It is past time for an intervention. Portland is unwell, and that means Oregon is suffering.
The city’s streets and highways are lined with a rainbow of tents and trash, evidence of citizens breaking under the weight of poverty, mental illness and addiction. Nearly every weekend brings a homicide—sometimes several. City parks are used as open-air drug markets and chop shops for stolen cars. Call 911 and the wait time can be 10 minutes.
Workers are reluctant to return to downtown offices because no job is worth risking a close encounter with someone at their wit’s end. We have what academics would call a crisis of the commons. In simpler terms: Portlanders have given up on each other.
Admitting this unpleasant fact is not disloyal. For years, people who dislike Portland have predicted its doom. Such ghouls celebrate every lousy headline. That’s made it harder to admit when something really is wrong. It’s made Portlanders defensive rather than constructive.
But loving this city means wanting it to both stay weird and be healthy.
For the past month, we’ve met with a steady stream of politicians seeking WW’s endorsement. As we’ve spoken with them, and debated among ourselves whom to pick, we’ve also discussed what makes a city flourish. And while many of them are running campaigns targeting Portland and its ills as a scapegoat, the truth is, Oregon’s well-being depends on the health of its largest city.
As we considered candidates, these ideals shaped our decisions—and we hope they’ll influence yours.
A healthy city is in dialogue with the state that surrounds it. Yes, we’re talking about bipartisanship: a shopworn, unpopular concept. But if Portland four, or even two, years ago fashioned itself a bulwark for progressive values, it also alienated much of Oregon with its moral arrogance. We need candidates who will give us more conversation between extremes, not less.
We also need a governor who celebrates Portland’s values instead of using the city’s woes as a boogeyman to frighten rural communities.
A healthy city is safe. It is a place where people can send their kids to play in the neighborhood park without fear. It’s a place where police are plentiful, responsive and held accountable. It’s a place where stores and restaurants use glass rather than plywood for windows and where catalytic converters stay under cars instead of in thieves’ backpacks.
A healthy city actively cares for the vulnerable. The mental distress and addiction on Portland streets are symptoms of indifference and smugness. For too long, Portland leaders have accepted a humanitarian crisis as a kind of merciful neglect—as if the creation of a citywide Skid Row were somehow allowing people their dignity.
A healthy city is functional. It picks up the trash. It answers the 911 calls. It spends taxpayers’ money in transparent, effective ways.
Repeatedly in the following pages, we will reject popular ideas—and even some whose aims we agree with—because nobody considered the ramifications. Voters deserve fully vetted policies, not rough drafts.
A healthy city gathers together. Any student of great cities knows a city is only as strong as the neighborhoods where people gather. And the most important neighborhood? Downtown. Without a vital, prosperous center, cities like Portland lose the ability to pay for the services residents need.
So, yes: We’re picking candidates who we think will prioritize reopening downtown and re-creating the commons—in Portland and across the state. That can only occur with eyes on the street and people who engage each other.
Last week, the second-largest newspaper publisher in America, Alden Global Capital, announced its 200 newspapers would no longer publish election endorsements because the project is too expensive and too divisive. While it is a costly and often polarizing process, we think the effort is worth it.
In every contested local and statewide race, we’ve chosen the candidate or ballot measure we think will help Oregonians rebound. We asked candidates difficult questions and one lighter thought exercise: If the world were ending tomorrow, what one food or drink would be on the menu for your last meal?
Portland isn’t over and neither is Oregon. But we hope citizens—including elected officials—are ready to demand more of themselves and each other. The health of this place is up to all of us.
Willamette Week November 2022 General Election Endorsements