Gresham voters can choose between mayor, council president

Gresham's mayoral race promises a battle between a two-term government veteran and an up-and-coming leader who has rocketed to the top of the local political scene.

Since 2005, the gadfly buzz was that Council President Shane Bemis, 34, would run for mayor and that incumbent Charles Becker, 74, would gracefully opt against a re-election bid.

But in January, Becker dropped a bombshell during a chamber of commerce event when he said he looked forward to another four years as mayor. Undeterred, Bemis filed to run for the seat in April. Becker followed suit in May.

At a Wednesday, Sept. 27, forum sponsored by the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce's Governmental Affairs Committee, the candidates outlined why Gresham residents should vote for them during the Nov. 7 election. They also sat down with The Outlook's editorial board for interviews.

Both men have impressive credentials and experience. Through his years on the council and as mayor, Becker has amassed quite a track record of involvement in transportation and Metro Regional Government issues.

In his four years on the Gresham City Council, Bemis has become a highly respected leader and an articulate city spokesman known to lobby state and local leaders for Gresham causes.

Both recognize it will take more than grassroots efforts to get the Center for the Arts and the Gradin Community Sports Park off the ground, that the city needs more police and that road maintenance has gone to pot.

The incumbent

Becker, a retired college professor, suggests a transportation utility fee to pay for streetlights, freeing up $1.2 million for city services, such as planning for Springwater and Pleasant Valley.

Since becoming Mayor in 1998, Becker said he has been instrumental in improving Gresham's image.

'I think that we have the reputation in the region as a progressive community,' Becker said. ' … I'm willing to step out and take a certain amount of risk.'

He also said he's proud of Gresham's sister city relationships, but would like to better address Rockwood's crime problem. Becker is open to the possibility of a public safety levy to fund police and fire service. However, recent police and fire department audits have identified ways to save money.

When asked of his goals for a third term, Becker said he hopes to move City Hall to the historic downtown core. Gresham Station is no longer seen as the city's future civic center, but as a retail and economic hub, he said.

Becker said his strengths are his 'demonstrated ability to lead,' experience and reputation as a respected politician. 'I'm open to negotiations, but I'm not a pushover,' he said.

He said he leads by stepping back and allowing other councilors to take the lead on projects that interest them.

'I think I've helped other people to be successful, to use their assets …'

Of his opponent, Becker said that Bemis 'has potential,' but lacks the range of life experiences Becker has.

'He's got a lot of experience running a restaurant, but that's about it,' Becker said.

The challenger

Bemis said his experience running three restaurants and talent for building consensus make him the best choice for mayor.

In 2002, when Bemis was elected, he joined a council plagued for at least six years with petty squabbles and flared tempers. Communication breakdowns were so severe, some councilors flat-out stopped speaking to each other.

Bemis' communication skills led his peers to elect him three years in a row as council president - a vice mayor of sorts who fills in for the Becker when he's unavailable and acts as a liaison between councilors and the mayor.

Since then, the council has taken on a bright and shiny professional polish, allowing councilors to work collaboratively on issues of local and regional significance.

Bemis said he's especially proud of his work with state leaders to give Gresham control of local roads once controlled by Multnomah County.

Top issues range from citywide crime to future growth in Springwater, Pleasant Valley, Rockwood and historic downtown Gresham - growth needed to secure more family-wage jobs and shorter commutes, Bemis said.

Funding issues also loom large, he said. More planners are needed to handle expected growth. Only one of Gresham's five major initiatives is funded. Business and building codes need major realignment.

Bemis hopes to use savings identified in fire and police department audits to help improve the city's financial picture.

He vows to draft concise goals, offer clear direction, measure achievement and fight tireless for the city.

If elected, 'you will get someone who just passionately cares about the city,' Bemis said. 'I know I can do a good job. I just know it.'

If you go

MetroEast Community Media is airing broadcasts of the Wednesday, Sept. 27, Gresham mayoral candidate forum at the following times:

• 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3, channel 30

• 9:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, channel 30

• noon Saturday, Oct. 7, channel 21

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