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Portland City Council, Position 1 leading candidates, pictured above, spoke to The Skanner.  Top row: Tim Dubois, Candace Avalos; bottom row: Carmen Rubio, and Philip Wolfe.
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 16 April 2020

Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz announced last year that her third term would be her last, opening Position #1 on City Council. Candidates from a variety of backgrounds are vying for her seat.  

The Skanner interviewed each of the four leading candidates on their unique backgrounds and specific visions for Portland. Their answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.  

 

Tim Dubois

Tim DuBois is a professional construction worker completing his graduate degree in Urban and Regional Planning at Portland State University. DuBois qualified for funding from the city’s Open and Accountable Elections program, which gives candidates $6 of taxpayer funding for every $1 of campaign funds raised. Eligible candidates agree not to accept large contributions, and must demonstrate "broad community support." 

 

Why did you feel called to run? 

I’m just tired of losing all progressive battles. I think it's because we pretend we live in a high-tech nation, a socialist society, but we don’t. And so we lose sight of the economic reality we’re in. And this is definitely what I feel is happening in city hall right now. There’s not enough emphasis on what we can actually afford. Our City Council is over-promising and under-delivering. I like to believe, just as anyone else running for office, I can supply that change that I see needs to happen. 

 

What is unique about your background and lived experience that you can bring to the council? 

I’ve been a working-class carpenter and woodworker for 18 years now. There's a lot of talk about the working class, yet there seems to be a disconnection between our politicians and what it’s really like. I don’t really fit that working-class image. My wife is quite educated, and I’m the primary beneficiary of that. I kind of joke that when I’m at work, I’ll get lunch from a convenience store, but then for dinner, I know what it’s like to go to an upscale restaurant. I believe I can bridge that divide in a useful way. I don’t have much public record to run under, and that’s just the reality I live in. 

I recognize that I’m a White male, and that I and many other people are kind of tired of white male politicians. I have always surrounded myself with people who look and are different than me. My wife and I are in an interracial relationship. I’m very fortunate to have a duplex, and my renters are African American. A room in our house is occupied by a Mexican immigrant. These are things that are really important to me, and I become a richer person for these connections and relationships I have. 

 

What do you believe the role of city-recognized neighborhood associations should be? 

I was a board member for two years in the Sellwood-Moreland Improvement League (neighborhood association). Certainly with the absence of geographical representation at city hall, they’re a very powerful tool to negotiate with the leaders in the city. 

That is an infrastructure I don't think needs to go away. At the same time, when it comes to land use and anything building and change related, they are the primary blocker of all of it, and that is harmful for the city. There definitely needs to be a rethinking of its roles, while still making sure the good things the neighborhood associations do live on.  

 

What do you feel is missing on City Council? 

It’s that laser-eye focus on fiscal responsibility. The fiscal recklessness and not focusing on the numbers is starting to make all the good things our bureaus do not happen. They’re killing it. Whether we like it or not, financial viability is a prerequisite for everything.

Every major project, (the city) is so far off on scale and on the final cost. I think there’s political reasons for that, because it’s really hard to go to people and say something will cost $1 billion. It’s much easier to say $400 million, and then just jack the price up. That’s reckless. We’ve promised the residents this, and there starts to be a disconnect.  

 

Commissioner Fritz is assigned to the Office of Equity and Human Rights. What would you do to increase racial and socioeconomic equity in Portland? 

To really promote equity, it’s going to require actually tilting the balance away from White people and to the disenfranchised communities. But you can run into legal problems. So you have to be creative, you have to have the positions available. In my administration, I need to make sure that first and foremost, it’s about getting back  into the communities that have been underrepresented, so that they can be in that line for that job. I will definitely make sure I’m reaching out with positions in my administration, into the communities that have not had as much voice. 

 

Candace Avalos

Candace Avalos (candaceforportland.com) is a student advisor specializing in civic engagement at Portland State University, and serves as acting chair of the Citizen Review Committee. Avalos qualified for funding from the city’s Open and Accountable Elections program. 

 

Why did you feel called to run? 

I am a first-generation “Blacktina.” My Black family comes from southern Virginia, Jim Crow South. My mom was brought here by my grandparents in the 1970s from Guatemala. I have these two really distinct American life stories.

At PSU, I teach classes on civic engagement and leadership. I’m prepping (students) for how to be those ethical, communicative, transparent leaders we all want to see. 

