YOU'D BE HARD-PRESSED to find someone in city hall more outspoken about children's well-being than Commissioner Dan Saltzman.
Since 2002, the longtime commissioner has relentlessly championed the Portland Children's Levy, a funding source for programs that work against child abuse, neglect, and hunger. Among the levy's key goals: bankrolling efforts "designed to help children arrive at school ready to learn."
So it's hardly a surprise that Saltzman's historically been a darling of the city's teachers. The political wing of the 2,900-member Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) endorsed the commissioner in his last two bids for re-election.
But it appears that trend may end this year.
The union's political action committee, Teachers' Voice in Politics, has so far abstained from taking sides in the primary race for Saltzman's seat—even as it gets ready to tout candidates in other races.
"At this point in time we have not taken a position," PAT President Gwen Sullivan, who also sits on the board of the political action committee, told the Mercury this month. "There are some races where we didn't have enough information."
That's a rarity. Typically, Sullivan says, the group either endorses a single candidate or declines to endorse any. In the latter case, it would formally vote for a "no recommendation."
The union's approach to Saltzman's race—not saying anything at all—is something else.
And sources close to the process say the outlier has to do with lingering bad feelings over extremely tense contract negotiations between the union and Portland Public Schools this year, a situation that almost resulted in the first strike in the district's history.
When the union asked Saltzman—in an endorsement interview he attended with other candidates for his seat—what he did to help avert a walkout, he answered something to the effect of "I prayed," according to Saltzman and others in the room.
Against the backdrop of challenger Nick Caleb, who's running partially on a call to strengthen labor unions, and Joe Meyer, a KBOO reporter who publicized the union's struggles, Saltzman's answer fell with a thud, sources say.
"That question was my home run," Meyer said. "And then Nick gave a good answer. Dan Saltzman was next. He said, 'I prayed there wouldn't be a strike.' I remember that quite specifically."
Asked about the situation, Saltzman said he was disappointed he hadn't garnered the nod.
"I can't put words into their mouth as to why they didn't issue an endorsement in my race," he said. "I feel I was very supportive of averting a strike to reach an agreement."
The fight for Saltzman's seat is already shaping up to be one of May's more exciting races. He's a longtime incumbent with plenty of connections and financial backing, and the hands-down favorite.
But Saltzman's also been forced into action in recent weeks. After Caleb began pushing a $15 minimum wage, the commissioner came out in favor of a wage raise as well, saying he'd long supported that policy—just not very loudly.
Saltzman even led an afternoon rally on Tuesday, April 8, calling in part for the removal of state laws that prevent Portland from raising its minimum wage.
The PAT committee may still take a stand in the primary, Sullivan says, which was welcome news to Saltzman.
"Maybe there's still hope," he said. "I will renew my efforts to get ahold of Gwen."