Jefferson Smith, the newly named executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy, has resigned, according to two people with direct knowledge of his decision.
Smith was unavailable for comment. OCPP board chair Will Neuhauser attributed the decision to the ill-health of Smith's parents and an in-law, however there were also clearly other factors at work.
The stunning news comes just a day after the board of the left-leaning think tank received a letter signed by 20 people—15 women and five men—that was highly critical of Smith's hiring, which OCPP announced last month.
WW obtained a copy of that letter.
"Your decision to hire Jefferson Smith as your new Executive Director sends a damaging and destructive message to women in Oregon," the letter says. "Mr. Smith's conduct toward women is well documented in the press, and well known in the progressive community. His pattern of behavior includes a physical assault on a woman, an incident that came to light during Mr. Smith's run for Mayor of Portland in 2012. In response to the publicity of that story Mr. Smith showed up unannounced at his victim's home which caused her to feel at risk."
Smith, a founder of the Oregon Bus Project, was a two-term state representative from East Portland when he ran for Portland mayor in 2012. During his general election race against eventual winner Charlie Hales, WW reported that while in college at the University of Oregon in 1993, he'd struck a woman, requiring her to get stitches. After losing that race, Smith went to work XRAY.FM, a local radio station where he is executive director also hosts a morning show.
Although the letter was signed by 20 people in their individual capacities, the people who wrote it work for many of the major progressive groups in Oregon politics.
"As leaders and contributors in progressive politics in Oregon, we felt we could not remain silent and allow you to perpetuate the narrative that women in progressive politics and the issues they face in the workplace are secondary," the letter says.
Among the women who signed the letter are Beth Bernard, executive director of the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association; Jillian Schoene, executive director of Emerge Oregon, which trains female political candidates; Jenny Smith, statewide political organizer for the Oregon Education Association, Amy Hojnowski of the Sierra Club, and Roey Thorpe, the former executive director of Basic Rights Oregon.
Among the men who signed are Brian Rudiger, executive director of Service Employees International Union Local 503 and Graham Trainor, chief of staff for the Oregon AFL-CIO.
Separately, sources tell WW that a number of the funders who provide a substantial chunk of OCPP's $700,000 annual budget also sent a letter to the board yesterday expressing their displeasure with Smith's hiring.
In August, WW reported that former Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Portland trial lawyer Thane Tienson resigned the OCPP board over concerns about the selection process for a new executive director. At the time, Smith former Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick were finalists to replace OCPP founder Chuck Sheketoff. A third board member, Mark Gardiner, a longtime high-level political insider also later resigned, yet the board ignored those warning signals and named Smith to be Sheketoff's replacement on Oct. 30.
As the #MeToo movement, kicked off by the allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein snowballed, the OCPP's board has come to look increasingly tone deaf, as the letter to the board emphasized.
"That a person who displays such behavior can continue to be elevated into positions of power says to every young woman and man getting involved that this behavior is not only acceptable, but effective," the letter says. "Hiring a man with such a clear and publicly known history to lead a progressive organization signals to the women of our movement that they do not matter."
Smith did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
OCPP board chair Will Neuhauser provided this statement:
"After alerting the board with increasing urgency of his concern through last week, Jefferson stepped aside as three of his and his wife's parents are all in very difficult end of life situations which is time- and emotion-consuming," Neuhauser said. "Ultimately he felt he wouldn't be able to give the organization the effort it requires for an undetermined amount of time. I'm very sorry to lose his talent and drive for OCPP and we wish him and his family the best through this difficult time."