Metro Council President
Lynn Peterson is overqualified for this job. She served as secretary of the Washington Department of Transportation, which is far larger than Metro, from 2013 to 2016. From 2009 to 2011, she served as chairwoman of the Clackamas County Commission, where the politics are way meaner.
Now she's aiming to take the reins at Metro, the tricounty agency that oversees transportation and land-use planning, trash collection and recycling, and operates a portfolio of facilities, including regional parks, the Oregon Zoo and the Oregon Convention Center.
A smart and experienced transportation engineer who tattooed the Oregon motto—"She flies with her own wings"—on her back in Latin, Peterson is a growth advocate who most recently served as interim director of the conservation group 1000 Friends of Oregon.
With her combination of political and agency experience, Peterson possesses the skills to tackle two of the region's two thorniest problems: housing and transportation.
At the core of Peterson's candidacy is the faith that land-use planning can shorten commutes and lower rents. She's going to have to convince voters that her highly technical approach to these challenges will work. Proposals for a housing bond, highway tolls, and a transportation bond will be tough sells.
She's opposed by Michael Langley, a salesman, who didn't show up for an endorsement interview.
Most embarrassing thing Facebook knows about Peterson: "I am probably the most boring person on Facebook that you could imagine."
Metro Councilor, District 2 (Clackamas County, parts of Southwest Portland)
Voters in this district have three solid candidates from whom to choose. All three are sharp, engaged and bring relevant expertise.
Betty Dominguez, a former banker who has worked in public housing for the state and more recently for the nonprofit public housing agency Home Forward, gets to run as the incumbent. That's because she was appointed to the District 2 seat in March, replacing Councilor Carlotta Colette, who had resigned. She got the nod for the appointment over Joe Buck, a Lake Oswego city councilor and restaurateur, who is now challenging her for this seat. Buck is a smart-growth champion who represents the progressive side of Lake Oswego's silver-spoon politics. The third candidate in the race is Christine Lewis, a longtime political consultant who now serves as the in-house lobbyist for the Bureau of Labor and Industries.
We'll give the nod to Dominguez, whose two decades of experience helping coordinate affordable housing, much of that time while raising two daughters as a single mom, gives her a unique perspective on the region's toughest public policy challenge.
Most embarrassing thing Facebook knows about Dominguez: "I've told [my daughters, both nurses] they are my retirement plan, and I intend them to change my diapers when I'm old."
Metro Councilor, District 4 (Washington County)
Juan Carlos Gonzalez
This swath of land is a study in the frustrations and opportunities of regional land-use planning. Out on the edges of Metro's vaunted urban growth boundary—the line that divides urban from rural land—are towns like Banks and North Plains where the lack of affordable housing is felt most keenly by some of the area's poorest citizens.
Luckily, this district is getting one of the most promising candidates in this election cycle. Juan Carlos Gonzalez is the son of Mexican immigrants who grew up working in landscaping and then earned an economics degree from Georgetown. He now works for Centro Cultural de Washington County, a nonprofit that builds civic engagement among Latinos.
Gonzalez draws a vivid picture of how anti-development sentiment in prosperous communities is really a form of xenophobia. At Metro, we expect him to speak truth to the suburbs.
His opponent, labor organizer and temporary Oregon Zoo employee Dana Carstensen, is also a bright guy with big ideas. But Gonzalez offers the more persuasive vision and priorities. Choose him.
Most embarrassing thing Facebook knows about Gonzalez: He drew a blank.
Multnomah County Chair
Since winning election as chairwoman in 2014, Deborah Kafoury has been a steady hand at Multnomah County, consistent but not bold, plugging away at housing and providing services for the homeless.
While a flailing Mayor Charlie Hales shouted from the rooftops whatever new idea passed between his ears, Kafoury, 50, orchestrated the creation of the Joint Office of Homeless Services and moved that work under the county's day-to-day control. When Mayor Ted Wheeler, who campaigned on offering shelter to all homeless people, wanted to cut funding to the joint office, Kafoury maneuvered to preserve shelters.
When asked to grade the office she calls her "baby," she gave it a B-minus. That's also a fair assessment of Kafoury—who has identified so closely with aiding the homeless that any evaluation of her begins and ends with the county's work on addressing the people who sleep on our streets.
