Murmurs: Loretta Smith Is Running for Congress

In other news: Vaccination rates lag among staff for vulnerable.

G49A0126 Commissioner Loretta Smith speaks after finishing second in the primary vote for Portland City Council in May. (Walker Stockly)

LORETTA SMITH RUNNING FOR CONGRESS: No one knows where Oregon’s new, 6th Congressional District will be, but we already know the first candidate seeking the seat. Former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, a onetime staffer for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), announced June 22 that she’s in. “I’m running for Congress,” Smith said in a statement, “to tear down the barriers to progress before us and build pathways to equal opportunity for all.” Smith finished second to Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and Commissioner Dan Ryan in two recent bids for Portland City Council. It’s unusual for a candidate to start a congressional bid without knowing where the district will lie—but federal law does not require members of the U.S. House of Representatives to live in their districts. (The Washington Post reported in 2017 that 21 members of the House were registered to vote outside their districts.) “While the lines aren’t drawn yet, most people expect it to be around the Portland area,” says Smith campaign spokesperson Charly Norton. “She has a long record of working in the community and the region.”

VACCINATION RATES LAG AMONG STAFF FOR VULNERABLE: Just 62% of staff at long-term care facilities in Oregon have received a COVID-19 vaccination. According to a report published June 21 by the Oregon Health Authority, the rates are lower in the south and east of the state. The numbers were better for the health care region of northwest Oregon that includes the Portland metro region west to the coast: 71% of staff and 91% of residents are vaccinated, as of May. The numbers are better for residents (statewide, 84% were vaccinated), but older and more medically vulnerable people are at greater risk of breakthrough cases. As of last week, 22 long-term health care facilities in the state had outbreaks. The report notes that the trend tracks with flu vaccine rates from the past: “Influenza vaccination uptake has been low among [long-term care] staff and has lagged behind uptake in other health care settings.” Residents and staff became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in December and were among the first to be eligible.

EVICTION CLOCK STILL TICKING: In one week, the state’s residential eviction moratorium expires. Come July 1, tenants will have to pay monthly rent on time. The Oregon Legislature has carved out some leniency for renters in the past month, hoping to avert a wave of evictions. Last week, lawmakers passed House Bill 278, which prevents nonpayment evictions for an additional 60 days so long as renters can prove they’ve applied for rental assistance. Dispersing those rental assistance dollars has been a choppy process for the state, which is largely relying on community agencies to distribute the cash. On June 16, the leaders of four local nonprofits gathered for an online forum, where they complained about lawmakers’ refusal to further extend the eviction moratorium. “There are lots of landlords who are struggling too. We get that,” said Nkenge Harmon Johnson, president and CEO of the Urban League of Portland. “[The Legislature] should give us the time to spend the funds.” In fact, local governments and their nonprofit partners now face another deadline: 60 days to get landlords their money.

GOLF TOURNAMENT FLEES PORTLAND: An annual women’s professional golf tournament won’t be held at its typical location at a Northeast Portland country club this September because the tournament organizers believe nearby homeless camps have made the club unsafe. Organizers of the Ladies Professional Golf Association Portland Classic, a tournament on the LPGA tour, told golfers June 20 that the event is being moved from the Columbia Edgewater Country Club to another club in West Linn. The Tournament Golf Foundation cited a safety risk from nearby homeless camps. The decision to flee Portland didn’t come as a complete surprise: Portland mayoral aide Sam Adams tells WW he met with the Tournament Golf Foundation about a month ago, and it relayed that the LPGA had “expressed concerns about the safety of the surrounding area, the houseless camps and the fact that the camps were in very rough shape.”

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