Stefan Strek has a friendly face outlined by trimmed sideburns. While listening in conversation, he nods and gives his typical response of, “Yeah, totally,” spoken in the voice one might imagine for a surfer dude. When asked a question, he answers in a deliberate cadence, trailing off periodically to gather his ideas.
Strek works for University of Oregon Housing at Carson Dining, greeting and ringing up hundreds of customers a day. He has worked for the UO’s Dining Services for seven years now, since he was a senior at South Eugene High School.
He’s now 25 and running for mayor of Eugene. Strek is not the typical mayoral candidate.
The primary election for the mayor is on May 17. Strek is running against three other candidates: Eugene Water and Electric Board commissioner Bob Cassidy, fundraising director for ShelterCare Lucy Vinis and Eugene City Counselor Mike Clark.
Strek says his unique perspective as a working class citizen sets him apart from other candidates.
Strek has no previous experience working in government, but he sees that as a benefit. “The other candidates are all the same,” Strek said. “They have the same friends, they have the same money and they have the same ideas. I think not having experience makes me more adaptable.”
Strek’s campaign adviser, Jacob Glasser, a fellow South Eugene graduate and UO food service worker who is active with the Service Employees International Union, says that Strek is still in the phase of his campaign where he is getting his name out there and figuring out his voter base.
“Stefan is the kind of person who, he might not know how to fix a problem, but he will address that problem head on,” Glasser said. “To people who would count him out because of his experience or who think he isn’t serious about this, I say, ‘Get to know him.’ ”
Some of the problems that Strek sees in Eugene are related to homelessness, something he attributes to administrative mismanagement.
“There are policies that don’t solve the problem and only harass homeless people,” Strek said.
Strek said he recently helped a homeless friend pay off a $50 fine for walking his dog downtown without a license. The license costs about $20 and expires every two years.
“The police don’t stop random people and ask to see their dog licenses,” Strek said, “If you look like an average citizen not on the streets, you’re not going to be asked to show your dog’s registration.”
Strek says as mayor he would talk to the police administration and find ways to change these policies. For helping the homeless off the streets, he references programs used in Salt Lake City, Utah and Austin, Texas that provide the homeless with jobs and therapy.
“We have a lot of very generous people here who have a lot of money,” said Strek. “I’ve talked to some of them, and they’ve said they would be interested in something like that here in Eugene.”
Strek hopes to have the support of many local businesses and unions come election time. “I think I can bring a lot of my experience working and connecting with people,” Strek said. “Just like everything there is a bit of a learning curve to this, but I’m figuring this out.”