In fact, the county has stumbled. In February, Human Solutions—the nonprofit charged with running the family shelter—failed to keep the building safe and up to code, allowing leaks and rats. The county shut the building down, and is still housing families in motels.
Kafoury's low point was losing her temper in December after being challenged about a routine matter by her political nemesis, County Commissioner Loretta Smith. Kafoury called Smith "a bitch" in public and was forced to apologize.
Kafoury's challengers in the race are D. Bora Harris, a diversity consultant; Wes Soderback, a self-employed systems integrator; and Chuck Crockett, a medical marijuana grower. None is running a serious campaign.
Most embarrassing thing Facebook knows about Kafoury: "The high school pictures that my friends insist on posting every now and again for a throwback Thursday, especially the cheerleading outfits."
Multnomah County Commissioner, District 2 (North and Northeast Portland)
This seat on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners came open when Commissioner Loretta Smith hit term limits. All four candidates are people of color: Two African-Americans and two immigrants are contending for the post. And they take markedly different views of how the county serves their communities.
Susheela Jayapal, 55, a former general counsel for Adidas America, is by far the most qualified candidate.
Her priority, aiding the homeless, meshes well with county work already underway. Jayapal also has solid ideas about where to expand those efforts, including local housing vouchers, working more closely with schools to identify families in need, and looking to cash-rich hospitals to keep people in their homes.
An immigrant from India who came to the United States as a teenager for college at Swarthmore, she has made Northeast Portland her home for two dozen years.
She faces Maria Garcia, owner of Revolución Coffee House and a former president of Don't Shoot Portland, construction firm owner Sharon Maxwell, and Bruce Broussard, a former newspaper owner who is a perennial candidate. (Charles McGee, who led the nonprofit Black Parent Initiative, dropped out of the race after multiple women told WW he'd sexually assaulted them.)
The seat represents historically black neighborhoods, and has often been held by an African-American. Opponents say Jayapal hasn't done enough work to represent those communities.
Voters shouldn't be distracted.
A more substantive criticism is that Jayapal is too blithe about the county's lax oversight of nonprofits. Jayapal would be wise not to defend the status quo and instead hold the county's contractors to high standards.
But her dedication and expertise make her an easy choice for this seat.
Most embarrassing thing Facebook knows about Jayapal: A photo of her from her college days wearing high-waisted terry-cloth running shorts.
Multnomah County Auditor
You know who doesn't generate a lot of talk at the water cooler? The Multnomah County auditor. Even by the unglamorous standards of the green eyeshade set, this job is nearly invisible.
That's partly the auditor's fault. For the past eight years, Steve March has too often deferred to the elected officials he's supposed to be holding accountable.
All three contenders to succeed March promise to add some teeth to the office.
Mark Ulanowicz is the insider—a 17-year veteran of this office who wants to measure why local officials spend so much money per unit on affordable housing. We like that priority, but Ulanowicz, who toiled quietly under March and two predecessors, hasn't done much to convince us he'll speak truth to power.
Jennifer McGuirk, a county senior performance auditor, is a squeaky wheel inside the auditor's shop. She rightly identifies the office's biggest failures as a lack of ambition and a shaky grasp of how the county's programs affect people's lives. We're confident she would shake things up—especially in the county jails, where the disproportionate use of force on black inmates has her attention.
The outside candidate is Scott Learn, who worked as an investigative reporter at The Oregonian and for the past five years has been an auditor for the state. He has sharpened that auditor's office—his work on watchdogging the state's lax oversight of alternative schools was especially strong. Like McGuirk, he wants to focus audits on making sure the county is serving the most vulnerable populations, and aims to spotlight the county's mental health and addiction treatment services.
We give the slight edge to Learn. That's chiefly because we're more confident in his ability to identify problems before they appear on the public radar. (The issues McGuirk highlighted are already well-known, and popular among social justice advocates.)
We think Learn is the most likely to turn over rocks at Multnomah County and expose what's squirming beneath. That's bad news for the county bureaucracy and its contractors—and great news for the public. He's going to make headlines.
Most embarrassing thing Facebook knows about Learn: "I'm a lurker on Facebook," he says, but adds he's been tagged in several "unflattering" photos.