Jo Ann Hardesty doesn't mind being called angry—so long as she wins your vote.
Hardesty, 59, announced Aug. 4 that she's challenging Commissioner Dan Saltzman for his council seat in May 2018. Hardesty, a former state representative, pulled the NAACP of Portland out of mothballs when she became its president in 2015. She lives in the East Portland neighborhood of Gateway—and has no intention of returning west.
What's a vote Saltzman has taken where you would have voted differently?
The great example would be the housing bond that voters passed in November. Saltzman can pat himself on the back for the most expensive affordable housing measure on the planet. He believes we can do the same thing we've always done and get a different result. And so I voted no, and for anybody who asked me I told them I was voting no.
What's your grade for Ted Wheeler so far?
Right now, he's at a C-minus. He's got a lot of really smart lawyers on his staff—however, none of them have deep roots in Portland. And so, you have all these highly educated, certified smart people who have no understanding of the history and the lived experience of people in this city. And that's why he continues to bring forward really bad public policy.
Do you like Commissioner Amanda Fritz's proposal to shift citizen oversight of the police settlement with the Department of Justice?
I was kind of appalled at the prospect of putting the Office of Equity and Human Rights in charge somehow. I was on the committee that created them. But here we are five years later and I have asked for an audit, because I don’t know what [director Dante James] does. He talks a good game, but fundamentally, has anything changed in the city of Portland? You look at contracting, and the answer is no. Not no, but hell no.
What do you think of the city's plan to help black families return to North and Northeast Portland?
It's the most ludicrous, arrogant, obnoxious policy imaginable. You're going to build a low-income housing unit in the middle of the most expensive area in Portland, and then you're going to invite people who can no longer afford to eat at the restaurants that are around them or shop at the grocery stores that are around them? But somehow just being in Northeast Portland, which looks absolutely nothing like it did 10 years ago, is somehow going to make people of color feel better? We don't live there anymore, and we won't live there anymore until white people decide that they don't want to live in inner Northeast anymore. Then all of the sudden, we'll be walking back.
You've talked about being angry. Are you ever afraid of being typecast as the angry black woman?
When you've been advocating as long as I have in the city of Portland, and you watch leadership come and go, and you watch outcomes stay exactly the same, you can't help but be angry. In the Pacific Northwest, we bend over backwards to make people comfortable, because heaven forbid anybody's uncomfortable. But change only comes in the uncomfortable places. So yes, I'm angry, but I'm angry enough to actually have solutions to some of these systemic problems.