Portland City Council, Position 3
Jo Ann Hardesty
Stream a podcast of our endorsement, with highlights of some of the more spirited moments of the candidates' interview, here.
This contest promises a historic outcome: the election of the first black woman to the Portland City Council.
Unfortunately, the election to determine which black woman wins the seat has been less than inspiring. Smith has repeatedly attacked Hardesty, displaying the weaknesses of both candidates seeking to replace retiring City Commissioner Dan Saltzman.
WW endorsed Jo Ann Hardesty in the primary, and we're sticking with that choice, although not without some reservations.
Hardesty's style of forceful, in-your-face advocacy would mark a change to the passive-aggressive Portland polite that is the norm at City Hall. A onetime state lawmaker and former president of the NAACP of Portland, Hardesty has consistently advocated for those pushed out by gentrification and mistreated by the city's police.
Of her commitment to racial and social justice, we have no doubt. Her management skills are less certain. The Portland Tribune and Oregon Public Broadcasting have reported on her sloppy handling of the NAACP's finances. The amount of money involved—less than $15,000—is small, but her explanation of what happened does not inspire confidence.
If elected, Hardesty would have great influence over much larger budgets. It's imperative that she surround herself with seasoned, financially sound staffers.
Hardesty is running against Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith. Smith is serving her second term at the county and was an aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) for two decades prior to that.
Smith has championed community groups at the county, including expanding a youth summer jobs program. "I have a track record," says Smith. "I have a background of being effective. I've listened to the community, and I deliver for my community."
But Smith has burned through eight chiefs of staff in eight years and has a reputation as a terrible boss and colleague. In 2017, after two former staffers—both women of color—filed written complaints about her, Smith asked for an investigation. She then changed her mind and claimed the county's investigation was racially biased against her. (It found she had probably bullied the female staffers.) She filed a tort claim notice, threatening to sue.
Despite hammering Hardesty for financial irresponsibility, Smith also took a cavalier attitude toward her own office's budget. Earlier reporting by WW showed she nearly outspent all four of her fellow commissioners combined on travel and event sponsorships between 2012 and 2015.
Smith's and Hardesty's differences on issues are significant. And in nearly every case, Hardesty's values align more closely with those of the people of Portland.
On policing: Hardesty opposed the large increase in police officers included in the latest city budget. Smith was for it. Hardesty opposes Portland's participation in the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force; Smith was for it, though now she says she's undecided.
On housing and homelessness: Smith has championed Wapato Jail as a site for a homeless shelter; Hardesty is firmly against it, and instead supports organized camps such as Right 2 Dream Too.
On transportation: Smith supports a proposed expansion of Interstate 5 at the Rose Quarter. Hardesty does not.
With two flawed candidates in the race, we'll choose the outsider who has been consistent in her positions for decades. Hardesty would give a voice to people too long excluded from power in this city and, if she can remain focused, bring about real change at City Hall.
Hardesty's greatest fear: "I am directionally challenged so I'm always pretty sure I will be lost, so I have a fear of being late."
Metro Council, District 2 (Clackamas County and parts of Southwest Portland)
All voters should be so lucky to have a choice between two candidates as qualified as Joe Buck and Christine Lewis for the Metro Council.
Buck, 37, is a restaurateur who runs Lake Oswego's Babica Hen Cafe—beloved by Portland Trail Blazers players!—and an inn in Yamhill County wine country. For the past four years, he's served on the Lake Oswego City Council, where he's been a champion of bikes and density—not always the most popular causes in the snooty part of Clackamas County. His opponent, Christine Lewis, works as a lobbyist and spokeswoman for the Bureau of Labor and Industries. That's a high-wire act—especially when Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian is publicly accusing Democrats in the Capitol of covering up sexual harassment. Lewis is a pro who handles her duties effectively.
So both Buck and Lewis know a little something about conflict resolution. Indeed, the two of them say the longer they spend campaigning against each other, the more they find in common. Both name the region's housing crisis as the biggest challenge for Metro, and say investing in transportation infrastructure is a close second.
The two confess almost no distinction between one another on policy. They have a similar planned approach to handle the new funds that will flow through the agency if the Metro housing bond passes.
In the primary, we endorsed the incumbent, Betty Dominguez, who we thought was doing a good enough job to keep the seat. Voters disagreed. And that provides a clue to the biggest challenge the winner of this runoff faces: bridging the gap between Metro's goals and the public will, especially when it comes to building more apartments for poor people. Buck has the business background that will make him the better salesman—so we give him the nod.
What scares Buck: Being attacked by a cougar while jogging.
Multnomah County Auditor
Whoever is elected auditor has the chance to revitalize a neglected role at Multnomah County.
Both candidates in the runoff election pledge to aggressively pursue the role of holding county officials accountable in a way the outgoing auditor, Steve March, has not. For example: The scandal that continues to unfold at the Unity Center, a mental health emergency room and hospital, is an issue a county employee brought to the current auditor. The state and the feds have now stepped in to demand changes.
Jennifer McGuirk, 43, a county senior performance auditor in the office of the county auditor, has shown her independence from her boss, challenging his preferred successor, Mark Ulanowicz, who finished third in the May primary.
She pledges to listen to community groups about which audits are priorities for residents. In theory, that's a good idea, but the nonprofit community groups with which the county contracts are a critical piece of any future audits she'll need to oversee. Contracting with nonprofits is much of what the county does—not always well. Look no further than a February roof collapse at a large homeless shelter. Or the failure to keep the emergency drop-in shelter open for teens. Both of those are contracts with nonprofits.
In part for this reason, we endorse former Oregonian investigative reporter Scott Learn. Learn, 55, was a CPA before becoming a journalist, and he's worked for the past five years at the state auditor's office, where, among other audits, he pushed for better oversight of alternative schools. With Learn, voters get an experienced auditor with no ties to the county; somebody who would be focused on the efficient use of taxpayer dollars rather than social justice causes; and someone who wrote for a living for 20 years. That's an important skill in an office that has struggled to communicate with stakeholders.
Learn says his first audit would be of the Department of Community Justice, a county agency with significant struggles. Give him the chance to look closer.
Learn's greatest fear: "I'm mostly afraid of my family getting hurt. Let me think of something funnier: I'm afraid of heights."