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Portland City Council, Position 4 candidates, pictured above, spoke to The Skanner.  Top row: Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, Mingus Mapps; bottom row: Seth Woolley, and Sam Adams.
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 30 April 2020

In one of the most closely watched local races, seven candidates are running to unseat Commissioner Chloe Eudaly for Position 4 on the Portland City Council.

The Skanner interviewed incumbent Eudaly, as well as three top candidates vying for her seat while also running with 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. Eudaly has also qualified for the public campaign finance program.

Candidates’ answers have been edited for length and clarity.

 

Chloe Eudaly

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly (votechloe.com) was a small business owner when she was elected four years ago on a platform of strong renter protections and disability rights. In her first term, she ushered in an ordinance requiring landlords to pay relocation fees for tenants displaced by no-cause evictions or rent hikes, and helmed rental screening and security deposit reform in the city. Her efforts to de-emphasize the role of Portland’s 95 formally recognized neighborhood associations were ultimately unsuccessful.

 

What do you hope to accomplish with a second term?

Originally I really felt called to run by just being a witness to how many people were struggling to get by in our community. We’ve been able to pass historic tenant protections, but there’s no way for me to get at alleviating current burdens. So I feel called to run again for similar reasons. And now as the commissioner in charge of the Bureau of Transportation, I’ve just become very passionate about that issue and I’m really excited about what we can accomplish together in the next four years. I don’t have a background in transportation — although that’s quite common with our form of city government, that commissioners are assigned bureaus that are really outside of their areas of expertise — but I’ve had some amazing mentors and really tried to rise to the challenge, and have ended up loving transportation and how it intersects with my other priorities, whether it’s housing, or climate change, or just equity in general.

 

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

I was the eighth woman to ever be elected to Portland City Council. I come from a working class background. I took a pretty unconventional path to a life in politics: I started out as a small business owner, I didn’t go to college until I was 40, and when I was running I was a low-income single parent to a child with a disability, and I was a cost-burdened renter.

When I think about who’s the best candidate for any given position — I’m not talking about mine in particular — I’m looking for not the person that would have the most impressive resume, or the fanciest pedigree. I’m looking for people who will add to that lived experience and the wealth of knowledge of whatever body it is.

I’ve had a good-paying job for the last three-plus years, but I’m still recovering from a lifetime of being low-income and from the tough decisions I had to make to keep a roof over my family’s head during this 10-plus year housing crisis. So I’m very unlikely to forget those issues and priorities, regardless of how long I work in politics.

 

In a second term, what would you do to increase racial and socioeconomic equity in Portland?

Racial equity is an area where I feel we’ve done some meaningful work. The two things I would point to are our Fair Access in Renting policy, which was created hand-in-hand with the community and largely led by culturally specific organizations, especially organizations that serve the African American community, because they told us early on the more restrictive you make things for landlords, the more likely we’re going to see negative, unintended consequences for the Black community.

We slowed down the development of that policy. It is a fairly comprehensive package of corrections to the system, to make it more equitable and decrease discrimination.

And then with (the Portland Bureau of Transportation) we ask ourselves two questions with every major project: How does this advance our climate change goals? And how does this advance our racial equity goals?

I come from a disability advocacy background, and there is a practice in the disability world called universal design that is applied to everything from a kitchen appliance to a set of curriculum. The goal is to design something that is usable, accessible to the widest range of users. I just had this moment in council a year or two ago where I realized that centering racial equity in our policy work is essentially applying universal design efforts to policy-making, because if you center your policy-making on the person who’s least well served, then you’re going to come up with a policy that benefits virtually everyone.

Anti-displacement will be a big theme of my next term.

I’m very interested in building homeownership opportunities for low- and modest-income Portlanders, because I think rent stabilization is one thing; getting people out of the rental racket and into homeownership where they can build wealth and really put down roots is the next level to me. And of course, there are lots of issues that factor into racial and economic justice that are beyond the scope of City Council, but I can certainly advocate for them at the state and federal level.

I ran to represent people who were being left out and were not being well served, and who have not enjoyed our economic recovery in the last decade, and those people will continue to be my focus. Although I’m here to serve the entire city, I would argue that taking care of people who are suffering the most is serving everyone in our community.

 

Mingus Mapps

Mingus Mapps (mingusmapps.com) is a former political science professor who holds a PhD in government from Cornell. He previously supervised the city’s crime prevention program, and more recently ran the neighborhood association program through the city’s Office of Community and Civic Life, which is overseen by Eudaly.

 

Why did you feel called to run?

I’m starting to worry about the kind of city my kids will inherit when they move out of my house. I’m a father of a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old. I think about when my kids move out of this house, will they be able to afford to live in Portland? Will they want to live in Portland, given the direction we’re going on livability issues?

