When TriMet's new light-rail line officially rolls through Milwaukie for the first time on Saturday, Sept. 12, Karin Power will be among those cheering.
The 32-year-old Milwaukie city councilor is excited about the new amenities likely to follow the MAX Orange Line. But as Milwaukie continues to absorb priced-out Portlanders, she's also proud that the city retains its friendly, small-town feel.
Power, who moved to Portland from Boston to attend Lewis & Clark Law School in 2009, is among a handful of elected city leaders under 40 in the Portland area. WW recently spoke with Power, a staff attorney for the Portland environmental nonprofit the Freshwater Trust, about TriMet's expansion, what led her and her wife, Megan, to Milwaukie, and how she catapulted to the City Council at the ripe age of 31.
WW: You're young and hip. How did you end up in Milwaukie?
Karin Power: I lived in inner Southeast because, coming from Boston anyway, we thought the rent in inner Southeast was a steal. Then condos and things started to go up nearby, and then a bunch of houses were demolished for redevelopment. My downstairs neighbors moved out and bought a house, and our leasing company leased their unit for almost $300 more a month than what we were paying upstairs. So we figured we'd hop out of town and find something more affordable before our rent would inevitably go up as well.
In 2012, Milwaukie was a hotbed of anti-Portland sentiment as petitioners fought to block TriMet's light-rail extension. Did that scare you off?
We were driving up to go see our house for the first time when we saw the "Stop Portland Creep" signs in people's yards. We had a little bit of trepidation, but once we actually got to meet our landlord and neighbors, we understood that the folks with "Stop Portland Creep" were more trying to stop what they thought Portland was about.
How were you treated as a gay woman newly arrived in Milwaukie?
We didn't have any problems. I mean that honestly. There are other neighborhood leaders in Milwaukie who are also gay who have not run in the past because they thought their private lives would be made an issue. It was 100 percent not the case with us. The thing that did pop up was that I was a renter.
Do you detect any anti-light-rail sentiment left in Milwaukie?
There are very smart, progressive folks who thought maybe bus rapid transit would be a better option. We still have a number of people who live in town who are against light rail, and I don't think that will change just because it opened. But at this point, even people who had their reservations are seeing that we are getting some new businesses downtown, and I think they're at least willing to be open-minded about it right now.
Tell us about a project that illustrates Milwaukie's evolution?
We are looking at focusing community resources on developing an all-inclusive bike-, pedestrian- and street-safety program. I think it's reflective of the younger families moving to town that want to be able to get across town without hopping in their car. Geographically, we're not that big.
You moved to Milwaukie in October 2012. You won election to the City Council in November 2014. How did you do that so quickly?
I went to my first neighborhood association meeting pretty soon after we moved in. Not too long after, I end up as secretary of the neighborhood association, and then within, like, a year and a half, I was chair. [Then-mayor Jeremy Ferguson] thought I was doing a pretty superb job building community between our neighborhoods and building our relationship with the county, and thought I might be able to parlay those skills on the council as well.
There's no one under 50 on the Portland City Council. At 32, you're one of a handful of city councilors under 40 in the Portland area. What's the key to getting elected so young?
Big money in politics is common in higher office and races in big cities, but outside of that it's fairly uncommon. In smaller communities, to be competitive, you only need to raise $5,000 to $10,000. That's a really affordable goal for a lot of us.
How much did you raise?
So what advice would you give to a younger person contemplating elected office?
If people are interested in running because they want to make big policy shifts, then the big cities have the capacity to set that tone. Eugene and Portland are generally the leaders in new initiatives statewide. But if you're really looking to roll up your sleeves and get that local, neighborhood part done, the suburbs are really a better place to do direct service.
So the advice to a Portland resident who wants to run would be, "Go north, south, east or west, young man?"
You contribute to the conversation whether you win or lose. But if you really want to get stuff done in your local community, coming to the suburbs and then getting involved is really pretty easy. Most of us generally have some sort of opening on some board or commission of interest, and you can get in and make great decisions, good decisions, and really contribute in a meaningful, direct way.