I'm also the current acting chair of the Citizen Review Committee, the city’s police accountability board. (In working with city government), the form of government kept coming up as a barrier. The way our (city) government is currently structured, not only do we not have district representation, but also the way commissioners interact with each other and make decisions on bureaus, was just totally siloed. That pronounced for me just how dysfunctional in so many ways this form of government is.  

 

What is unique about your background and lived experience that you can bring to the council? 

For me, another important part of my run is I feel I represent a generation that is being left behind by the economy. We are unnecessarily cost-burdened, whether it be student loan debt, other kinds of debt young people have been forced into, and we are unable to progress in our young adulthood. 

In the aftermath of COVID-19, which has been a very glaring spotlight on all of these inequities, I think this is going to be a super pivotal moment to say, ok, whose voices aren’t at the table? I really think that my candidacy is bringing forth an energy around (the fact that) we can do things differently. And it’s clear in how we’re seeing our response to COVID-19, we actually could provide multiple sanitation and water stations for the houseless.  

 

What do you believe the role of city-recognized neighborhood associations should be? 

I think that while the intent was good, it was a bandaid approach to a larger problem, which is that people feel they aren’t represented in how decisions get made, especially land use and development. I can understand and respect the unique role neighborhood associations have played in Portland, but I think we really need to shift some of that power back to organizations that have been left out.

How people engage with neighborhoods is a lot different when you’re able to plant your roots somewhere. This outside voice that dominates those conversations is from people that have had their houses for decades, which is really not the reality for most of us. But we can negotiate how neighborhood associations can still play an important role.  

 

What do you feel is missing on City Council? 

Obviously, the younger generation’s voice is severely missing on City Council. I also think how we engage with the people, and how we reflect the 21st century, and how people engage with each other is really missing. 

I helped facilitate three community conversations with Jo Ann Hardesty, and there was such a palpable thirst the people had to just be heard. That’s unacceptable that one commissioner is going out of her way to have those conversations, why is there not a united effort from everybody to do that? 

 

What would you do to increase racial and socioeconomic equity in Portland? 

Right now we’re experiencing on all levels of government, lots of people that are retiring, and we’re having trouble recruiting young people to be excited about those jobs and to want to go into that sort of career. 

There are really intentional things we can do to recruit people to get invested younger into the work of the city, and to give them insight into how these jobs have purpose...I would love to start an internship program for the city. I’ve already done that infrastructure at Portland State. There’s so many ways we can be leveraging these local institutions like PSU and PCC and have young people invest their ideas back into the city. And I think that that’s what’s going to create the buy-ins that’s going to bring in these voices that we need. 

 

Carmen Rubio

Carmen Rubio is the executive director of the advocacy nonprofit Latino Network. Rubio qualified for funding from the city’s Open and Accountable Elections program. 

 

Why did you feel called to run? 

I come from a family of migrant workers, my grandparents and my dad are from Mexico, and my parents met in a labor camp in North Plains, Ore. I think seeing the struggles that my family went through, and sometimes having no recourse or path to justice really stoked a fire in me for justice

I never honestly had any desire to run for office; it wasn’t until Trump was elected. As a nonprofit director and seeing the fear and terror and trauma and devastation in the communities I work with and am from, around what was going to happen with immigration and the hateful rhetoric and the racist speeches, I thought, I have to be in a position where I can have some agency to act more definitively with the authority on things that impact all of our communities that are being targeted. 

 

What is unique about your background and lived experience that you can bring to the council? 

I’ve worked at the county for elected officials, I’ve worked at city hall for two elected officials there.  

For the last 10 years I’ve worked in the community, running a community-based organization (Latino Network). I feel uniquely prepared, because I've been in the building, and I’ve been outside of the building, pushing the building to do better.

I have some things to share, and also the right people to pull in from our community, organizations that (the Latino Network has) deep and long and trusting relationships with, like SEI, Coalition of Communities of Color, (Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center), all those folks, we all work together. We’re critical partners, so we are very aligned in a lot of our advocacy. In that way I feel like I will definitely be held accountable, and that people definitely feel like they would have access to me.  

 

What do you believe the role of city-recognized neighborhood associations should be? 

I think that neighborhood associations are fine and should be recognized on an equal level as every other organization. I think we all have something to contribute, and I think that was the spirit of intent of a lot of the changes -- to broaden the participation for more people to join the table. It doesn’t mean taking anything away, it means building more power in more communities that traditionally haven’t had access. 

 

What do you feel is missing on City Council? 

I think the voice of someone who’s been working more recently in communities, and has been part of and experiencing the pulls and strains and pressure, or working with populations that are experiencing all these things right now. For example, the challenges of people struggling to find a place that they can afford to rent and live in this city are being pushed out of this city.

