This town used to be known for "Portland polite."

But for the second time in less than four months, a local politician has broken out an insult.

In December, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury called fellow County Commissioner Loretta Smith a "bitch"—an outburst after the end of a board meeting that blew up into a weeks-long scandal that included charges of racism against Kafoury.

Today, it was City Council candidate Jo Ann Hardesty, with a less vulgar pejorative: She called two opponents "idiots." But she said it from the soapbox of a press conference.

Hardesty spoke in support of the tenants at Holgate Manor, the apartment complex in southeast Portland profiled last week by WW. In an aside, she referred to an ongoing fight over the fate of Wapato Jail, a facility built by the county that has never been used.

"We have idiots talking about turning jails into shelters, but yet we cannot maintain people with dignity in the homes they already have," said Hardesty.

Smith, who is vying for the same council seat, again was presumably on the receiving end of the insult. Smith held a press conference today and penned an op-ed for The Oregonian, published Sunday, in support of using Wapato as a shelter.

Wapato was never used as a jail but opponents of using it as a shelter say it sure looks like one. (Photo by Julia Comnes)
Wapato was never used as a jail but opponents of using it as a shelter say it sure looks like one. (Photo by Julia Comnes)

So too is architect Stuart Emmons, who also favors using Wapato as a temporary homeless shelter.

"First of all, I'm not an idiot," says Emmons, who has made homelessness a key issue in his campaign. He invited any critics of opening Wapato to come up with an alternative proposal.

"If somebody can come up with 525 beds that are economical and that we can put open in three months then by all means," he says. "It's a really good facility even if we use it in the short term."

Smith dismissed Hardesty's insult.

"Being called names for seeking fairness and honor for our most vulnerable citizens doesn't bother me," Smith says in a statement. "The over 4,000 people living on our streets a deserve more than name calling. It is past time that every solution to this crisis be given serious consideration."

The number of people living on the streets may not be that large. According to Multnomah County's 2017 count, the latest number to be released, 1,668 people were "unsheltered." The rest of the 4,000 people Smith references are sleeping in shelters or transitional housing.

Update, 8:30 pm: Hardesty says her comments weren't specifically directed at her political opponents. She was referring to "anyone who believes that Wapato is a good alternative to safe affordable housing at all income levels," she says.