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Concordia professor says commissioner not progressive enough

City Commissioner Steve NovickThe first Portland City Council race of 2016 is underway. Nick Caleb, who lost to incumbent Commissioner Dan Saltzman in the 2014 May primary election, says he will challenge Commissioner Steve Novick next year. Novick told the Portland Tribune last week that he will run for re-election.

Although Novick is widely considered to be one of the most progressive members of the council, Caleb says Novick is not progressive enough.

“Time and again, when Novick has the chance to do the most progressive thing, he backs down,” says Caleb, a part-time Concordia University professor.

Nick CalebAs an example, Caleb criticizes Novick for not including the most progressive personal income tax in his latest street fee proposal. Instead, Novick, who is in charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, called for a charge based on estimated gas consumption. Discussions on the fee are on hold during the 2015 Oregon legislative session.

“The only form of a street fee I will support is a progressive income tax. I think taxing people who are already either living in extreme poverty or barely maintaining a working class household is absurd and immoral,” Caleb says.

Caleb received around 20 percent of the vote and came in second in the four-candidate race, which Saltzman won by receiving more than half the vote. Caleb believes his showing was respectable, considering he only campaigned for about two months and raised less than $4,700 because he limited contributions to $50.

For his race against Novick, Caleb already has a Facebook page and says he will begin actively campaigning soon, more than a year before the election. And he will not limit contributions this time, although he has not yet set a campaign budget.

Caleb has been involved in a number of progressive issues in recent years, including raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. In addition to teaching, he also works part-time for Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit that educates young people about climate change.

Novick is serving in his first term on the City Council.

“There are a number of issues I’m working on, any one of which could keep me busy until 2017 and beyond,” Novick said when announcing his re-election plans.

Novick’s announcement means all three council members up for re-election next year will run again. Mayor Charlie Hales told the Portland Tribune editorial board on March 6 that he will seek re-election. Commissioner Amanda Fritz announced for re-election several weeks ago.

Novick says he will resume working on the street fee after the Legislature adjourns. He hopes Salem lawmakers will pass a transportation funding package that includes additional money for other cities. But he does not believe it will be enough to eliminate the city’s nearly $1 billion maintenance backlog or fund needed safety improvement projects.

“I obviously hope that we will adopt a transportation tax or fee by the end of 2016, but assuming we succeed, I would want to be around to make sure the money goes to the right places,” Novick said.

The street fee could be Novick’s greatest vulnerability. He and Hales first proposed it last May. At the time, they assumed Fritz had agreed to be the third vote to enact the fee without referring it the voters. When that turned out to be wrong, they spent months rewriting the proposal to secure Fritz’s support, without luck. Many Portlanders criticized their efforts, while some community groups voiced support for the safety projects they intended to fund.

Hales and Novick agreed to suspend work on the fee during the 2015 legislative session at the request of former Gov. John Kitzhaber and Kotek. Discussions could resume as early as this summer.

Other issues Novick mentioned to the Portland Tribune include: requiring that unreinforced masonry buildings be retrofitted to protect them from collapsing during earthquakes; building public support for starting public school at 9 a.m. because research shows teenagers need nine to 11 hours of sleep; crafting city rules to require developers to include affordable units in their multifamily housing projects, assuming the 2015 Legislature repeals the law against so-called inclusionary zoning; continuing to work on two new high-capacity transit lines currently being planned; fixing the Portland Building so that it doesn’t continue to leak in the rain and will survive an earthquake; better coordinating public and private utility work in the streets; and reforming the system of responding to 911 calls to eliminate unnecessary ER visits.

Novick first ran for the council in 2012. He has about $112 in his campaign account.

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