Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Profile: Nicholas Caleb, lonely voice for better biking in race for council

Posted by on May 19th, 2014 at 12:24 pm

City Council Candidate Nicholas Caleb hands out signs in support of a citywide minimum wage hike in a demonstration on 82nd Avenue last month.
(Photo by M.Andersen/BikePortland)

The best way to understand the only vocally pro-bike candidate in tomorrow’s city elections might actually be to watch him drive a car.

“I drive at 20 mph, 25 mph inside the city at all times,” Nicholas Caleb said in an interview this month. “I just don’t think it’s safe. And I don’t care if people are beeping at me.”

As a campaign that calls, on every one of its signs, for a $15 minimum wage — volunteers favor the green and white version when they’re campaigning downtown, red when they’re in East Portland — the 30-year-old Concordia College adjunct professor’s two-month sprint of a city council race has certainly drawn a lot of beeps.

Caleb campaigning at Sunday Parkways in East Portland.
(Photo by Caleb for Council)

“I kind of knew that there was a nice political space for people to run as strong progressives right now,” Caleb said. “I tried to get a lot of other people to do it and nobody wanted to.”

The day before the March filing deadline, Caleb decided to do it himself. He’s challenging Dan Saltzman, the council’s longest-serving member and one blessed with, as Caleb puts it, “tons and tons of money.”

State records show that in the last year, Salzman has raised $143,000 from 340 donations, 70 percent of which were for exactly $500. In the last two months, Caleb has raised $4,444 in “miscellaneous cash contributions,” with the biggest deposit for $280.

Caleb, right, with a campaign volunteer.
(Photo by M.Andersen/BikePortland)

The imbalance, Caleb says, is an obstacle but also a chance to emphasize who he is: a candidate who set out to give voice to “a lot of stuff that people cared about that is not represented in the political mainstream.”

Last month he scored the endorsement of the Portland Mercury. He was also endorsed early in his campaign by the local political action committee Bike Walk Vote on the strength of a policy questionnaire (PDF) in which he endorsed lowering all neighborhood speed limits to 20 mph, a citywide “emergency fund” that would immediately improve the sites of street fatalities, an Idaho-style stop law and a London-style anti-congestion charge on downtown motor vehicles.

Caleb’s questionnaire also noted, accurately, that in a city where mayors started bike-commuting in the 1980s, he would be the only member of the current city council who bikes to work.

“The campaign is structured around the right to the city,” said Caleb, who shares a 1998 Toyota Camry with his girlfriend but gets around mostly by bicycle. “The right to the city means that people who live, work, commute … they have the right to enjoy it. They have the right to be safe.”

Caleb at Sunday Parkways.
(Photo by Caleb for Council)

Born and raised in Klamath Falls, Oregon, Caleb moved to Portland to start attending Concordia as a student. He trained there as a scientist, but became interested in policy and attended the University of Oregon School of Law before spending a year in the Netherlands for a technology policy degree.

After stints as a cancer researcher, a policy advisor and a Democratic Party staffer in Washington County, Caleb moved back into academia in 2011. His teaching schedule is a smorgasbord to fit his varied interests: cultural geography, environmental sciences, introduction to biology and American government.

“I have kind of a weird background that only made sense once I was an adult,” he said. “I think I’m just kind of a weirdo in general.”

For someone who’s running for office with zero staff while holding down a full-time job, Caleb doesn’t come off as unprepared. He’s familiar with the social dynamics of the council and many details of his key policy area, housing and displacement, and has recruited policy wonks he trusts from years of social-justice work to provide policy positions on issues he doesn’t know as well.

But a campaign with neither staff or significant funding can only achieve so much — something Caleb seems to understand and take in stride.

Instead, he’s content to run for office more or less the way he drives a car: following rules of his own and hoping that it makes other people think twice about themselves.

Caleb says he himself is inspired by newly elected Seattle Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, the registered Socialist whose successful campaign last fall led Seattle, this month, to strike a deal to create the highest minimum wage in the country.

Sawant’s campaign persuaded Caleb that the act of running for office can change public perceptions of what’s politically possible.

“If nothing else comes out of this campaign, I hope that people take notice that there are large swaths of Portland that are totally unrepresented and are totally shut out of the media,” Caleb said.

Ballots in Tuesday’s election arrived by mail late last month. The deadline for mail votes has passed, but they can be delivered to any of these drop sites until 8 p.m. tomorrow.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you.

