Portland City Council, Position 3
Jo Ann Hardesty
No matter who gets sworn in next January, the dynamics of City Hall will change.
First, a brief ode to City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who is retiring after 20 years of often unheralded service. For most of his tenure, he kept his head down, engaging in little of the drama that fuels City Hall. At times, he demonstrated fiscal restraint, reining in police and fire pensions and providing a steady hand on the bureaus he managed. On other occasions, he responded to the predicament of the moment with a cool head. Under his leadership of the Portland Housing Bureau, the city passed a $258 million bond, a tax on Airbnb and other short-term rentals, an inclusionary housing ordinance, and development fees for affordable housing.
Without much fanfare, Saltzman did as much as any other city official to try to address the shortage of housing for low-income Portlanders.
But there's a lot left to fix. Among other things, the housing crisis continues unabated. And our police force still needs to find a way to keep us all safe without discriminating against black citizens or harming mentally ill people in crisis.
This City Hall race features six contenders: former state Rep. Jo Ann Hardesty (D-Portland), two-term Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, architect Stuart Emmons, mayoral aide and David Douglas School Board member Andrea Valderrama, and Felicia Williams, the business manager at her partner's biotech firm, as well as perennial candidate Lew Humble.
We've concluded that Hardesty, a Navy veteran, county aide and nonprofit leader, is the best person for the job.
Hardesty, 60, has been an activist for police and corrections reform for decades, and argued against the mandatory sentences brought about by Measure 11 in the 1990s. She was chief petitioner on a failed ballot measure designed to overturn mandatory minimums in 2000.
As a state lawmaker from 1995 to 2001, she was a Democrat when they were the minority party in Salem. That meant she was always playing defense—mostly fighting to mitigate GOP cuts to education. In the late '90s, she brought the House to silence in a floor speech pointing out that the death of white kids had focused politicians on gun violence while efforts to help black kids had drawn no attention.
Hardesty was a champion for unpopular ideas that look smart in retrospect. She supported a city charter change in 2002 that would have replaced Portland's commission form of government with elections by district. She was an early backer of Dignity Village, the city's first self-governed, government-sanctioned homeless community.
After a failed run for Multnomah County chair in 2001, she became executive director of the nonprofit Oregon Action, focused on economic justice, and a consultant to nonprofits in the years since. She's revived the local chapter of the NAACP in the past three years.
She's now pushing for criminal justice reforms—whether it's on TriMet or in the Portland Police Bureau. She's also a champion of campaign finance reform. She's run a competitive race by engaging small donors across the city. She's also been a key figure in the proposed tax on big businesses that environmentalists are pushing for the November ballot.
Hardesty is not without flaws. She doesn't always work well with others, can be arrogant to a fault and is sometimes guilty of acting first and thinking later. (In 2016, she got in an argument with a fellow critic of the Portland Police Bureau and threatened her: "The only way I'll be in jail is if I whip your ass. That might happen.")
While Hardesty can lose her temper, she is easily the most knowledgeable candidate running, one who demonstrated granular awareness of police reform, economic justice and housing policy. We hope she will maintain her independence but find ways to work with the rest of the council.
In America's whitest big city, where leaders pay lip service to equity and then drift back to bikes and bioswales, Hardesty works from a position of sustained outrage—and appropriately so.
For her to speak openly about anger in this polite, passive-aggressive city is to risk being pigeonholed as the "angry black woman" of racist myths. But Hardesty is focused on outcomes, not style points. She is calm when she explains the reasons for her anger: the disproportionate police scrutiny black Portlanders face, the displacement of black and low-income residents to East Portland, and the shortage of sidewalks and safe streets east of 82nd Avenue, to name just a few.
Hardesty is, in fact, a legitimately angry black woman—and exactly what Portland needs in City Hall. She's got the policy chops as a former legislator and county policy aide and the experience as a longtime advocate to channel her anger into policies that will make a positive difference for everyday Portlanders.
Of her opponents, the best known candidate in this race is clearly Smith, who worked for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) for 23 years before winning a county commissioner's seat. Smith is the establishment candidate—she has received the endorsements of business groups as well as trade unions. Her signature achievement as a county commissioner has been to champion a teen summer jobs program. She's an adept politician—situating herself as a proponent of turning Wapato Jail into a homeless shelter and arguing against homeless shelters that neighborhood groups oppose. Those stands have raised her profile, but she's been on the losing side of both battles.
