In case you haven't gone outside recently: Our city is in trouble.
Portland's first nine months of 2020 will be remembered for images like the opening credits of a zombie movie. It's the kind of year where you can say, "Remember when people thanked the plague doctors? I guess that stopped when the riots started," and everyone here knows what you're talking about.
Now, as we sit here less than three weeks before Election Day, a reckoning with racial injustice and militarized police has descended into recurring street warfare. Our beloved Oregon woods were consumed by fire, the air unbreathable. Downtown storefronts are boarded up—the customers sent home by disease, the buildings preyed upon by vandals who hide among peaceful protesters. And the places where we once gathered to raise a pint are closing at a frightening clip.
Our city, once a darling of the national media, has been rebranded Chaos Central. Forget Portlandia. Our mascot now is a cop in riot gear manhandling a protester, our civic symbol a piece of plywood scribbled with graffiti. Put a board on it.
A terrible year was made more challenging by Gov. Kate Brown's halting response to COVID-19, Mayor Ted Wheeler's inability to rein in his police force or corral the energy of protesters, and the obscene behavior of President Donald Trump.
Trump's toxic tweeting and racist opportunism has emboldened the disaffected of all stripes. Radicals have exploited the moment. On the far right, useful idiots festooned with guns and Trump regalia rolled their diesel pickups into a city where few of them live to seek attention and act out costume dramas. Too many on the left have stooped to their level, setting fires and smashing any object that they decide doesn't meet their standards.
This week, we asked Oregon Historical Society executive director Kerry Tymchuk—whose own museum saw its windows shattered last weekend—if he could think of another moment of such turmoil in Portland. He couldn't.
"When you look back at recent history, the closest thing you could compare it to is the Vietnam period—the sit-ins and the protests," Tymchuk said. "But I don't recall this kind of vandalism."
What does this have to do with the ballot that will arrive in your mailbox this week? Everything. That envelope contains your ticket out of this mess.
Maybe more precisely, it gives you the chance to offer instructions on how to begin cleaning up, beyond repudiating the president by sending him out of office. Closer to home, the 2020 election features drug decriminalization, police reform, free pre-kindergarten, magic mushrooms, and more chances to raise your taxes than any ballot in recent memory.
It features the most competitive mayoral runoff Portland has seen in more than a decade, a turning point so momentous that it's turned the two self-proclaimed nerds seeking the job into bitter enemies.
That's the context in which we invited candidates and the opposing sides of ballot measures to share with us their visions of how we dig out of disaster. We interviewed them on Zoom, asking them to question each other—and us.
We endorsed in every race on the ballot that was meaningfully contested, which we defined as two candidates submitting statements to the Voter's Pamphlet. (As in previous years, we did not endorse in the contest for Oregon attorney general, because the incumbent, Ellen Rosenblum, is married to the co-owner of WW's parent company.) We also tried to lighten the grim mood with this question: "What's most awkward moment you've had on a Zoom call?"
In this cycle, we looked for leaders who acknowledge the new normal rather than ignoring it. And in many, but not all, cases, we found candidates who gave us faith that Portland can still be a city of creativity and inclusion, not destruction and hatred.
Three decades ago, a tavern owner named Bud Clark upended Portland politics by defeating an incumbent mayor and refashioning this city in his image: a little eccentric, a lot argumentative, and always talking.
At his pub, the Goose Hollow Inn, Clark placed a mission statement on the menus. "We are dedicated to Quality Draft, Fine Food, Pleasant Music, and Stimulating Company," he wrote. "We are also dedicated to extremes of opinion, hoping that a livable marriage will result. If physical violence is your nature, either develop your verbal ability or leave."
If this city is to survive, it must follow Bud's rules. In the following pages, you'll find many opinions. We hope you'll argue with us; we've certainly debated fiercely among ourselves. But this city can no longer endure physical violence as a substitute for the exchange of ideas. Debate is the solution this city has, until we can all enjoy quality draft and stimulating company again.
Portland is broken. Let's fight to fix it.