  • Granpa May 19, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    With the “Making Portland right” thread still fresh in the minds of many BikePortland readers it is really heartening to see someone work to actually get into the system to enact change. The cascade of ideas from that thread covered everything from the usual high-minded scolds to spending money that does not exist on well intentioned projects, to getting other people to fix the stuff that isn’t right. Well here’s Caleb who would actually get into the ring to fight for a bike friendly progressive agenda. I expect that my world view and his diverge early, but Right F’n On that he is stepping up. Good luck.

    Recommended Thumb up 19

  • Todd Hudson May 19, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Last weekend, I sat down with my ballot. “Nicholas Caleb” sounded familiar, so I googled the name. Lo and behold, a link from this website came up!


    “Another person on the ride, Nicholas Caleb, says having an undercover officer on the ride is a sign that we live in a “police state.” Caleb says the group has publicized everything they’ve done, held public meetings, videotaped their speeches, and so on. “You’d think when you do that, there’s no way you’d be the target of police surveillance.” “It’s scary,” he added, “But, we’re going to keep going forward with our positive ideas and creative energy.” Caleb said the man he suspects of being Cpt. Uehara was suspicious because he had all brand new “stereotypical biker gear,” didn’t speak with anyone and was filming everything.”

    After reading that gem, I decided how to vote for City Commissioner #3.

    Recommended Thumb up 25

    • Dan Kaufman May 19, 2014 at 2:04 pm

      I am fairly certain Mr. Caleb will tell you that the incident you mention above was one of his worst days and biggest regrets.

      Since most people make mistakes, I am just wondering, what research you did on Mr. Caleb’s opponent whose donors in the Wall Street Business Aliance (Portland chapter) certainly are not excited about Caleb’s proposals for a $15/hr minimum wage and safer streets for vulnerable users?

      Here is an interesting article on the subject: http://www.blueoregon.com/2014/05/caleb-or-saltzman/

      Recommended Thumb up 16

    • Ian May 19, 2014 at 2:06 pm

      I saw this association being made a couple of weeks ago, and it is true.

      However, I think it would be a mistake to use that one incident as a basis for making a decision that could have such profound consequences. I see people like Caleb being much more concerned about the injustice inherent in our system than people like Saltzman, and I don’t think that we should let the ability of a person to manage their image speak louder than the things that person is fighting for and their willingness to stick their neck out to get it done.

      Even though Caleb is unlikely to win, I hope that his campaign can have positive repercussions for the political dialog in the city.

      Recommended Thumb up 11

      • Help May 19, 2014 at 3:02 pm

        Here’s to guessing you’re not a minority.

        Recommended Thumb up 4

    • spare_wheel May 19, 2014 at 2:16 pm

      not a good moment for bike swarm or bike portland. still mr. caleb represents my values far better than Mr. $alzman.

      and there there is this kind of black comedy:

      brand new “stereotypical biker gear”

      the new bike portland “fashion” podcast also has 4 participants tripping over themselves to decry the evils of “lycra” and “hi-viz”.

      hey portland bike commuters, you are making us look bad!

      Recommended Thumb up 7

      • Dan Kaufman May 19, 2014 at 3:15 pm

        Just to be clear. That fiasco was not associated or part of a “bike swarm” event – though bikes may have been swarming.

        Recommended Thumb up 1

    • CaptainKarma May 19, 2014 at 2:42 pm

      Have no doubt you are being surveiled. Voiced suspicions of that fact are like saying the emperor has no clothes. Takes courage. Thanks for running, Nick!

      Recommended Thumb up 5

  • caryebye May 19, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    I am super excited about Nick Caleb’s platform and he walks his talk. Seriously if you haven’t voted yet, take a chance — and for council you really can because there are 5 votes (4 commissioners and 1 mayor).

    I love that I see Nick out on his bike all the time, I’ve been on his worst polluters bike ride, and see him speak several times and he’s a refreshing choice !

    Vote Caleb for Council!

    Thanks for this piece!

    Recommended Thumb up 13

  • nuovorecord May 19, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    I voted for him. I think we need new voices and perspectives on the Council, not only for bikes, but for a whole host of societal needs.

    Recommended Thumb up 17

  • Evan Manvel May 19, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    More likely: a city where mayors re-started bike commuting in the 1980s (after probably a 50 year hiatus).

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Joe May 19, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    starbucks CEO is still fighting 15hr. lol

    Recommended Thumb up 6

  • Jim Lee May 19, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    I should run again in 2016, stomping major establishment figures into oblivion.

    Go Caleb–not the coach of the Timbers!

