Teachers’ Union Asks Portland City Council Candidates About Gaza in Endorsement Questionnaire

“Do you believe Portland elected officials have done their due diligence in responding to the ongoing genocide in Palestine?”

PRESIDENT: Angela Bonilla speaks to the media during the Portland Association of Teachers strike in 2023. (Brian Burk)

As it issues endorsements for the November election, the union representing Portland Public Schools teachers is asking candidates for city office whether Portland should do more to respond to “the ongoing genocide in Palestine.”

The Portland Association of Teachers sent a questionnaire to City Council candidates prior to a May 30 group endorsement interview. WW has obtained a copy of the questionnaire, which included questions submitted by union members.

“Do you believe Portland elected officials have done their due diligence in responding to the ongoing genocide in Palestine?” one of the 15 questions read. “Has Portland ‘done enough’ for Palestine? Or does work remain to be done?”

PAT’s political action committee is interviewing candidates vying to represent the city on the future 12-member City Council. The PAT PAC has brought in groups of candidates from voting Districts 2, 3 and 4 over the past month. The union issued its endorsements in those districts in early June.

PAT’s PAC endorsed progressive candidates like Jesse Cornett in District 3, Chad Lykins in District 4, and Marnie Glickman in District 2. The union chose not to endorse in District 1 because so few PPS schools are located east of Interstate 205.

One City Council candidate told WW that the specific question about Gaza wasn’t asked in the May 30 interview because the union ran out of time. However, candidates who participated in that interview said that one of the first questions the union asked was whether candidates supported police violence against nonviolent protests, specifically referencing local pro-Palestine demonstrations.

The endorsement of a powerful public employee union is coveted in a crowded election slate. So asking candidates their level of support for Gaza marks another escalation in the activist efforts of PAT, whose president, Angela Bonilla, has made progressive advocacy a tentpole of her leadership. The development also arrives after donors affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee injected millions of dollars into a Portland congressional race, successfully defeating former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, whom it saw as a potential foe of Israel.

In response to questions from WW, Bonilla says that “all candidates were sent a copy of our candidate questionnaire before we invited six to seven candidates to our candidate forum. Our PAT PAC board invited those candidates who responded to the questionnaire and had over a certain threshold of small donors/contributions.”

WW obtained copies of both an official pre-interview questionnaire and the additional list of union member-submitted questions that City Council candidates received prior to their union interviews. The questions about Gaza were on the latter list.

Other questions submitted by teacher members on that list were about bullying, school libraries, worker retaliation, Portland Street Response, and the Portland School Board’s recent decision allowing Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs to be established. Another asked if candidates would commit to keeping cops out of schools.

The official questionnaire, which candidates responded to in writing, included questions about the City Council’s responsibilities when it comes to public schools, economic disparities, and a lack of resources and staffing.

Candidates at the interviews said they expected more questions about education rather than social issues.

“They weren’t really meat and potatoes questions,” said Olivia Clark, a candidate in District 4 and longtime state politico.

Bonilla responded in a statement that “questions around police violence and societal class dynamics do not ‘depart’ from education.

“Our school board considered the reinstatement of police into our schools this year,” Bonilla said. “PAT PAC values candidates that understand that our schools are not separate from our society; Education does not exist in a vacuum.”

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