A day before the city's filing deadline, Nick Caleb—an attorney, professor, and increasingly visible activist helping lead a push for a public water trust in Portland—has decided to throw in as a Portland City Council candidate. But despite his deep interest in the city's water politics, he's not running against Nick Fish, the city's sewer and water commissioner.
Instead, Caleb's running against Dan Saltzman—and he's pushing a platform that's aggressively progressive.
His announcement includes a call for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, and goes on to criticize the city's "scandalous" handling of homelessness, demand increased police accountability, and agitate for a more serious run at the city's Superfund cleanup of the Willamette River.
"To improve the health of our communities, I propose that Portland raise the City's minimum wage to $15/hr, so that people who work in Portland can afford to live here," he says in his announcement. "I will work to eliminate homelessness in Portland, beginning with adequate funding of services for veterans, the disabled, seniors, and families in crisis. The city should belong to everyone who lives here, not just Portland’s wealthiest residents."
Caleb, 30, says he decided on Friday to launch what's obviously an uphill fight. He joins KBOO reporter Joe Meyer in taking on Saltzman, the dean of the council up for his fifth term, and both must defy a difficult trend in Portland politics: It's been incredibly hard to defeat incumbents on the council, even when challengers (like in the case of Mary Nolan vs. Amanda Fritz) claim institutional backing.
With the May 20 primary a little more than two months way, Saltzman, despite being unopposed until last week, has been steadily collecting a dominant-if-not-huge pile of campaign cash—largely thanks to developers and property owners and business interests.
"More or less I was kind of hoping that candidates would jump in who would be pushing strong social justice issues," Caleb, whose father was a Klamath Falls prosecutor, told the Mercury's Dirk VanderHart. "No one really seemed to be jumping in against Saltzman."
Caleb's message, especially on the $15 minimum wage, echoes the one Kshama Sawant—a socialist—used to unseat an old-guard incumbent on the Seattle City Council. Sawant, in calling for the minimum wage, allied herself with fast-food protesters and labor interests who've been far more prominent with their effort in Seattle than in Portland.
"Kshama and her people have been successful in basically getting the whole city council to buy in. It is one of those issues that's in the public mind right now," Caleb says. "The idea is to kind of organize around these things and to push and see what happens. If it's something that really lights a fire under people and we're able to sneak in a victory, that's great. I'm going try to win. "
Caleb is planning a press event Friday. His full statement is after the jump.
My name is Nicholas Caleb and earlier today, I filed to run for Portland City Commissioner seat #3. I’m a 30-year old attorney and professor at Concordia University where I teach courses in government, cultural geography, environmental sciences, introductory biology, environmental negotiations, and speech, and I feel that City Hall is failing to fulfill its basic duties to serve the public interest.
The City is neglecting to act on basic issues of social and environmental justice. Officials consistently serve the interests of the Portland Business Alliance and Portland’s wealthiest residents, to the detriment of the majority of the public. I propose a change in vision, to fulfill Portland’s promise to be a clean, equitable, and livable city.
Portland’s frantic development pace is exacerbating the growing problem of gentrification, pricing out residents of some of our oldest and most historic neighborhoods. The treatment of the homeless population in recent months has been nothing short of scandalous.
To improve the health of our communities, I propose that Portland raise the City's minimum wage to $15/hr, so that people who work in Portland can afford to live here.
I will fight for measures to stop gentrification, such as the introduction of rent controls, giving residents more influence over the ways their communities are developing, and reforming the Portland Development Commission.
I will work to eliminate homelessness in Portland, beginning with adequate funding of services for veterans, the disabled, seniors, and families in crisis. The city should belong to everyone who lives here, not just Portland’s wealthiest residents.
I will also work to stop the attacks on public sector unions. That being said, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) must be accountable to oversight by citizens. PPB was recently the subject of a federal investigation for civil rights violations and the use of excessive force. Though I am happy that these problems are finally being treated seriously, nothing short of actionable citizen oversight will curb police abuses. As such, I would seek to create an independent civilian review board with the power to investigate, subpoena, and discipline officers – including dismissal – for officer misconduct.
Portland is thought of as a “green” city, but most Portlanders don’t know that our city is consistently ranked as one of the most polluted in the nation, and that we are home to the #1 polluter in the country, Precision Castparts. There are over 60,000 toxic sites within the city, a Superfund site on Portland’s largest public space, the Willamette River, and high rates of air pollution, especially where the most historically marginalized communities in Portland reside.
We can do better than this. I promise to fight for environmental justice by introducing laws that penalize corporate profiteering at the expense of our city's livability. I will also work to pass laws to prevent the transport and storage of all forms of fossil fuel exports within the city, starting with coal.
I am already taking steps to make Portland a truly healthy and livable place with an initiative, the People’s Water Trust, that would place the city’s water in a public trust for present and future generations and grant nature the right to exist and flourish within the city. Further, I believe that social justice and environmental justice are intrinsically linked, and that green infrastructure programs must be paired with policies to prevent gentrification. Everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, deserves to live in a clean community.
I will be holding a press conference in front of City Hall on Friday, March 14 at noon to comment further and discuss more details of my campaign.