PORTLAND – Both candidates for the Portland City Council’s District 4 seat say the campaign has been personally rewarding.

Incumbent Cheryl Leeman says she’s enjoyed meeting constituents she’s helped out in the past. Challenger Ezekiel Callanan says he feels like he’s learning more about his neighborhood.

Those seem like bland reflections on the door-knocking and pamphleteering of a council election, but there’s an unspoken subtext to those perspectives: Leeman is highlighting the fact that many of the voters have been her constituents for much of their lives, and may have turned to her for help on occasion. Callanan is getting across that he hopes to bring a new perspective to the council and points out that, as a 30-year-old, he was still a toddler when Leeman first sat in her seat in the council’s chambers.

Leeman said she offers experience and “institutional memory,” which she feels is especially important with a new city manager on the job and Portland electing a mayor for the first time in several generations.

Callanan said he offers a fresh look at some persistent problems which he believes can be solved with a little bit of energy and enthusiasm.

Leeman has faced opposition only twice before — she was unopposed three years ago — but said she welcomes it.

“It’s good to have a little competition,” she said. “It’s easy to get disconnected.”

Leeman said she enjoys meeting constituents and having someone else in the race makes it easier to engage voters than when she’s run unopposed.

“It’s been fun to go out,” she said. “I get the sense that people appreciate what I’ve done for the district and what I’ve done for the city. It’s been nice to hear that.”

Leeman said that property taxes remains the biggest issue for voters, as it has been the last few years. She said the council has learned how to budget in tough times and needs to keep that perspective.

“We have to set priorities,” she said. “I only have so much money coming in from my paycheck and the city only has so much money coming in. It’s really having to prioritize where it’s spent.”

Leeman said her experience will be a plus for the city as a whole, given the new manager and the election of a mayor for the first time since the 1920s.

“You can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been, and I know where we’ve been,” she said.

Callanan, however, pointed out that Leeman’s experience could have a downside.

“She’s been there for a real long time, since I was 3 years old,” the 30-year-old said.

He said he decided to run because he moved to Portland and saw that the seat was up. The race is non-partisan, but Callanan noted he’s a Democrat and Leeman is a Republican — in a predominantly Democratic city.

Callanan said he was hoping someone he could support would run for the seat. When no one did, he quickly gathered signatures and got a spot on the ballot.

He said the issues he’s learned about are intensely local, from cars traveling too fast on some roads to making sure school walking routes are safe. Simply devoting some effort to finding solutions would likely help, he said.

Callanan said the district’s councilor should make more of an effort to get people included in and invested in the community. It could be as simple as getting a single sheet of paper to new residents, listing some facts about the neighborhood, the district councilor’s name and phone number and contact information for neighborhood associations, he said,

“I’m all about grabbing the low-hanging fruit” to make things better, he said. “A lot of the ‘problems’ are fixable by changing your point of view and your perspective.”

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]