She has friends, for starters. Councilor Rex Burkholder, who is being term-limited out of office, suggested last year that Ying run to succeed him as the regional government’s representative for District 5, which covers most of Northwest, North and Northeast Portland.
The turnout at Ying’s campaign kickoff party in November included Metro Council President Tom Hughes, former Portland Mayor Tom Potter, former Gov. Vic Atiyeh and Multnomah County Commissioner Judy Shiprack.
She has money, too. As of Dec. 30, Ying, who turns 55 this month, had raised nearly $20,000—about twice as much as her closest competitor, Sam Chase, a former chief of staff to City Commissioner Nick Fish. (Terry Parker and Michael Durrow have also filed for the District 5 seat.)
All that makes Ying the front-runner in the four-way Metro Council race.
There’s one problem: Ying keeps a home outside the district she wants to represent.
Ying’s campaign website says she and her husband, Stephen, live in a condo in Northwest Portland, inside the Metro District 5 boundaries. In February 2010, the Yings purchased a 490-square-foot condo in a building on Northwest 12th Avenue in Portland, a few doors down from their daughter, who purchased a unit there a few years earlier.
But the Yings are longtime residents of Happy Valley in Clackamas County, and on some public documents, they still list their Happy Valley address.
That residence, a four-bedroom, 2,900-square-foot house they bought in 1994, falls within the boundaries of Metro District 1, which is represented by former Gresham City Councilor Shirley Craddick. Craddick’s district seat isn’t up for grabs this year.
Records show Ying established the condo as a residence before the deadline to be eligible as a candidate. County election rules require Metro candidates to have lived in their district for 12 months prior to filing.
In April 2010, Ying had her voter registration changed from Clackamas County to Multnomah County. And she had changed her Oregon drivers license to the Portland address by August 2011, when she was cited by the Portland Police Bureau for failure to obey a traffic control device.
But other public records put Ying’s eligibility in doubt. They show that she and her husband have kept important ties to their home outside the district since purchasing the Northwest Portland condo.
As of mid-December, the Yings had Multnomah County send the property-tax bill for the condo to their home in Happy Valley. Their Clackamas County property taxes were also sent to the Happy Valley address.
And on Christmas Day, Stephen Ying gave his wife a $500 campaign contribution. When the campaign filed the donation with the Oregon Secretary of State on Dec. 27, it listed his home address as Happy Valley.
“Our checks still have that address,” Helen Ying tells WW, by way of explanation. “It hasn’t been the first thing on our minds to convert everything, since we still own the home [in Happy Valley].”
That home has been for sale since 2008, Ying says. Although Ying says she and her husband celebrated Christmas in Happy Valley this year, she insists they actually live in Northwest Portland.
The Yings are longtime officers of the Portland Lodge of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, a nonprofit organization. As of December, it, too, was registered with the Internal Revenue Service at the Yings’ Happy Valley address.
The alliance continues to list the Yings’ Happy Valley home in newsletters and correspondence, as does a separate organization chaired by Helen Ying, the Asian American Youth Leadership Conference.
Ying says the Happy Valley house has nonresidential uses, including as a guest house. “It’s like a beach house, sort of, except much closer to town,” she says.
Ying’s best-funded opponent, Sam Chase, says he’ll leave questions of eligibility to election officials. “I certainly hope she is a resident of this district and that there’s nothing improper there—but I don’t have any reason to believe there is,” Chase says. “It’s really hard for me to comment on that one…. It’s certainly news to me.”