Old-time wisdom says education takes you places and that travel broadens the mind, but those bromides don't quite account for Amanda Fritz's path to Portland politics.
Born in Yorkshire, England, Fritz cracked prestigious Cambridge University at a time when only a quarter of its students were women. After meeting her husband-to-be during a summer-abroad program in New Jersey, she emigrated to the States, became a nurse, put her man through med school in New York, chose Portland through an elaborate scoring matrix, packed her worldly belongings in a Chevrolet Chevette and set out for the Rose City.
Two decades later, the 47-year-old Fritz is running against incumbent Dan Saltzman for one of five seats on Portland's currently all-male City Council. Banking on a track record as a volunteer, former member of the city's Planning Commission, environmentalist and nurses union activist, Fritz is the first candidate to qualify for Portland's controversial, taxpayer-funded "voter-owned elections" campaign finance system.
WW asked the Southwest Portland nurse and mom about public financing, foreign inflections and where her politics place her.
WW: So do people want to know what's up with the accent?
Amanda Fritz: The accent changes, depending on how nervous or angry I am. My kids know that when the British accent pops out, it's time to really hop to it.
An interesting tip for potential future colleagues.
Yes, indeed. I don't know if anyone on the Planning Commission ever picked up on that, but I would hear myself suddenly sounding very British.
How did a Yorkshire girl end up in Portland, anyway?
I went to Cambridge, and there was a program which basically paid airfare to the U.S. for penniless college students. You worked all summer at a children's camp, and at the end they gave you $10 and three weeks' vacation. So I get assigned to a Salvation Army camp in New Jersey where kids from Newark come, basically, to experience the out-of-doors for the first time. My husband-to-be was a cook there at the time. And we fell in love. And instead of going to Europe the next summer, I went to New Jersey. The day after I graduated, I emigrated to the United States.
I went to nursing school in Pittsburgh, and then he went to med school in Rochester, while I worked to pay for it. We got him out of medical school with just $13,000 in debt, which is still one of my great accomplishments. He likes the mountains, I like the ocean, so we had this elaborate matrix to score cities. And Portland came out on top. Interestingly, Seattle came at the bottom. He got into the residency program at OHSU, and we packed two cats and all of our belongings in a Chevrolet Chevette and drove across the country. That was 1986. I was seven months pregnant. So I understand why people come to Portland. It's the most wonderful place in the country.
It says here that, besides tons of community work, you lead a prayer group. As far as I know, that would make you unique on City Council.
Possibly. It's called Moms in Touch. It's not affiliated with or endorsing my campaign. It's a group that gets together to pray for kids while they're in school. That doesn't mean that it's on campus, or anything like that. It's a very interesting separation of church and state, which I absolutely believe in.
What's your religious background?
I grew up in the Church of England, and now I belong to the Salvation Army. You know, we don't have separation of church and state in England—the Church of England is the state church. It's something that's very valuable to me that people's beliefs be separate from what they do on City Council or in government.
Is the fact that council is all men going to be a major theme for you?
It's kind of obvious. I think we need people with different experiences on the council. I also have different experiences from having been a community activist and volunteer rather than a career politician or working in the city bureaus my whole career. So I think that's just as important as my perspective as a woman.
But have you run into people who say, sure, you're a woman—but you're a white woman from rich Southwest Portland?
It doubtless will come up. People have an incorrect assessment of what Southwest is like. My neighborhood school is a Title I school [a school that gets federal money for low-income kids]. Fourteen percent of the people in my neighborhood were born in another country. So people who are trying to place me as an affluent white woman from Southwest, they really don't know who I am or what I've done.
Why pick on Saltzman?
Well, there are only two seats up for election. Erik Sten [the other incumbent facing re-election] was one of the founders of voter-owned elections. And I think the things Dan does well, in terms of his education and work on sustainability, are a similar match to my experience. I think I can do the things he does well as well, and do things he doesn't do as well, better.
