How your county commission candidates would end racial disparities.

Seven people are running to represent some of Portland's most diverse neighborhoods. And a new report shows the winner of that seat on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners will inherit a heap of trouble.

The report released last week by Portland State University and the Coalition of Communities of Color, a nonprofit in Northeast Portland, unearths statistics showing minorities in the county suffer worse poverty, more educational disparities and higher unemployment than minorities nationwide. Compared to Seattle's King County, for example, the report finds local minorities experience worse child poverty, rent burden, income disparity, job opportunities and college graduation rates.

County government handles many programs the report says could reverse those outcomes, including early childhood intervention, public health and delivery of social services. So we asked the candidates from District 2 in North and Northeast Portland—where the 2000 Census shows some ZIP codes have up to 51 percent minority populations—for specifics on how they'd work to close the gap.

The Rev. Chuck Currie gave the most provocative answers. He proposes evaluating county prosecutors for racial bias by examining their decisions on cases. And he was the only candidate to discuss a way to raise revenue for any of the proposals he made.

Currie attacked opponents Tom Markgraf and Gary Hansen for opposing a local cigarette tax he favors to boost revenue. Currie says he'd use the money from that tax in part for programs to help minorities, like expanding the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods after-school program and adding more school-based health clinics.

And he blasts Markgraf and candidate Loretta Smith for supporting current plans for the Columbia River Crossing—the proposed I-5 bridge project Currie calls "the definition of environmental racism."

Tom Markgraf defends his support for the Columbia River Crossing, saying it would cut pollution from idling cars. He also says he'd expand SUN schools and county aid to the nonprofit Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization. Markgraf says county nurses told him dental hygiene is the biggest gap in health services for the poor, and he would work to improve treatment.

Karol Collymore says she'd promote racial-impact studies to determine how county programs and budget decisions affect minorities. The county has no say in Portland Public Schools, but Collymore says she'll use her bully pulpit as an elected official to push PPS to address racial disparities.

Paul Van Orden also focuses on schools, saying he'd urge the school district to re-examine proposed changes to its four-year technical education program at Benson High School and focus resources on schools that serve minorities. He wants the county to hire a liaison connecting kids with professional mentors and jobs.

Gary Hansen says he'd examine the county's aid programs to determine whether they're effective and attract minority applicants. He also wants to remove barriers to applicants who need those programs but might be turned down under the current system.

Maria Rubio offered no specific plans, saying she would approach the problem "from a systems level." She said she would work with county department heads to address the issues raised in the report, and she'd work to employ more minorities at the county to create closer ties to the community.

Loretta Smith could not be reached for comment. An eighth candidate, Roberta Phillip, is on the ballot but is no longer running an active campaign.

Politics In Small Bites
  • Treasurer Ted Wheeler is raking in big checks from public employee unions ($50,000 from OEA and $20,000 from SEIU). But his supporters went on Facebook to pressure supporters of his opponent in the May 18 Democratic primary, state Sen. Rick Metsger.  “Care about nonprofits staying out of elections in Oregon? Call yourcredit union. Advantis, Rivermark, OnPoint and probably others are honoring Rick Metsger on their websites, right in the middle of the primary against Ted Wheeler. “My credit union said they’d probably take it down if they got a number of complaints,” wrote Wheeler supporter Mara Gross. Says Metsger, “The credit unions are communicating with their members just like other groups including unions do. What’s wrong with that?”
  • Proof there’s no crying in baseball or politics: Commissioner Nick Fish just pulled in a $250 contribution for his re-election bid from Merritt Paulson’s Shortstop LLC, even though Fish blocked Paulson’s Triple-A baseball team from moving to Lents last year. Paulson, whose Beavers are still looking for a place to play next year, also donated $250 to Fish’s 2008 campaign.
  • Joelle Davis and Gerritt Rosenthal, candidates in the Democratic primary in House District 37, joined forces against a third opponent, Will Rasmussen. The two say Rasmussen implied in calls and mailers to West Linn, Tigard and Tualatin residents that Rasmussen is the only pro-choice candidate. Davis and Rosenthal are also pro-choice. A spokesman for Rasmussen called the mailers factual; Rasmussen is the only candidate with NARAL’s endorsement.
  • Log on to Tuesday night, May 18, to read the adventures of our intrepid staff as it ventures out to Election Night parties, providing reporting and analysis for races from governor to City Council, Multnomah County to Metro, and all points between.

Our endorsements for the May 18 primary.

PHOTOS: Leslie Montgomery