Zondie Zinke was inspired to run for Eugene mayor after watching the 2020 State of the City speech. She says she didn’t agree with incumbent Mayor Lucy Vinis that Eugene is making progress.
Zinke is running against six other candidates, including Vinis, in the May 19 primary election. With her campaign, she says she wants to empower other people to engage in government and fight for more progressive action when it comes to climate change and human rights.
When she decided to run, Zinke reached out to others who have been vocal at City Council meetings and created a group of five candidates called the Solidarity Platform.
Zinke explains that these candidates hold perspectives that may come from marginalized communities and have voices that are not represented by status quo politicians. According to their website, the solidarity candidates label themselves as progressives and are advocating for more climate urgency, human rights, a more empowered democracy and decolonization of society.
Although the solidarity platform candidates share similar ideals, they are also running their own individual campaigns. Zinke says she faces the challenge of running against a well-known incumbent.
“It’s hard to be taken seriously if you don’t have endorsements behind you, but it’s also hard to get those endorsements,” Zinke says. She also acknowledges the confusion around what the platform is and that her campaign has been weak. She says it was due to health issues last fall and then the pandemic this spring.
For Zinke, though, the campaign isn’t about the endorsements, but about doing what’s right. She says she has been a government watchdog for the last four years and has become increasingly frustrated with how things have been running.
“My head is exploding with all the very wrong things I’ve seen, where this government acts as a PR machine,” she says. Zinke adds that she also wants to show that running for office is an accessible process.
In college, Zinke majored in women’s studies and holds a master’s degree in English and an MFA in creative writing. She doesn’t have political experience but says she has been attending public events and City Council meetings for years, keeping up to date with political decisions.
Climate is a driving issue for Zinke’s campaign. It’s connected to every other issue, she says, adding that Eugene’s Climate Action Plan is a plan to fail. Zinke says that the city does not have a plan that will come within 50 percent of 2030 climate goals.
In filling out Eugene Weekly’s candidate questionnaire, she said some of what the city can do is immediate, such as fareless public transportation and no new gas infrastructure.
“The fact is, we need a leader who does not engage in phony messaging around the climate crisis,” Zinke says. “We need a leader to insist we meet our goals.”
Urgency is vital when it comes to implementing strategies against climate change. Zinke says the city needs to be committed to budget policies under the guidance of a Green New Deal that protects and prepares for climate catastrophe. She says the impact from the pandemic is nothing compared to what we will face with the climate crisis.
“Most people didn’t think it was possible for a large portion of Americans to not go outside. Things become quite possible when it’s necessary,” Zinke says. “I want to see what happens when we get ahead of the curve with climate change.”
Another issue Zinke says she has been frustrated with is the city’s lack of action on homelessness. She says Eugene has already seen an increase in the number of unhoused people, and the recommendations in the city’s five-year TAC plan for dealing with homelessness are becoming inadequate.
She’s hoping to create more of the Conestoga hut type of homes, which would give unhoused individuals more security for themselves and their belongings when they sleep at night.
The problem is made worse by the perpetuated myth of unhoused people being the ones who are dangerous, Zinke says.
“The majority of the payroll tax goes to public safety — much of which I call criminalization. And only 7 percent goes to homeless services. No wonder it didn’t make it to the ballot,” she says of the tax.
Zinke says voters should consider a non-incumbent for the primary mayoral election, which can potentially put another name on the ballot in the November general election. She says this would advance the solidarity platform views and offer the voters a more progressive choice.
“I think what enables me to be of real value is I would be committed to using the platform of mayor to speak the truth and frankly push back at special interest absurdities.”