meetings on a regular basis … is concerning from our perspective,” she said.

Hoy is also endorsed by City Councilors Trevor Phillips, Jackie Leung, Virginia Stapleton, Vanessa Nordyke – all considered progressives – and the League of Conservation Voters.

Griggs is also a registered Democrat, voter records show, though her supporters and donors represent the political spectrum.

She said that while she doesn’t consider herself progressive, she’s also been incorrectly lumped in with her husband, who’s more conservative. Jim Griggs is a retired Salem attorney.

“I am not conservative. I am fiscally careful and I am a lifelong Democrat,” she said.

Marion County voter records show Griggs was registered as a Democrat in primary elections back to 2010, the earliest records Salem Reporter reviewed.

Her more conservative supporters and endorsements are “reflective of the fact that I look at issues and try to find solutions,” she said.

Griggs’ endorsements include the city’s fire and police unions.

Chane Griggs at a mayoral campaign event on Saturday, April 23, 2022 (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

Scotty Nowning, president of the Salem Police Employees Union, said in an email Griggs reached out proactively to discuss “how city of Salem policies have affected our officers’ ability to complete our mission and what she could do as mayor to find workable solutions.”

Nowning said Griggs was concerned about staffing and morals and “did not dodge questions or give political answers” when questioned by officers.

“When she had a plan, she discussed it, and when she felt a plan needed development, she was honest about that as well,” Nowning said.

Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett has endorsed Griggs after saying last fall he’d support Hoy.

Bennett said at the time he identified Hoy as a likely successor, Griggs hadn’t stepped up to run. He called her an “outstanding” candidate.

“I think she’s real thoughtful. I don’t think she’s highly partisan. I like that, I don’t like partisanship at the city council which has become a hallmark of I think how it’s been working over the past couple years. I think she brings a real balance,” Bennett said.

READ MORE: Salem Reporter's Q&A with mayoral candidates

Ardeshir Tabrizian contributed reporting.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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