With the passing of Mike Swaim on December 17 the people of Salem lost a true friend. Many members of City Watch certainly remember well that few local political figures defended the interests of average people in Salem the way Mike did during his three terms as Mayor. For Mike every issue essentially boiled down to a few basic questions: who got to make the decisions, how were obligations and benefits shared, and how were individuals’ rights protected.
Mike was truly a democrat with a small d. He believed it was essential to listen to people and for the government to serve all residents as fairly and equitably as possible. Listening takes time and that sometimes made for very long meetings, but Mike thought it was worth it and he was right. Mike led the fight for as much transparency as possible in city government. He pushed for citizens’ right to vote on annexations, supported ordinances to provide as much information as possible to the public about growth and its costs, and insisted that those who profited from growth pay their fair share of its costs to the community. For Mike, government was all about improving the quality of life for all, and he worked tenaciously to defend our parks, our library, and our neighborhood services while at the same time providing adequate resources to public safety.
Mike also knew that many in our community faced discrimination and exploitation. He emphasized the importance of the Human Rights Commission in defending the rights of all citizens. He recognized the importance of tolerance and communication in community life, and this was symbolized by his support for the Peace Plaza and for Salem’s sister city projects.
Mike was also much concerned with the environment. Long before “climate change” became part of the daily discussion, he supported the creation of the City’s Environmental Commission, which later councils, unfortunately, lacked the foresight to continue. He also placed much emphasis on planning ahead and many projects initiated during Mike’s tenure, such as the Riverfront Park, the Convention Center, and the Pedestrian Bridge to Wallace Marine Park, are now core elements of our flourishing downtown.
The list of achievements could go on. What is perhaps more important, though, is to remember Mike as a person. Mike and his spouse, Kellie, were a team. Not only did they raise a family together, but they also shared the work of the law practice. The decision to engage in city politics was a joint project that Kellie shared with Mike every step of the way and, just as the law practice depended on both of them, so did Mike’s stint as Mayor. Being Mayor meant a lot of sacrifices. It is financially difficult for anyone with their own business and it demands enormous amounts of time and energy that one might otherwise spend with family and friends. Mike and Kellie dealt with it all with aplomb. They took the work in stride and were always ready for a good laugh and a beer.
Mike will be missed, but his model of civic engagement will remain.
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