Sally Russell says she is ready. Having served as Mayor pro tem, she tells the Source Weekly that she wants to be Bend's mayor. Russell was first elected to the Bend City Council in 2012 and will soon announce her re-election bid. Unlike many other cities, those who are elected Bend City Councilors choose a mayor from within their group. "I see myself as mayor in the next couple of years, and I think the community would like to see a woman as mayor of Bend. We'll look at how that plays out after the next election." She continued, "I would hope that I would be re-elected and that the community recognizes the value of what I bring to the community."
Sally Russell's story is one that has deep roots in Oregon. As she tells it, her family's foundation is built on challenge, adversity and inspiration. Her father's side of the family was among the first to migrate to Oregon in a covered wagon in 1853, enduring the challenges faced by thousands of early settlers who survived the rugged Oregon Trail. Russell has original maps and charts in her possession that were used by her ancestors and which she has preserved for safe-keeping. As a young woman, she gained inspiration from her mother, Nancy Russell, who served as the first executive director of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge and who many credit as being the driving force leading to the designation of the gorge as a National Scenic Area. She recalls the adversity her mother faced, such as the slashed tires that greeted her after a Skamania County meeting, while working to win local support needed to pass the national legislation in 1986.
Today, Russell celebrates her mother's legacy by being an avid kite board enthusiast who enjoys wind surfing the Columbia River near Hood River and mountain biking near Bend. "The places where I do my best thinking are when I'm out riding or hiking the River Trail or Storm King," she explains. Storm King is one of Bend's many mountain bike trails. "That's where I rebuild, and that's where I take conflicting points of view of problems that seem unsolvable. The book time, the intellectual time, is really important, but the place where I can pull together solutions for our community takes place in the outdoors."
From potholes to affordable housing, Russell acknowledges that Bend is facing major challenges as the city grows, and how that growth takes shape is of particular concern. She agrees with those who feel Bend needs to grow up rather than out, increasing height limits for buildings to include more density and affordable housing inside the Urban Growth Boundary rather than pushing growth outward. "We can stay compact and go up rather than encroach on the natural landscape that attracts so many people to Bend," she says, adding that she doesn't want to obstruct views or negatively impact neighborhoods.
Affordable housing is also a major concern for Russell. "Clearly we need to work harder on how to accommodate the work force," she says, calling it a huge challenge for those who live and work year- round in the community and who can't afford housing. "How do we incentivize housing that's affordable and will keep people who work here living here year-around," she asks. "That is an economic base that we have yet to firm up and stabilize." She says the city's central plan, which includes 3rd Street, is a good place to begin. She envisions mixed use development including housing and commercial services where people can walk and bike to enjoy amenities without having to use a car if they choose.
Within Russell's leadership philosophy and the broader challenges facing Bend, the region and the nation is a simple path. "I really believe our biggest challenge is acquiring the skills to listen to each other and hear each other." She fears that without those skills people become isolated and problems are harder to solve. "One of my jobs is to change the way the City of Bend interacts with the community. Please, please get engaged and get involved," she urges. She subscribes to the philosophy that no problem is without a solution.
Acknowledging her short-term goal to be Bend's mayor, Russell says she is open to what may unfold. "I see myself as someone who is fully engaged in helping make our city, our region and our state a better place," she says.
Women leaders such as Russell, serving in local government, are role models for other women of all ages in the community. Russell has balanced her post on Bend's City Council with work for nonprofits as well as real estate development companies. A native Oregonian, she graduated from Catlin Gable High School and Smith College, and earned her master's degree in marketing from Portland State University. She has served as executive director of the Cascade Music Festival and the Cascade Cycling Classic, while volunteering as a member of the Board of Directors for the Tower Theater. She has also served on a committee formed by Sen. Ron Wyden to promote recreational projects throughout Deschutes County.