One of the things I’ve seen over and over again is that our elected officials don’t have good enough answers to (issues of livability and climate change). So I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring. I’m a political science by training. I did my undergraduate work at Reed College, and I went on to get a PhD at Cornell University. I’ve split my career between being an academic, where I taught on issues of urban politics and public policy at places like Brandeis University, PSU, and Reed College. And I’ve also been a public servant here in Portland. Most recently, I was the program manager for the city’s Neighborhood Association system.

I really believe in Portland’s neighborhood associations; Portland is fundamentally a mosaic of neighborhoods, and I want to nurture that.

I was disturbed frankly by the incumbent’s path on neighborhoods and neighborhood associations.

I was also a supervisor for the city’s crime prevention program. I did that job because I really believe in community policing. Police don’t stop crime, they respond to crime, and if we want to have a safe community, one of the things we have to do is come together as a community and work on public safety issues. One of the reasons I got into this race was I was disturbed by the incumbent’s attempts to dismantle the city’s crime prevention program. I think that’s the exact opposite of the direction we want to go in.

 

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

I’m an African American, and one of the things that means is that I’ll be a champion of equity and inclusion on City Council. I have a PhD in political science, so I’m a highly trained policy analyst. I have deep experience in doing local government. I offer a fundamentally different form of leadership. Frankly, I think the incumbent tends to be divisive and ideologically driven. I’m constructive and evidence-based.

I hope to be a creative, constructive problem-solver and community convener when I’m on City Council. With the Covid crisis, we face our biggest public health crisis in a century, and our biggest economic crisis in a century. That’s going to redefine our future, and it’s going to force us to redefine how government works. I expect the next City Council session to be one of the most creative and innovative and frankly turbulent that we’ve ever seen, and I think we need to think closely about the kind of leadership we have at the table there.

 

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

The reason why I’m in this race is I had the good fortune of being in Portland at a time when there were some really amazing leaders of color. One of my first jobs out of college was I got Gladys McCoy, the Multnomah County Chair back then. I would be only the third African American male to serve on the Portland City Council, and I’m just old enough to have known and worked with the other two.

One of the things I’m deeply committed to is making sure the city of Portland delivers services equitably to people regardless of the color of their skin, their gender or their sexual orientation. I also want to remove all those barriers that have prevented people who frankly look like me from getting city jobs and staying with city jobs. I want to make sure we not only hire people of color, but also we track their careers. And I’ll make sure we appoint them to positions of power, because it’s not just a matter of just trying to check off boxes and meet diversity quotas. What we really want to do is have a diversity of life experiences represented at the table, and also empower those people so they’re more than just token — so they’re actually people who give us perspective on how we can make our city work better.

 

Seth Woolley

Seth Woolley is a software engineer who has specialized in mapping software. A longtime environmental activist and an advocate for government reform, he was the Green Party candidate for Oregon Secretary of State in 2008 and 2012.

 

Why did you feel called to run?

I’ve been doing a lot of outreach work on campaign finance reform and good government reform, and the City Council and the mayor have always been the last to get onboard with a lot of these issues. I’ve done a lot of environmental work and clean air advocacy, and I consider the council has done essentially nothing on real air quality issues. We’ve seen a lot of action coming from the county and the state.

I was a petitioner at the Supreme Court in Multnomah County versus Mehrwein, and we won our case a couple days ago. Oregon was one of the few states where we had no limits on campaign donations, and when we passed Multnomah County’s campaign finance reform initiative in 2016, the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors was one of the main opponents. (The Supreme Court’s decision last week overturned that appeal.)

I started going through the public funding process early, unsure of whether (Commissioner Eudaly) was going to run again. I like a lot of her policies, but she hasn’t been pushing a lot of the other policies a well-rounded progressive person would push. She seems to be focused on the housing issue primarily and did some good things there, but we need a broader vision if we’re going to get a bunch of these other things addressed, particularly government reform.

 

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

My extensive data background. Usually the people running these bureaus aren’t really data people. I’ve seen a lot of cases where you get a lot of different policy ideas, they’re all touching the data a little bit, but if you don’t understand basic statistics, or why some of these claims might not be valid, it can be hard to come to really good, solid conclusions.

Part of why I work with startup companies is because I want to democratize things.

I want to make systems where everyone can participate.

I’ve worked on open-source software systems for years, trying to improve society. Some people might see it as a technocratic thing, but really what I want to do is allow technology to enable democracy, so you allow the people’s opinion to be reflected.

I was on the (state) legislative task force for campaign finance reform, and the Secretary of State’s task force for redistricting that Dennis Richardson called to work on policies. Because I work on spatial database systems, I (worked on) algorithms for doing district separations to try and make them fair and equal. The Republicans of that group were trying to do a number of things that weren’t necessarily fair, and that would allow them to gerrymander. So I was able to use my technical expertise to call them out on these little things they were doing.

