On Sunday, the campaign of Portland City Council candidate Rene Gonzalez sent a cease-and-desist letter to City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty over what the Gonzalez campaign alleges are “patently false, libelous statements” Hardesty made over the past month about Gonzalez.
The letter comes less than two weeks before Election Day in a particularly contentious race between Hardesty and Gonzalez, a contest that’s become a litmus test for how Portlanders will respond to a two-year period of civil unrest, economic hardship, a pandemic and escalating homelessness.
In the letter, the campaign contends that Hardesty has repeatedly made false allegations in public forums and in campaign literature, alleging that Gonzalez’s campaign team consists of Republicans and claiming that he engaged in illegal activity by accepting downtown office space for $250 per month, for which he was initially fined $77,000 by the city’s Small Donor Elections program. (Last week, an administrative law judge nixed the entire fine—to many onlookers’ surprise. The judge ruled the city had failed to adequately prove the rent was lower than market rate, considering the state of downtown.)
A mailer sent out to Portlanders last week by Hardesty’s campaign said Gonzalez “breaks the law.”
“This letter therefore requests that you immediately cease and desist your continued distribution of the Mailing (and anything else containing the False Allegations), and retract the False Allegations immediately,” Gonzalez campaign manager Shah Smith wrote. “If you fail to do so, Mr. Gonzalez will be forced to take legal action.” Such action might include a defamation suit.
The Hardesty campaign characterized the letter as a political stunt.
“This is ridiculous. This is from a candidate who has shown he will say and do anything to advance his agenda, just as he did by promoting 17 anti-gay, anti-choice candidates for school board whose victories will do harm,” said Hardesty’s campaign manager, the Rev. Joseph Santos-Lyons. “If voters choose him, they can expect more of the same.”
Santos-Lyons refers to a contentious issue that did not appear in the letter: the endorsements made by ED300, a parents group started by Gonzalez during the pandemic that endorsed a slate of school board candidates that were also backed by conservative groups such as Oregon Right to Life and the Oregon Family Council that are anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion. Since WW first reported those endorsements, Hardesty’s campaign has repeatedly said Gonzalez endorsed anti-LGBTQ candidates.
When WW asked why those allegations were not mentioned in the cease-and-desist letter, Smith said they were “mischaracterizations” but not “demonstrably false.”
Meanwhile, the Portland Police Bureau says two windows at the Gonzalez campaign office in downtown Portland were shattered by rocks last night.
Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Kevin Allen says earlier in the day the bureau “was alerted to open source information that a ‘direct action’ protest event was to gather in the area of downtown and/or South Waterfront. PPB is aware that similar ‘direct action’ protest events have targeted nearby government buildings, businesses, and political campaigns.”
The bureau contacted someone involved in Gonzalez’s campaign to warn them, according to Allen: “The intent was to alert them of the ‘direct action’ event so they had the opportunity to take appropriate precautions.”
Allen says they have not identified a motive yet for the vandalism. Police have not yet provided information about what cause the “direct action” was purportedly promoting or protesting.
Gonzalez has pledged to be a “cheerleader for the police” and was endorsed by the Portland Police Association. That makes it more noteworthy that his office was vandalized—and that police called to warn him.
Allen says the Police Bureau contacted other parties too, but wouldn’t disclose whom.
In a letter sent today to City Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who has endorsed Hardesty, Smith attempted to draw a connection between the Hardesty campaign’s rhetoric and the vandalism. “I am asking for your help because I believe the potential for further violence against our candidate, staff, volunteers and office are not only real, but increasingly likely the longer it goes on,” Smith wrote.