Five candidates for mayor of Eugene — four men and one woman — lined the stage at First Christian Church March 3. When asked if they believed in human-caused climate change, candidate Lucy Vinis’ answer stood out from the rest: “I don’t think it’s a matter of belief,” she responded. Take a look at the facts, Vinis said: They show that human activity has caused climate change.
Vinis, who worked at housing nonprofit ShelterCare as developmental director before retiring and deciding to run for mayor, was the first to file as a candidate last September. She has limited political experience, but she says her background in working for environmental and humanitarian nonprofits has helped hone her skills in bringing people together, a strategy she says she would use as mayor to find solutions to Eugene’s problems.
Current Mayor Kitty Piercy has endorsed Vinis, and it’s hard not to draw comparisons between the two leaders. But, in contrast to the other candidates for mayor in this year’s election, Vinis stands out in a number of ways.
Her campaign is tidily pieced together, replete with clear platforms and a functional website. Of the candidates running for mayor, Vinis appears the most prepared. She says she sees communication and openness as key components of being mayor.
“The role of the mayor is to bring people together to keep the conversation going in a constructive way,” Vinis says.
She’d like to see more transparency in Eugene’s government, she says, and she envisions the city using its website more effectively to publish a monthly update on the state of the city. Vinis says this kind of outreach could make it easier for the public to access city processes and track deadlines for decisions that otherwise get lost in the grind of city government.
The mayoral race is nonpartisan, but that doesn’t mean political affiliations are swept under the rug. Vinis lands solidly in the progressive realm, and she says she’s been a Democrat all her life — in fact, her campaign slogan is “Lucy Vinis, the progressive for mayor.” With every statement and Facebook post, she carefully defines herself as the sort of person who represents Eugene’s liberal values, and she has received the endorsements of Eugene City Councilors Chris Pryor, Claire Syrett, Alan Zelenka and Betty Taylor.
Vinis doesn’t have a background in politics, and she doesn’t pitch herself as a smooth political operator. She’s a 2015 graduate of Emerge Oregon, a training program that encourages Democratic women to run for election. She’s played a supportive role politically as campaign manager for Zelenka and as a helping hand in Piercy’s reelection campaign in 2008, but the rest of her applicable experience lies solidly in the nonprofit realm.
As development director at ShelterCare, Vinis engaged the community in understanding and supporting ShelterCare’s work in providing assistance to the unhoused and at-risk in Eugene.
She has career experience working on issues surrounding homelessness, and her approach centers on finding more housing and resources for people currently lacking them. “There is a need for us as a city to find sensible, humane solutions,” she said at the March 3 candidates’ forum.
Vinis says Eugene needs to do more to address homelessness, which for her means adding emergency shelter and more rest stops, investing in transitional programs and working to implement Housing First.
“Rather than lift the ban on camping, we can provide more places to live,” she says.
Adding to her history with nonprofits, Vinis also has worked with the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides as well as Eugene-Springfield’s EarthShare of Oregon.
This environmental background makes sense, given the fact that one of her platforms is working to instill “progressive policies for a sustainable future.”
Take a look at campaign donations and you’ll find financial support from a few enviro-friendly names: Shawn Donnille of Mountain Rose Herbs donated $2,000 and Deborah Noble of the conservation-minded Be Noble Foundation donated $500. The local chapter of the Sierra Club and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters have endorsed Vinis.
Vinis supports Eugene’s Climate Recovery Ordinance, and she’d like to see Eugene continuing to make sustainable progress, she says. At the debate, she wasn’t afraid to point out that Eugene City Councilor Mike Clark, also a candidate for mayor, did not vote in favor of the climate ordinance.
“Our existence as a community depends on how we move forward” on this issue, she says.
While supportive of sustainability, Vinis also supports development downtown. She says Eugene needs to work with the business community to continue improving spaces, because development downtown “is a win for the public.”
Her take on Kesey Square, for example, is similar to Mayor Piercy’s ideal, one of a public-private partnership while keeping the public space open.
Vinis says she has canvassed in all eight of Eugene’s wards with her crew of volunteers, reaching around 2,000 doors. She says she crafted her platforms based on conversations with Eugeneans, and she plans to continue having those conversations.
“The thing you have to love about people in Eugene is that they’re passionate about their opinions,” Vinis says. “It’s an adventure.”