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • kittens May 19, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Damn. Already voted.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Bjorn May 19, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    I voted for him but my only concern was that based on some of his answers to the questionaire it is clear that he isn’t that familiar with what the city council does and doesn’t control. Portland can’t pass a 15 dollar minimum wage (state law prohibits it) same with lowering neighborhood speed limits to 20mph, and the idaho stop law. He has some great ideas and I think he will be an improvement over Salzman, but I’d like to hear more ideas from him that can be legally implemented.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

    • spare_wheel May 19, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      The minimum wage in Corvallis, Orygun is $12.31.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

      • Bjorn May 19, 2014 at 3:02 pm

        You are confusing minimum wage with Corvallis’s Living wage. The City pays a living wage to people who work for the city and most people who are contracted to the city, but it doesn’t apply to private businesses not doing business with the city. http://www.corvallisoregon.gov/index.aspx?page=305

        Recommended Thumb up 4

        • spare_wheel May 19, 2014 at 3:08 pm


          Recommended Thumb up 1

        • Bjorn May 19, 2014 at 3:11 pm

          And actually when looking for the specific law preventing cities from enacting a minimum wage I found this article showing that his actual plan is a bit more nuanced than what I had heard from the soundbites previously so maybe he has a clearer idea of what the council can and can’t do than I thought: http://www.blueoregon.com/2014/04/15-how/

          Recommended Thumb up 3

          • Nicholas Caleb May 19, 2014 at 3:36 pm

            I was about to link to that, Bjorn. There are also some state efforts brewing. After tomorrow, there will be some meeting of the minds to find out what course of action makes best sense to put time/energy into. Local labor groups and social justice organizations are getting excited to jump into the game.

            But the takeaway message hopefully is that the city has quite a bit of power to do something about wage inequity (not to mention gentrification, houselessness, etc). Whether our local government will act on it is quite a different story.

            Recommended Thumb up 12

    • paikiala May 19, 2014 at 4:59 pm

      Bjorn, look up Oregon Administrative Rule (OAR) 734-020-0015 (3).
      Besides that, there are some unexploited loopholes in ORS that no one is usign as effectively as is possible.

      Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Psyfalcon May 19, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    In the future, if you’re going to profile people running for office, you need to do it more than a day before election. Many of us have voted already.

    Transportation is important to most of us here, so these are very good, just a little late.

    Recommended Thumb up 26

  • dwainedibbly May 19, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    Anybody but Salzman….

    Recommended Thumb up 10

    • spare_wheel May 20, 2014 at 7:17 am


      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Mike May 19, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    Dangling the $15 per hour carrot seems like an easy way to get elected. Look what happened up in seattle, that was her whole platform.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Nicholas Caleb May 19, 2014 at 9:58 pm

      Not true. Not by a long shot.

      Recommended Thumb up 8

    • spare_wheel May 20, 2014 at 7:17 am
    • Evan Manvel May 20, 2014 at 11:43 am

      Not sure what you imply by “dangling the carrot.” Candidate-now-Councilmember Sawant pushed the issue, along with organized labor and fast food workers, and the City took it up.

      It’s likely that Seattle will adopt a big increase in minimum wage (the task force on it voted 21-3 in support of a plan to phase in $15).

      So it’s not so much dangling a carrot, as speaking up for something you believe in and being willing to push hard to make it happen. Thousands of Seattleites worked to make it happen, but Sawant deserves a significant portion of the credit.

      Recommended Thumb up 3

  • matthew May 19, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    I wrote my own name in for city council. I don’t like Mr Calebs wacko ideas like a 15.00 minimum wage he will never get the authority to implement from the state of Oregon.Mr Caleb blocks people off his fb page for asking him honest questions he don’t like like how are you any different from Saltzmann.Sorry Mr Caleb you are not cut out for office.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Concordia Cyclist May 20, 2014 at 9:13 am

      Yeah, because the current minimum wage isn’t “wacko” at all. Try living on that even without a family. $15 an hour is a living wage – call me “wacko’, but I like living.

      Recommended Thumb up 5

    • davemess May 20, 2014 at 9:51 am

      You do know that many cities and states across the country currently have these “wacko” ideas right? Even our own federal government is looking at a substantial increase to the minimum wage.

      Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Dave May 22, 2014 at 9:36 am

    Aman–and I’d volunteer my ass off for a presidential or gubernatorial candidate with a similar platform! Unfortunately, Kshama isn’t US-born and can’t run for Pres.

    Nicholas Caleb
    Not true. Not by a long shot.
    Recommended 8

    Recommended Thumb up 0