The problem with Smith is that she has a troubling record. At the county, Smith used her office budget aggressively, spending between 2012 and 2015 nearly as much on event sponsorships—currying friends—and travel as the other four commissioners combined. She also incurred a lien for failing to pay 2012 state income taxes. Most disturbingly, she undercut her claim to be a voice for racial equity when a 2017 county investigation found she probably mistreated women of color on her own staff. The constant turnover in her office—she's had seven chiefs of staff in seven years—and her alleged bullying of county employees raises serious questions about her ability to manage city bureaus.
Smith makes a strong first impression. But when she veers from prepared talking points, whether in the endorsement interview or in the county board room, she becomes combative without being consistent.
Valderrama, who was endorsed by the city's largest public employee union, is an aide to Wheeler on housing and equity issues, and worked for Commissioner Steve Novick before that. Valderrama boasts experience in City Hall, but it doesn't translate into a bold vision. (In the endorsement interview, her knowledge of the issues was surprisingly incomplete for someone who has been at City Hall for more than five years. She appeared not to know that the rule requiring the Police Bureau to wait 48 hours before interviewing officers involved in a shooting had been overturned as part of the latest police contract—a significant issue for the council.)
Emmons, in his second campaign for City Council, is running to end homelessness. He is a decent and earnest candidate, but voters should be wary of the simple solutions he offers. Emmons is right that the city should work to bring down the cost of the affordable housing it's developing, but he's misguided to believe simple bureaucratic failings at the city are all that stand in the way of everyone being housed.
Williams, an Air Force veteran and downtown neighborhood association president, is a self-identified civil rights historian. Much about her troubles us, not the least of which is her belief that her lack of institutional endorsements is because she's white. We think it's because she'd be impossible to work with.
Hardesty knows the challenges Portland faces better than anyone running for this office and all but a few in this city. She should be given the chance to lead.
Most embarrassing thing Facebook knows about Hardesty: A video shows her singing Aretha Franklin's "Respect" at an Oregon Action fundraiser.
Portland City Council, Position 2
With Dan Saltzman's retirement, Nick Fish is poised to become the elder statesman of the Portland City Council.
Fish, 59, has become a mentor to both Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. He'll have another new commissioner to mentor next year.
After a diagnosis of cancer last year, Fish has balanced elected office, a re-election campaign and a regime of chemotherapy treatments. He's a quick-witted charmer and peacemaker in a building where those qualities are sorely needed.
In his own duties as a commissioner, Fish has guided a once-troubled Water Bureau to stability. He has provided similarly steady leadership to the Bureau of Environmental Services, which is no longer plagued by cost overruns and overflowing sewers. (It may be time for the mayor to give him a new challenge.)
He's taken to water like, well, a fish. But his passions are finding solutions to homelessness and arts funding. He's helped guide the city to a commitment to create 2,000 units of supportive housing—apartments that come with mental health and drug treatment services built in, to keep people from returning to the streets.
He will need to see that plan through. And he will play a key role in negotiating the city's front-line response to poverty—especially as the Police Bureau agitates for more cops. (Fish's unwillingness to sacrifice city services to the police budget is heartening.)
He faces water-rights activist Julia DeGraw, disability rights advocate Philip Wolfe and a New Seasons worker, Nicholas Sutton.
DeGraw, who fought off a Nestlé water-bottling plant in the Columbia Gorge as an organizer for Food and Water Watch, shows promise but did not offer a compelling reason to kick Fish out.
Most embarrassing thing Facebook knows about Fish: "Vladimir Putin friended me."
Portland Children's Levy
In its three previous appearances on the ballot, the Portland Children's Levy has always had the same problems. Each time, WW has urged voters to approve it anyway.
Did you think this year would be different?
The levy still blurs the line between city and county responsibilities. Multnomah County should be funding social services. It's just not the city's job.
But departing City Commissioner Dan Saltzman made the levy his legacy project. And it always felt shortsighted and churlish to deny the crucial work the levy does.
The levy's overseers make it easier to swallow because they manage it so carefully—with a minuscule overhead of 5 percent or less. And the levy's evolving priorities to funnel more money to programs for children living east of 82nd Avenue and children of color show that the leaders controlling the $15 million annual fund have been thoughtful and deliberate.
The fund gives money to programs that support Portland's most vulnerable children: kindergarten preparation programs, services that identify at-risk children and help them escape abuse, and programs designed to help foster kids succeed.
For all this, Portlanders pay just 40 cents for every $1,000 in assessed property value. In a state that has consistently failed to protect kids in need, we think the levy's benefits are more than worth the cost. Vote yes.