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Portland Socialists Did Not Endorse Any Candidates in Local Races

Candidates withdrew from consideration after leaders of Portland Democratic Socialists of America recommended against endorsing.

News flash: Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish is cruising toward reelection.

The most serious challenger to his reelection, Julia DeGraw, identifies as a socialist. But this weekend, she didn't win the endorsement of her own organization.

The Portland Democratic Socialists of America, which (at least until this weekend) counted DeGraw as a member, declined to endorse any candidates, in fact.

WW has chronicled the nascent resurgence of the Portland DSA. The membership dramatically increased in the year after Donald Trump was elected.

But some critics (and supporters of the candidates) viewed the lack of endorsements as a failure of the Portland DSA, while some members and leaders say they're spending their energies on issue-based campaigns.

In an advance of the meeting on Sunday, an endorsement package circulated that featured the opinions of  DSA members on the candidates. But it also led with the co-chairs' recommendation against endorsing any of three candidates up for consideration.

The list included DeGraw, Oregon Senate candidate Kayse Jama, who is executive director of Unite Oregon, and Multnomah County Commission candidate Maria Garcia, owner of Revolución Coffee House.

The co-chairs reserved their sharpest criticism for the candidate who had joined the organization:

"Julia DeGraw recently adopted Tax the Rich as a campaign slogan, but comes up short on policy," wrote Olivia Katbi Smith, Co-Chair of Portland DSA in the endorsement package circulated to the group's members in advance of the vote.

"She asked for our endorsement after her campaign spun what I view an opportunistic 'rebrand'; I fear she has been hoping for DSA's energy to save her campaign, but endorsing her would be jumping on to a sinking ship."

DeGraw withdrew from consideration after that blistering criticism. So too did Jama and Garcia.

"We sought this endorsement because of the great work DSA is doing across the country," DeGraw says in a statement.

"We stopped seeking the endorsement after the elected Portland DSA leadership published statements to their members advocating against a relationship with any of the three candidates. It didn't make sense to go forward. DSA members already volunteer on our campaign, and I was thrilled to hear from so many more members who support us."

The leaders of the Portland DSA said the organization will focus on issues they've committed to: the International Women's Strike with Don't Shoot Portland,  Palestinian human rights, and "fighting against Mayor Ted Wheeler's proposed budget cuts through our Tax the Rich campaign."

They also defended their decision for vigorous vetting of the candidates.

"Well over 100 members turned out at the meeting fully prepared and enthusiastic to debate and vote on the candidates, and we're disappointed we weren't able to," say Portland DSA co-chairs Emily Golden-Fields and Olivia Katbi Smith in a statement. "An endorsement from Portland DSA is not just a rubber stamp. It means the full weight of our membership and our collective resources would go toward supporting that campaign; this policy was debated, voted on and overwhelmingly passed by the chapter in January."

DSA member Margot Black, an organizer of Portland Tenants United, argued the candidates should have made their case rather than yanking their request for endorsement.

“It appears these candidates were upset by some of the frank feedback in pamphlet, and mistook the opinions of a few to represent the voices of the many, so withdrew themselves from consideration rather than use their time on the floor to tell the rest of us why they deserved our endorsement,” says Black.

"If these people seeking public office can't handle this level of critique—which ultimately amounted to a demand for more politics and fewer platitudes—then they should probably take a long nap and reevaluate why they are running rather than delegitimize the entire democratic process."