Liv Osthus, Stage Name Viva Las Vegas, Is Running for Portland Mayor

Portland’s best-known stripper is running on a platform of restoring hope to a beleaguered city.

Liv Osthus. (Whitney McPhie)

Iconic Portland stripper Liv Osthus, better known by her stage name Viva Las Vegas, is running to become Portland’s next mayor.

She’s well known in the Portland arts world as an outspoken sex workers’ advocate as well as a published author, writer and musician. After graduating from Williams College in 1997, she moved to Portland to pursue her music career, and soon after began stripping. She’s been dancing ever since, often on the stage at Mary’s Club.

Osthus has written a memoir, starred in a documentary, and was the subject of a locally staged opera. Before any of that, she graced the cover of of WW in 1997, when she and an anti-smut crusader came into the newspaper’s office to debate sex work—a novel argument at the time.

Now Osthus, 49, wants to oversee a new form of government that features a professional city administrator running all city bureaus and a regionally elected, 12-member City Council that sets city policy and passes legislation.

Osthus is entering a race that already includes three of the five sitting city commissioners, including one of her political mentors, Mingus Mapps. With no legislative or policymaking experience, Osthus has a different pitch to Portlanders: The next mayor needs to be a symbol of optimism for the city.

She sat down with WW this week to discuss why she’s running, who persuaded her to do it, and how a surprising campaign platform—hope—might be just what Portland needs.

Her responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

WW: Why are you running for mayor?

Liv Osthus: I feel strongly called to help the city change and to remember how great it is to remember its roots in small business and arts and music. And I think we’ve lost that narrative. We have very important problems, but we also have a lot that is wonderful. And we need a mayor that reminds the city of its soul.

I really want to advocate in this campaign more than anything [for artists and small businesses]. Because that, to me, is the soul of the city. That’s the way we’re going to come back as a city.

Your message is a little nebulous. How do you plan to sway voters?

We have a lot of data and a lot of metrics, but the money still doesn’t go to the people who really need the services.

If downtown comes back, that can lift all boats. If we could start seeing downtown blooming again, if you put an art studio downtown, very soon you’d have a coffee shop. Very soon you’d have a lunch place. Very soon you would create concentric circles outward from it. Artists will bring energy back downtown. And as energy comes, there will be more hope.

Some older Portlanders might balk at electing a stripper mayor. What would you say to them?

If the stripper thing is so damning, they could watch my TED Talk, or read the book, or watch the movie. Strippers are amazingly strong, graceful human beings inside and out. I would invite them into Mary’s to let me change their minds.

You’re running against three established politicians. What do you bring that they don’t?

I bring creativity and a community that I don’t think they have, and frankly I have this huge web that extends throughout Portland. I have spent 27 years listening to people. The mayor [needs to be] somebody who listens and connects with people, and reminds Portland of its best parts. I think it can fall to the City Council to do the legislation. I would hope to see a mayor that is a figurehead.

The mayor will be responsible for hiring and firing the chief of police and the city administrator. What managerial experience can you point to?

I have none, and the team I’m pulling together will be the people who guide me on that.

Why not run for one of the 12 City Council seats?

I don’t want that job. I don’t want to legislate. To me, the office of mayor represents more of a stage, more of a pulpit. I don’t just want to talk about pragmatic stuff. Let’s have a little more hope. Let’s have a little more inspiration. And remember what is magical about Portland.

Some might argue that the mayor should be the most pragmatic person in authority.

We keep hearing those pragmatic conversations and then they go nowhere. I think Portlanders have really lost a lot of faith in their city and maybe in their leaders.

The mayor needs to be the head of a team. Have each person on the team be in their specialty, deal with their level of expertise, and have the mayor lead and represent what is best about Portland.

Top of mind for a lot of Portlanders is homelessness. How would you address it?

We need to treat homelessness like a national disaster. Portland seems to have gone wrong in the county-versus-city narrative, where we have all this money to throw at the problem but the city and county are working against each other. I would request that we work with the state [and that direction] comes from the top down. There needs to be better oversight, otherwise the money just goes around the same loop amongst bureaucrats.

City Commissioner Mingus Mapps is a big mentor of yours, and he encouraged you to run for mayor. Someone might hear that and say maybe he wants Liv to run because she would take votes away from his biggest competitor in the mayoral race, Carmen Rubio. Do you think that might be the case?

I don’t think so. Just hearing how genuine he has been, and consistent, for over a year about it. He’s a political science professor, and I think it’s exciting for him to see people from other walks of life enter public service. But I do get it. The ranked-choice voting system is really going to be interesting in this race. I would hate to upset Carmen’s chances, but I guess that’s what I’m doing.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.