 

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

The primary thing we can do is government reform. Portland has still got an at-large system, which means we don’t have a form of proportional representation, even though we legalized it in the Progressive Era in 1908 by a ballot measure.

The commissioner system is bad, because the bureaus can’t really work together on overarching issues. We created all these different offices that then get assigned to commissioners, and they can’t really be all that effective because they have to negotiate with the other commissioners on how they’re going to work together. If you had a city manager system, you wouldn’t have a rigamarole where everything becomes a negotiation between little fiefdoms.

The system is just inherently broken. The ratio of constituents to elected officials is really important, and Portland has a really bad ratio compared to most other major U.S. cities. Half a million people to a single representative is almost unheard of.

We need to increase the number of commissioners, and actually get rid of the commissioner system. That way people can get elected based on policies, rather than (candidates) having to have administrative experience. The people more likely to have administrative experience tend to have had privileges; you’ll find policy degrees are more prevalent in privileged groups. Then we’d actually elect people who are representative to help craft bills based on their ideology, and what their views are, and what their data is from their own lived experience — a system where they don’t have to be running the water bureau. You really want to have someone who knows how to run a water bureau doing that.

 

Sam Adams

Sam Adams has previously served on Position 1 of the City Council. He became the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city when he was elected in 2008, but declined to seek a second term in light of a scandal around a previous relationship with a legislative intern. A state investigation did not lead to any criminal charges, and Adams left City Hall and headed the City Club of Portland. He then served as director at World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, in Washington D.C., before returning to Portland.

 

Why did you feel called to run?

I’m running because I want the next City Council to be more effective than the current one, and if Portland ever needed a high-achieving city council, this is that time. I offer hands-on, proven experience of getting tough stuff done during tough times. I led the city through the Great Recession when Portland was hardest hit economically. We gathered the city together and dug in, and the result was Portland had one of the strongest local economic recoveries in the nation.

We’re in the midst of a pandemic that is unique, with so many unknowns in terms of health and impacts on economic security. I don’t claim to have all the answers, or maybe even all the questions, but my experience of being part of the leadership team on disasters of all kinds is what I offer.

The city wants change. We need to make sure that we’re doing our absolute best for Portland, and part of the way we figure that out is by having robustly contested races. I offer a different set of skills than the incumbent, and I have a very different operating style than the incumbent, so I wanted to give people a choice.

 

In addition to having served as mayor, what is unique about your background and lived experience that you can bring to the council?

On a personal level, I grew up as a gay kid in Newport, Ore., a place that was virulently anti-gay, at a time when being gay in Oregon was still basically illegal. I bring that sensitivity of what it means to be excluded and judged for reasons that have nothing to do with your actual merit as a person. I bring that sensitivity and sense of priority to wanting to make sure that all Portlanders are treated fairly.

 

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

I would expand the neighborhood improvement district concept, which focused on the poorest business districts, which also happened to be the most racially diverse.

The next step is to work with community partners to create four commissions in the city.

With the commissions we can curate the diversity within the Black African American community, the Latinx Hispanic community, the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, and the Native American community. I would create these commissions inside city government, so they can have input on issues before the decisions are made behind the scenes. And they can review the annual draft budget with an eye to equity, with lived experience of Portland.

I would have the bureau managers required to go in front of these commissions, or a cross-section of these commissions, to report on their employees’ (equal employment opportunity profiles), and the EEO of their minority contracting work. I’d also have the commissioners give an annual report to these groups, so that we as a city are not only held more accountable, but so they can be truly empowered to give input inside the city, not with random meetings called ad hoc.

I would also give them the power if they want to weigh in on land-use decisions. In my work with World Resources Institute, I saw what I just described work very effectively in cities around the world. Portland needs something like this badly while we’re figuring out the neighborhood associations. We can’t wait three years to make real, substantive improvements, and we can’t wait to give historically disenfranchised Portlanders a voice in policy-making. Even with the best of intentions, too often that happens on an ad hoc basis if at all, and often after the decisions have been formally made.

The other thing I’ve proposed is that Portland businesses start publicly reporting the EEO profiles of their boards of directors. The city would collect that as part of the business license tax that we already require of each company, so it would be added to an existing process to make it as streamlined a reporting (process) as possible.

So with those two things, we start to really have meaningful input inside the city decision-making, and then externally we begin to add accountability and rewards. We begin to recognize companies that have as their leadership at the board level the kind of inclusion and equity that are consistent with Portland values. That recognition and internal inclusion, I think, would make a significant improvement in making sure that all Portlanders have access to all the opportunities within our community.

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