I often feel like we’re at odds with our own goals as a city, because we're trying to promote climate justice, which I’m a very big advocate for, but then how can we be true climate justice advocates if we’re not paying attention to the affordability of housing for our most vulnerable communities? 

 

What would you do to increase racial and socioeconomic equity in Portland? 

I think that we need to be serious and walk the talk, and that means budgeting to your values and budgeting for equity. And it means using a lens and using demographic data, data of disparities, looking at where underserved areas are, and overlaying that with the history of how our city has acted, or the past behaviors, because there are some areas where it might require redress.

I would also look at data for workforce. I’m very interested in making sure that I can lend my voice to ensure we increasingly prioritize being responsive and reflective of our served community. Nonprofit and culturally specific organizations were born out of, in my opinion, the failure of government and other institutions to really reach those marginalized communities, and we had to start helping ourselves. That should never be the default by government. Government should always strive to make sure we’re constantly adapting, re-calibrating to make sure we’re responsive and that we are reflective of those communities, and that we have a respect for the diversity in our community, so our workforce is able to engage in a way that is respectful and responsive and relevant to their life. 

 

Philip Wolfe

Philip Wolfe is a disability rights advocate who serves as a commissioner for the Portland Commission on Disability. Wolfe, who is deaf, spoke with The Skanner by phone through an ASL interpreter. 

 

Why did you feel called to run? 

I ran my first campaign in 2018 against incumbent Nick Fish. Although I knew Nick was going to win, I ran on my platform to voice awareness (for disability rights) and get people to know who I am as an individual. 

This time, I have a lot of concerns on where the city fails to address police accountability, the houselessness crisis--with the coronavirus (outbreak), there’s no fountain water, everything is closed. There’s no health care. It’s just getting worse. 

I bring a lot of representation: I’m a deaf man, I’m Jewish, and I am poor. It’s really important for me to bring representation into politics.  

 

What is unique about your background and lived experience that you can bring to the council? 

I grew up poor. I ran away from home when I was 16, and I’ve been on my own ever since. My first experience was protesting with the National Organization for Women, and I’ve been involved in protests since then. I’ve been in Portland 10 years, and in 2013, I became a commissioner for the Portland Commission on Disability, where I served for seven years. 

Then in 2015, I worked to push through an ordinance requiring that all televisions in public places display closed captioning, for equal access.

I’ve lived in many cities and I’ve traveled through Europe for three months by myself. Having that experience of traveling around the world, (Portland’s accessibility) is just getting worse and worse from what I’ve been seeing. For instance, at each intersection on the roads, I’ve noticed they have a yellow braille for the blind, in the crosswalk. But then there’s none on the opposite streets. I notice there are several missing gaps in between. Ramps are missing as well. The lack of representation for the disabled community means the city’s leadership doesn’t understand what’s going on with the accessibility aspect of that. So that’s why I am involved in trying to convince the leadership to try to do better.

I was involved with the Community Oversight Advisory Board from 2015 to 2017, and I did extensive research about policies and law in order to improve police training. In 2018, I was hired by the state for a six-month contract with the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. My role was to teach the new officers how to work with deaf people through many different role plays, giving different scenarios.  

 

What do you believe the role of city-recognized neighborhood associations should be? 

I do not support neighborhood associations whatsoever. They are not supportive of people going through the houselessness crisis. The associations don’t fit the values of Portland residents. 

I think there absolutely should be geographical representation. And there are only five city councilors. That’s not enough representation for the whole city of Portland. The system is old and broken.  

 

What do you feel is missing on City Council? 

Representation. That’s what’s missing. And empathy. It’s not there. 

I’ve been watching the City Council since Mayor Wheeler took over. I’ve been watching for four years, and it’s really toxic. There’s a lot of arguments during the city council meetings, a lot of tension; it's an extremely toxic environment. I just feel like City Hall is very White-oriented. And the police (presence) is very heavy in the town hall. It’s not safe. 

On empathy: In 2018, there were 92 people who died on the streets (in Multnomah County). What was the city’s response? They didn’t have a response to that whatsoever. They weren't held accountable, they didn’t hold any speeches of the sort. They failed continually. 

 

What would you do to increase racial and socioeconomic equity in Portland? 

When we talk about systemic racial injustice, we need to include disability justice (in the conversation). 

I would reach out to leaders of color, and I would provide them a platform and support them and advocate for them. City Council is mostly White. Do they represent us? No, they do not. So my goal is to represent those people by advocating for them by creating a platform for them.  

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