Portland City Council Position 3
Even Rene Gonzalez, our pick for city commissioner, would concede this contest is largely a referendum on the four years Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has spent on the Portland City Council.
Voters must ask themselves: After four years of Hardesty being the loudest voice on the council, are they better off?
Hardesty’s tenure covers four years freighted with history: a pandemic, civil unrest, and a rapid decline in the city’s quality of life.
It is easy—and unfair—to blame Hardesty, 65, for the city’s ills. Yet she is responsible for how she’s responded to them.
That response has left many Portlanders alienated.
For decades as a police-accountability activist, state lawmaker and nonprofit leader, Hardesty has lobbed criticism at the city, largely from the outside. She relentlessly chipped away at systems that had failed many Portlanders.
When voters elected her in 2018 as the first Black woman on the City Council, the consummate outsider moved inside.
We endorsed Hardesty then, but have come to see a mismatch between her strengths and the requirement to be a leader for all Portlanders.
At times, she’s been a voice for the voiceless, but she’s also dismissed those who’ve questioned her, alienated colleagues and inflamed tensions when Portland needed a unifying presence.
She’s also scored notable accomplishments.
Over our concerns, she led the 2018 passage of the Portland Clean Energy Fund (which has collected hundreds of millions of dollars but is off to a worrying start). When the pandemic hit, the Portland Bureau of Transportation, which Hardesty oversees, established a program for restaurants to spill out onto the streets for outdoor dining—keeping many eateries alive.
She created Portland Street Response to better respond to citizens experiencing mental health crises with trained social workers rather than police. It’s promising but too new and undersized to judge fully. She leveraged the passion of the George Floyd protests to rally voter support for a new police oversight office (although that too has yet to be realized).
Hardesty was rightly critical of the Portland Police Bureau and briefly won cuts to its budget. But her criticism became a personal feud. The police union deserves its share of blame: We won’t soon forget its effort to smear Hardesty with a false report that she was at the wheel of a hit-and-run car crash. But Hardesty contributed to the bad blood. In 2020, she falsely accused police of starting fires at protests. Her dislike of cops has resulted in a refusal to consider public safety solutions that involve them.
Hardesty championed the cutting of the Gun Violence Reduction Team in 2020 to lower racial disparities in arrests. As gun violence soared to record-high levels, especially in communities of color, Hardesty has been largely AWOL.
This fall, WW wrote about the open-air drug dealing and gun violence in and around Dawson Park in inner North Portland. Neighbors have asked Hardesty and PBOT to help them address it using traffic diversion. She claims to have been unaware of their request.
Hardesty would rather repurpose downtown than bring city office employees back. She seems oblivious to the connection between an orderly, welcoming central city and the services she rightly wants to provide vulnerable Portlanders.
Perhaps most importantly, Hardesty has proven unwilling or unable to make a compromise with those who disagree with her, and that’s why we’re withdrawing our May endorsement. Portland is at risk of losing the fresh energy of newcomers who’ve elevated the city from a backwater.
Better than Hardesty, Gonzalez understands the urgency of the challenges Portland faces, although we endorse him with some trepidation.
A lawyer and small-business owner, Gonzalez, 48, will focus all his energy on reversing Portland’s slide.
He’s shown an ability to mobilize a large, potent group without much representation on the City Council: parents. He built Portland’s largest youth soccer club and founded a political action committee to reopen public school classrooms.
Gonzalez is unpolished and his platform is simplistic: Bring back downtown. Make parks enjoyable again. Get people off the streets. Stanch gun violence.
We agree with those goals but also understand they’ll be difficult to achieve. He stumbled in his campaign, allegedly improperly accepting deeply discounted campaign office space from Jordan Schnitzer. Gonzalez also admitted no second thoughts about his PAC’s endorsement of school board candidates who were endorsed by organizations that opposed LGBTQ rights—what mattered to him was getting schools open. That’s careless.
But this city needs change. Portland has lost its way, allowing a note of despair to seep into our politics—as if our government is at its most compassionate when it accepts misery and violence as collateral damage in the march of social progress. Gonzalez will help restore balance.
Simply put, we are endorsing him because we think Hardesty can no longer be part of the solution. We hope someone else will do better.
On the menu for Gonzalez’s last meal: Migas, a traditional Mexican breakfast dish.
Correction: This endorsement initially said that the political action committee Gonzalez founded to reopen public school classrooms endorsed Portland school board candidates who opposed LGBTQ rights. Those candidates were in other Oregon school board races, not Portland. And, as WW has previously reported, the candidates endorsed by the PAC were also endorsed by groups opposing LGBTQ rights. Their own views on LGBTQ rights are unclear.