A former staffer for Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly has released a letter highly critical of Eudaly in the final week of a closely contested election between Eudaly and challenger Mingus Mapps.
Robyn Stowers, 35, a Black woman who worked as an aide to Eudaly for about a month in early 2017, calls her time in the commissioner's office a "30-day bombardment of institutional racism, white feminism, divisive politics and dysfunctional office culture."
Stowers, a Portlander who had seven years of prior government experience before going to work for Eudaly, subsequently worked for the city of Gresham and is now a contractor for Multnomah County. She is also a board member at the nonprofit Beyond Black and was appointed to the Gresham-Barlow School Board in August.
In her letter, Stowers cites examples of "anti-black" or otherwise objectionable behavior. They range from Eudaly allegedly making racially inflammatory remarks to erratic but not bigoted action.
Among the allegations: Eudaly grabbed a Black male employee and said "I love Black men." On another occasion, the family of Quanice Hayes, a 17-year-old fatally shot by Portland police in 2017 came to City Hall. Stowers recalls Eudaly "rolled her eyes and said, 'Not them again.'"
The letter arrived in multiple newsrooms one week before Election Day, when Eudaly faces a challenge from Mapps, a Black man who was fired from the Office of Community & Civic Life, a bureau Eudaly oversees.
In a statement, Eudaly adamantly denied the allegations in Stowers' letter.
"I was surprised and dismayed to read Ms. Stowers' various unsubstantiated allegations against me and my office," Eudaly said. "Attempting to defend myself against a smear campaign by a former employee is an exercise in futility and something I've been advised to avoid doing by the city attorney. What I can say is that it took us a few months to build a solid team that worked well together and Ms. Stowers didn't end up being part of that team."
Eudaly also defended the management of her office, saying she manages a diverse, "non-hierarchical" team and has developed an entirely BIPOC leadership team in the Office of Community & Civic Life.
And she denied the allegation that she was disrespectful to the family of Quanice Hayes.
"I'm particularly aggrieved by her statement regarding the Quanice Hayes family. I was devastated by the death of Quanice Hayes, who was about the same age as my son at the time of his death," she said. "I took a lot of heat for publicly criticizing the Portland Police Bureau's actions. I met with the family and held a reception for them in my office following a council session they gave heartbreaking testimony at. When I learned that our attorney's defense strategy was to blame his mother for his death, I was beside myself with anger and grief. I demanded that we drop that strategy and offer the family a settlement. People can say whatever they want about me, but to suggest to that family that I didn't care about or welcome them is incredibly hurtful to them."
Stowers says she began work in Eudaly's office in early 2017 with high hopes.
"I was really excited that she was the most progressive candidate and she appeared to care about people and workers," Stowers told WW in an interview. "What shocked me was the reality. She really didn't connect with Black people. Representatives from Black Lives Matter and Don't Shoot Portland were there in the building every day. But she and council were all about shutting down protests. My view is, if there's pain in the community, you should listen to that pain."
In her letter, Stowers says women of color in Eudaly's office were treated worse than other employees and that Eudaly was dismissive of the concerns of Portlanders with whom she wasn't already aligned.
"During a conversation about a Gateway development project, she laughed and said, 'I forget that is Portland. I don't consider anything past 82nd as Portland,'" Stowers writes.
She also writes in the letter that Eudaly, who oversees the city's cannabis regulation program, which is part of the Office of Community & Civic Life, was dismissive of inequities in legal weed, both in terms of the criminal justice system and business opportunities.
"[Eudaly] said she 'didn't want to waste her time on people who just want to get stoned' even after I pointed out how the BIPOC are disproportionately harmed by a racist criminal justice system," Stowers writes.
In an interview Tuesday morning, Stowers told WW that she was abruptly fired, after about a month in Eudaly's office. She believes it was because she was vocal about her concerns about Eudaly's behavior and how her office was managed. "I spoke every day for 30 days about my concerns," she says.
WW spoke to other former Eudaly staffers who corroborated some of Stowers' allegations; none of the former staffers disputed her assertions, although they could not confirm all of the specific incidents or comments. Eudaly's former deputy chief of staff, Dave Austin, the top-ranking person of color in Eudaly's office when Stowers worked there, declined to comment.
Stowers acknowledged that her letter could affect the outcome of next week's election, but said she felt compelled go public because she wants voters to consider racial justice as they vote. She says she wrote the letter after speaking to former colleagues, at least one of whom is supporting Mapps. (Stowers is not a Portland resident and so cannot vote in the race.)
Eudaly says she has been a strong proponent of racial equity.
"I would invite anyone to look at my track record of working with and serving BIPOC communities and advancing social equity and racial justice through policy making," she says, "which is reflected in the many endorsements I've received from BIPOC community leaders, advocates and organizations."