Three months ago, Rory Bialostosky ’22 was just a college student preparing for a semester abroad in Barcelona, Spain. After his trip was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bialostosky began envisioning a different kind of semester. 2020, like most of the country, was an election year for West Linn, Oregon; the mayor and two city councilors were up for re-election. A few weeks before the deadline, Bialostosky entered the race as one of the youngest candidates to run for city council in West Linn history.
Bialostosky was determined to not allow incumbents Teri Cummings and Rich Sakelik to run unchallenged. According to Bialostosky, the West Linn city government has long been in a rut, focusing too much on issues that do not benefit the city.
Rather than forcing West Linn citizens to have to go through another four years of stagnation, Bialostosky hopes to be the candidate of change.
“I ran because I have a vision for moving the city forward, making progress, making it a place where everyone feels safe,” he said.
Part of that means reaching across the aisle. Bialostosky is one of the few candidates that has shied away from partisan endorsements. According to him, city issues are non-partisan issues, and West Linn needs a city councilor who is a bridge builder and encourages a sense of community.
Bialostosky’s candidacy has increased the level of enthusiasm about local politics. High school friends and acquaintances regularly reach out to tell him that they voted for him. But even those who do not personally know him have reached out to express their delight.
“It’s amazing,” Bialostosky said, “I go out to have coffee and sit outside somewhere, and people come up and say I just voted for you, good luck.”
Bialostosky has been able to galvanize voters in a way that local politicians have been unable to do in the past. West Linn’s support for Bialostosky is most apparent in his funding. Though the pandemic complicated normal campaigning methods, he has still managed to hold virtual events and fundraisers. Bialostosky has raised $5,500, the largest amount any West Linn city council candidate has ever raised.
However, the 21-year old has had his fair share of criticism. Some believe that he is too young, while others are not fond of his past history with the city. In 2018, Bialostosky sued the city of West Linn for parking restrictions placed around the city’s high school. He was among several students who were issued parking tickets.
“It was so wrong to me that these streets were paid for by the taxpayer yet were roped off to kids,” Bialostosky said.
While Bialostosky welcomes these criticisms and encourages discourse, he maintains that he is more than qualified to be a city councilor.
Bialostosky’s high school political involvement caught the attention of several prominent members of the community. Former City Councilor Brenda Perry agreed with Bialostosky’s concerns and supported his request for the city to expand street parking. Perry currently serves as the head of Bialostosky’s entirely volunteer-run campaign.
Perry is not the only powerful connection he has made. Bialostosky has been endorsed by several notable West Linn community leaders, from current Mayor Russ Axelrod to Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader. The editorial board of The West Linn Tidings, a well known city newspaper, recently endorsed Bialostosky, praising his issue platform.
His website, www.roryforwl.com, details his extensive plan to aid West Linn in both social and economic growth. Some of his priorities include increasing the transparency of elected officials and promoting accountability in the police department.
In 2019, Bialostosky sued City Councilor Cummings for refusing to make meeting notes accessible to the public. Though he lost the case, Bialostosky believes in the public’s right to be informed about the actions of their elected officials, and hopes to set a precedent of transparency.
As for police accountability, the city was involved in a nationally publicized racial dicrimination case in 2020. Still, Bialostosky does not intend to defund the police. The department will be audited in an attempt to ensure that money is being utilized properly. His policies will also focus on reforming policing in West Linn and rebuilding public trust in the police.
“I’m not a fan of abolishing the police,” Bialostosky said. “People want to feel safe, and I think to feel safe you have to have a police department. The practices of the police department and how they go about making you feel safe are what you can reform. ”
If elected, Bialostosky, an international affairs major, intends to carry out an already formulated plan to balance school and work. He plans on only enrolling in 12 credits next spring and putting off law school while he finishes out the full four year term. More than ever, Bialostosky believes in West Linn’s potential.
“The people of West Linn deserve better, I believe that,” Bialostosky said.