Neighborhood involvement. When Dan ran the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, he tried to get the neighborhood coalitions to reapply for their funding, which completely misunderstood what the entire neighborhood system is about, and how it's supposed to function.
Speaking of neighborhood activism, a bunch of your supporters were involved in an effort last year to oust Randy Leonard from the council after he got crosswise with neighborhoods. Is it fair to say your campaign is sort of a continuation of that effort?
OK, next question: What do you think of Randy?
I think the council is a group of five people, and it's helpful to have people with all kinds of experiences and perspectives. I think I can work with everyone if I get elected. I've opposed some things Randy wanted to do and pointed out why he can't do them as far as neighborhoods go. I think that's the more helpful approach. People have good-hearted reasons for what they do.
Since Saltzman's list of donors is chockablock with big developers, are you the anti-developer candidate?
Well, one or two developers gave me $5, but none of the ones who are on his list. Interestingly, in a traditional race, the developers would often give to both. I don't think I was perceived as anti-developer when I was on the Planning Commission. We don't want to stagnate, but we don't want to give away the farm, either. Portland is going to change, but it doesn't have to change as radically as, for example, the South Waterfront development is going to change it.
Would you have said "no" to South Waterfront?
Well, I did. The plan that went from the Planning Commission to the council was very different from what got approved. The case for the aerial tram to OHSU wasn't proven. The case for biotechnology isn't proven. So for the council to say, "Thanks, but we've already made up our minds"—they could have told us that a year before and I could have been home watching Survivor like everyone else. Well, I wouldn't have been watching Survivor—I would have been pulling ivy or something.
Besides opposing the tram, you were involved in a lengthy nurses strike a few years ago at OHSU. If you get elected, how can we expect your relationship with OHSU to go?
I didn't receive $5 from [OHSU President] Peter Kohler, either. But I did get checks from sixty-some nurses. And I'm endorsed by the union at OHSU, and I'm excited by that. I'm for cordial, open, transparent relationships. I'll work with anyone to figure out how to get the best out of a situation. The fact is, the nurses are the only people who've taken on OHSU over the last 10 years and won. The strike was a defining moment in my life—the act of a group that was mostly women stepping out and saying, for the long-term public good, we're going to do this incredibly hard thing.
With your background as a neighborhood activist, environmentalist and union person, aren't you sort of the business community's worst nightmare?
If you look up my supporters, you'll see a number of small-business owners. And most of our businesses in Portland are small businesses.
I'm talking about the self-defined "business community"—the Portland Business Alliance and company.
A lot of business people I talk to don't feel that the PBA speaks for them. The PBA clearly wants something to change, but they do it by saying, "Woe is me, everything is awful." And that's not a very good advertising strategy.
So far, you're best known as the first candidate to qualify for public funds under the Voter-Owned Elections law. Business bigwigs are trying to get the law repealed. Ginny Burdick, who's running against Sten, is making a big deal of her opposition to the law. Why are she and others wrong?
First, it's wonderful to qualify, but it's really, really difficult. I don't have 1,000 friends. And as Ralph Nader found out to his cost in the last presidential election, you can't get 1,000 people in a room. I'm someone who hasn't run for office before, and the act of asking, even for $5, was completely...repugnant. I want people on the council are who are voting because they feel it's the right thing to do, not because they have, even in the back of their minds, "X person gave me $500."
People were saying the Nazi Party would qualify, or that the unions would endorse somebody and get them the money, or whatever. It's not that easy. There's a lot of misinformation out there, and not enough about the value of how it allows people to participate. People gave me $5 who had never participated in the political process before. And the fact that the money to run a serious campaign will be there is great, but the fact that you're doing this interview because of the voter-owned elections system is even better. It gave me an avenue to show I'm a serious candidate.
After persuading more than 1,000 supporters to fork over $5 checks, Fritz will have a war chest of $150,000 for her primary tilt with Saltzman.
Fritz's website is www.amandafritzforcitycouncil.com.