But behind closed doors, these are the very questions one union wanted Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith to answer.
The union—the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 189—asked the candidates to fill out detailed questionnaires before granting its endorsement. The union then kept candidates’ answers confidential.
When WW asked AFSCME for copies of those questionnaires, the union said no.
“It’s really for our members,” Joe Baessler, political director at Oregon AFSCME, tells WW. He says the promise of confidentiality encourages candid answers from candidates: “I want the best conversation to happen.”
But you can now read the AFSCME questionnaire and dozens more the candidates have filled out below.
WW asked the leading candidates for mayor and City Council to release the completed questionnaires they have sent to special-interest groups.
The mayoral campaigns for Brady, Hales and Smith released stacks of these documents to the newspaper. Two candidates for City Council—Steve Novick and incumbent Amanda Fritz—have also released some questionnaires. Rep. Mary Nolan, Fritz’s challenger, has declined to release any.
More than ever, the leading city candidates are running an obstacle course of endorsement questionnaires and interviews in an effort to win the backing of labor, business, environmental and transportation groups. (Not all groups require questionnaires, but most do).
Endorsements give candidates credentials, inspire people to volunteer and—most important—can unleash big checks for their campaign bank accounts.
Interest groups are pressing candidates to answer increasingly specific questions.
“In a campaign, individuals and organizations try to pin you down,” says City Commissioner Nick Fish, who isn’t up for re-election this year. “It’s not enough to know just what your values are. They want to know as specifically as possible what you’ll support once you’re elected.”
Fish says with each questionnaire candidates fill out, there’s an increasing chance they’ll make promises they can’t keep if elected.
“It’s not realistic,” he says, “and it invites a certain kind of pandering that is not healthy.”
Organizations that asked mayoral candidates to fill out questionnaires this year include the Portland Association of Teachers, Portland Police Association, Just Out, NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, Street Roots and Bike, Walk, Vote.
Political consultant Mark Wiener, who is not working for any of the mayoral campaigns, says the competition for endorsements this year has been especially intense.
“None of these candidates had a lock on support from any particular group, beyond their friends and relatives,” Wiener says.
That’s because big differences between the three major mayoral candidates are often difficult to see at first glance.
Hales says the demands of special interest groups to have candidates fill out questionnaires and sit for interviews has increased since he first ran for City Hall in 1992.
But he says landing a wide range of endorsements helps. “That’s very important to show the public you’re not a single-issue candidate,” he says, “and that you are part of the mainstream progressive Portland movement.”
AFSCME, which endorsed Smith, isn’t the only group to keep its questionnaires secret. The Oregon League of Conservation Voters, which hasn’t endorsed for mayor yet, doesn’t release the questionnaires until after the election.
“We want to make sure we’re having open, honest conversations,” says Andy Maggi, political director for OLCV.
But one organization that takes the opposite view is Portland Business Alliance, which posts answers from candidates online.
PBA spokeswoman Megan Doern says making the questionnaires public helps draw attention to the organization’s issues and concerns. “It’s an opportunity for us to continue pushing out our message about the value of jobs,” she says, “and showing where candidates come down on issues that impact that.”
Brady, who has never run for public office before, was endorsed by the PBA. She says the questionnaires have helped her clarify positions with a wide range of groups. “It’s a great chance for you to be clear inside yourself that you’re not going to be wishy-washy,” she says. “You’re going to stand up for what you believe.”
Smith campaign manager Stacey Dycus says the endorsement process is cumbersome and time consuming, but the payoffs are worth it.
“Here’s what every campaign has to consider: Will they endorse? Is there PAC money? Will they open up their list of members for volunteers?” Dycus says. “It’s part fundraising, part field work, part marketing.”
Here are the links to organizations that have sought written answers to questionnaires from City hall candidates in PDF format.
Portland Business Alliance. A group of about 1,200 member companies representing about 325,000 employees. They've endorsed Brady.
The PBA makes its questionnaires public.
AFSCME Local 189 — The city of Portland chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees represents about 950 workers. The state and local union endorsed Smith.
SEIU — Service Employees International Union Locals 49 and 503 represent workers in the Portland region.
Northwest Oregon Labor Council — The local chapter of AFL-CIO represents 48,000 members in Multnomah, Clackamas, Columbia and Washington Counties. According to NW Labor Press, the council endorsed Steve Novick, but won't endorse for Position 1 or the mayor's seat in the primary.
Portland Association of Teachers — PAT represents about 4,000 members in the Portland area. Its political committee, Teachers Voice in Politics, endorsed Smith for mayor.
Portland Police Association — The Portland police union represents 900 police officers, sergeants, detectives and criminalists who work for the Portland Police Bureau. The union has endorsed Steve Novick and Rep. Mary Nolan for City Council.
Communication Workers of America Local 7901 — The CWA local represents about 1,000 cab drivers and CenturyLink, Dex yellow pages and ATT mobile retail store employees. The union has endorsed Amanda Fritz for City Council Position 1.
OLCV — The 5,400-member Oregon League of Conservation Voters works to get environmentally-friendly candidates elected in Oregon and keeps scorecards of current legislators' work on environmental issues. The group has endorsed Steve Novick for City Council Position 4, but hasn't yet announced picks for mayor or in the Fritz-Nolan race.
Bike, Walk, Vote — The political action committee works for candidates and ballot measures that support bicyclists, pedestrians and transit riders in Oregon. The group endorsed Smith for mayor.
Just Out — The local LGBT newsmagazine went out of business in December.
Street Roots — The newspaper, which covers Portland's homeless population, held a forum on housing, and all candidates who planned to attend were asked to complete this questionnaire.
NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon — The non-profit lobbies for pro-choice legislation and its PAC contributes to candidates.
Oregon Working Families Party — The party focuses on healthcare, education, affordable housing and local job creation.