Carmen Rubio Is Running for Portland Mayor

She’s out to prove that a “no drama” introvert can lead the city.

RUNNING: City Commissioner Carmen Rubio speaks at a Jan. 8 rally to preserve the U.S. Postal Service. (Allison Barr)

After months of hints, Carmen Rubio confirmed Jan. 9 that she’s running for Portland mayor.

Rubio, who was elected to the Portland City Council in 2020, will compete in the mayor’s race with two of her colleagues on the Portland City Council, Rene Gonzalez and Mingus Mapps. Her entry makes her the most liberal candidate seeking the office, as both Gonzalez and Mapps cast themselves as law-and-order Democrats. By contrast, Rubio hails from the racial justice nonprofit the Latino Network, and won office by pledging her commitment to the social safety net.

But what has distinguished Rubio in the past year is her willingness to rethink existing systems.

Late last year, she announced her plan to use $540 million in excess funds from the Portland Clean Energy Fund over the next five years to fund existing projects and programs handled by city bureaus, so long as they related to climate resilience. Prior to that, Rubio had successfully convinced her City Council colleagues to broaden who and what could qualify for PCEF dollars as the fund continued to bring in higher-than-expected revenues. In other words, Rubio directed the biggest money spigot in the city to fill parched bureaus.

Last fall, she also convinced her council colleagues to support a consolidation of the city’s haphazard and disjointed construction-permitting functions into a single bureau, despite a rival proposal from Mapps. Her plan to cut red tape in a housing crisis drew strong support from the city’s business lobby—which had previously thrown its weight behind Mapps.

We asked Rubio why she’s running, why she believes herself to be a better choice than her two colleagues, and what her biggest accomplishments and mistakes have been during her time on the City Council.

Rubio’s responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

WW: Why are you running for mayor?

Carmen Rubio: We’re in a really critical time in the history of our city. We’re poised to start with our new government rollout and we’ve just come out of one of the worst times in recent history for the city. To be frank, I feel like it’s time we need a leader who’s collaborative, who’s problem solving, who’s a pragmatic thinker and who is a no-drama mayor.

You’re going to need a leader that actually knows how to bring people together at the table, and keep them there. And have the hard conversations, even if it’s a slog, to arrive at a better place.

What have been your biggest accomplishments on the City Council so far?

Our work on housing. It’s not one simple thing that’s going to solve housing. It’s about 20 or 30 different little actions, and we’re doing everything we possibly can in our role here at that city to be a good partner to other jurisdictions. We have a regulatory relief package coming this week, and we’ve expanded eligibility for housing credits for low-income earners.

And PCEF, we’re making sure to move that forward in a way that voters could see and realize the full benefit of the intent of those funds, and being visionary about how we can make bigger moves.

What’s a mistake you’ve made?

Coming in and thinking that I had to know every single aspect of everything before I could dive in. I realize now, that’s why we have experts and staff in the bureaus. That was a mistake, to not fully step into my authority in that role [sooner]. It took me a while to use that full authority.

Why you instead of Commissioner Mapps or Gonzalez?

I believe I’m the only candidate that has a clear track record of bringing people from diverse corners to the table and keeping them there. And to hammer through a hard issue, most of them high-stakes issues, and keeping credibility front and center.

That’s my way of operating here. It’s been successful. I don’t believe that’s something my colleagues share.

What do you see as a barrier to winning this election?

I think people often underestimate me. They might think that because I’m an introvert or because I am no drama. But you don’t always have to be the loudest one in the room to get stuff done. But I’ve been rolling my sleeves up and putting my head down and getting things done.

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