Illustration by Wilder Schmaltz

THREE CANDIDATES have so far stepped forward in the race to qualify for public campaign financing to attempt to unseat City Commissioner Dan Saltzman in the 2010 election: Spencer Burton, a stonemason; Ed Garren, a family therapist; and Jason Renaud, a mental health advocate.

The candidates are still shaping their platforms, but some themes are emerging. Burton wants to renew a "sense of urgency" in city government by increasing citizen involvement and "gathering the tribes," he says. Garren, who ran against City Commissioner Nick Fish in the 2008 primary, has since focused his advocacy on environmental justice and the Columbia River Crossing. Meanwhile Renaud, who went to school with James Chasse, a man with schizophrenia who died in police custody in 2006, is primarily running for better police accountability and citizen oversight.

Under the city's Voter-Owned Elections rules, the three candidates must each gather 1,000 signatures and $5 donations from members of the public, and submit them to the city auditor's office by January 29, 2010. In exchange, the city will give them each up to $150,000 in taxpayer dollars to run a campaign against Saltzman.

Burton says he already has 250 signatures, and took local "world twang" band TapWater to the campus at Portland State University on Tuesday, December 8, to raise his campaign's profile and gather some more. Meanwhile Garren says his signature-gathering campaign is just getting started, but that "I promised myself if I couldn't get the qualifying contributions and signatures, that I'd withdraw from the race."

Renaud had volunteers gathering signatures at the PSU Farmers Market last weekend, and said he had over 400 petition forms circulating to volunteers by press time.

The three men are all critical of Saltzman's job as police commissioner—particularly his recent decision to reinstate suspended Officer Christopher Humphreys, in response to outcry from the police union ["Saltzman Backs Down," News, Dec 3]. Garren says Saltzman was "bullied" by the union, for example.

"In the rural south, if a bully says, 'Do this or else,' we say, 'Them's fightin' words,'" says Garren. "And if you don't dig in your heels and fight, no one will ever respect you again. Now everyone's saying, 'We didn't have a say in this,' and now we know who's really running the city—the police union."

On the police bureau controversy, Saltzman has been conspicuously media shy of late, beyond issuing prepared statements. He gave an interview to Oregonian reporter Maxine Bernstein on December 1, refuting the suggestion that he had caved to union pressure, saying instead that he had sought to "deescalate the tensions" between himself, the police chief, and the union. He declined comment on the same issue for this story, however, through his chief of staff, Brendan Finn.

Saltzman has yet to formally declare his candidacy for reelection, although he has hired a campaign manager, Emerald Bogue, who worked with him on a successful campaign to renew the popular children's levy last year. Saltzman is expected to share Bogue's campaign management services with his former chief of staff, Multnomah County Commissioner Jeff Cogen, who is also running for reelection next year, so far unopposed.

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz ran a successful publicly financed campaign for her seat last year, although she ran to fill the commissioner seat left vacant by Mayor Sam Adams, and did not have to defeat a wealthy and well-connected incumbent. She also had good name recognition, having unsuccessfully run another publicly financed campaign against Saltzman, back in 2006.

Saltzman chose not to use the Voter-Owned Elections program in that 2006 campaign, and was backed by private money, including donations by local developers Bob Ball, Mark Edlen, and Homer Williams. He also drew money from the wealthy Schnitzer family, and from Portland Spirit owner Dan Yates, according to data from the Money in Politics Research Action Project.

Saltzman's council colleague, Nick Fish, is also up for reelection next year, but there are no rival candidates seeking public campaign dollars in the race for his seat. Unlike Fish ["Windbags," Hall Monitor, Oct 15], it appears Saltzman's notoriously tight-lipped leadership style may leave him more vulnerable to an election challenge, judging from statements made by the three candidates so far.

"He's an incrementalist," says Burton. "He doesn't stand up, he doesn't lead. He waits for it to come to him."

"I've heard that Dan's a good guy," says Renaud. "But I couldn't think of anything he's ever actually done."