Illustration by Ryan Alexander-Tanner

DAN SALTZMAN, deep into his quest for a fifth term on Portland City Council, isn't running for re-election so much as strolling for it. Pleasantly and gently.

After declaring his intentions decently early—around Labor Day—he's been able to steadily, if unhurriedly, collect tens of thousands in campaign checks from a smattering of familiar socialites, developers, energy companies, and real estate interests.

And it was all almost for show.

He didn't get his first official opponent—KBOO reporter Joe Meyer—until the end of February, almost two weeks before the city's March 11 filing deadline. Up until then, Saltzman and his $74,000 war chest were looking like they might sail through the May 20 primary vote without having to fire any shots in self-defense.

Instead, he's been free to busy himself learning the ins and outs of two new bureau assignments: housing and fire.

Meyer's announcement—stripping Saltzman of his uncontested status—changed some of that calculus.

Saltzman, for instance, will now be invited to a Mercury endorsement interview. Lucky him! (Lucky us.) But things didn't really get interesting until almost a week later—on Monday, March 10, the day before the filing deadline.

That's when Saltzman got his second opponent: Nicholas Caleb, a lawyer and professor—and a radical-leaning activist who's promising an aggressively progressive platform meant to keep pushing Saltzman a bit beyond his presumed comfort level. (A third opponent—Leah Marie Dumas, an East Portland resident and employment specialist at Portland Community College—filed later on March 10.)

Caleb, whose announcement was first reported on Blogtown, is making hay over gentrification and the city's "scandalous" handling of homelessness—an issue that hits directly at Saltzman's record.

But he's teed things off with a call for a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

It's a conscious callout to a hard-fought city council race in Seattle last year, in which an upstart, socialist Kshama Sawant, used the minimum wage as a rallying cry to knock off an old-guard incumbent. (Never mind that incumbents in Portland, at least, are traditionally seen as invincible.)

"It's one of those issues that's in the public mind right now," Caleb told the Mercury. "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 to try to win."

Saltzman is taking the conversation seriously. When reached at his campaign office on Tuesday, March 11, he was quick to embrace the idea.

"Personally, I do support a higher minimum wage," he says. "Somewhere in the $10 to $15 range. It's one of the best anti-poverty measures."

But he was just as quick to pour out some cold water. The Oregon Legislature, as part of the 2002 ballot fight that indexed Oregon's minimum wage to inflation, bowed to the restaurant lobby by agreeing to ban cities from passing their own—potentially higher—wage ordinances.

That was news to Caleb, reached on the way to class. He declined to comment immediately. And it showed Saltzman still at the top of his political game, soft ride notwithstanding.

"It never hurts to talk about it," Saltzman said, magnanimously.