05-18-2024  6:37 pm   •   PDX and SEA Weather
L to R: Sam Adams (Photo/Facebook Sam for Portland), Carlos Richard (Photo courtesy Tabernacle of the Congregation Ministries), Nicolas Hara (Photo/Carly Someplace)
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 08 April 2024

(Part 2 of 2)

Five candidates are vying for the spot previously held by Susheela Jayapal, who resigned from office in November to focus on running for Oregon's 3rd Congressional District. Jesse Beason is currently serving as interim commissioner in Jayapal’s place.

The candidates include former Portland Mayor Sam Adams, hotel owner and Equity Development Lab cofounder Jessie Burke, former executive director of JOIN and leader of Oregon's Racial Justice Council Shannon Singleton, political data director Nicholas Hara and Multnomah County Department of County Human Services Equity and Inclusion Manager Carlos Richard.

Ballots will be mailed to in-state voters on May 1.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity. 

SAM ADAMS

www.multcoforsam.com

Sam Adams (Photo/Facebook Sam for Portland)What would you do to improve equity for Black Portlanders?

I am interested in collaborating with Black community leaders to assess whether we should restart biennial reports on the State of Black Multnomah County and Oregon or some other regular report that regularly evaluates racial equity in areas such as education, income, wealth creation, and home ownership. The National Urban League's publication of the State of Black America is a great example of how such reports can set benchmarks for prioritization and hold public and private decision-makers accountable for tangible outcomes in racial equality. If community leaders agree to add this idea, my goal would be for the county and the Black community to collaborate on solving a significant issue every two years.

In 2010, I co-created the Future Connect Scholarship Program. The program offers a two-year financial scholarship and comprehensive support, including career guidance, a success coach, and job opportunities, to students who aim to transfer to a four-year university. In four years, my goal would be to double the annual amount awarded for scholarships. 

If elected, I would collaborate with community leaders to modify the Clean Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund (PCEF) every year so that funds can be allocated to support start-ups and existing Black-owned businesses and other initiatives. Denver's PCEF has a similar program, which we can replicate.

Within a year, my objective for this separate fund would be to establish and manage it with the help of local Black community members.

 

What is your proposal for tackling the issue of drug use and drug addiction in your district?

A key reason (for substandard results) is that we have a patchwork system with scant accountability. I propose some key reforms.

First, we should require strict and timely public reporting for demographic information by law enforcement, the district attorney and the courts. We know that past drug enforcement activities were deeply systemically biased. We should not repeat it. 

We need to start now to replace the drug and alcohol sobering center. For five years, outreach workers and first responders have had nowhere to drop off those in crisis.

Due to staffing shortages, the county should approve AMR’s modified ambulance staffing model for now, and monitor and revise as necessary.

Next, we should establish a single unified care intake and tracking system for people who need it, and county-funded services must be a top priority in joint budgeting.

We must help catalyze the construction of 20,000 new affordable rental housing units, including for drug and mental illness recovery using extra existing Multnomah County tax funds from Metro. 

When the state legislature made drug possession illegal again, it also allowed for the creation of a deflection system for those caught with drugs. I believe that the deflection system is a good option. To figure out the best way to implement it, I suggest testing different deflection approaches for people found with smaller amounts of drugs by law enforcement. To get accurate results, the pilot program should be well-funded and collect data on the participants' progress as they go through different deflection pathways. I propose that the pilot program should explore a scenario where civilian outreach workers, like Portland Street Response, play a significant role in processing an individual’s enrollment and progression through the deflection process.

 

What else do you see as the most urgent issues the county will face in the coming years and how do you plan to tackle them?

We must functionally end outdoor homelessness by banning outdoor camping and ensuring there are always enough shelter beds and housing options for everyone who needs them each month, ensuring no one must live outside in unauthorized camps; restore more peace and safety for all Multnomah-ians by championing the hiring of law enforcement district attorneys and public defenders to reduce gun-related homicides and other crimes to the lower rates experienced before the pandemic – with more civilian oversight of these functions to ensure equitable application of the laws; and re-democratize county policy and budget-making and rejuvenate commissioners' and the public's oversight of the county work. 

Here is a summary of how I would start at the top to re-democratize and improve county policy and budget-making and rejuvenate oversight, to ensure good work is getting done in a fair and equitable manner: first, repeal the corruption of an open government rule (that allows the chair to make unilateral decisions about which proposals come before board). It hinders needed oversight by county commissioners, the public and the media.

We must end the undue influence of unreported special interest lobbying by ending secret lobbying meetings, requiring lobbyist registration and activity reporting. I would advocate for public posting of past weekly schedules by elected officials, and I would slow the revolving door of lobbying, where staff and elected officials can immediately take lucrative lobbying jobs to lobby their former colleagues. I’d do this by creating a one-year ban on elected officials or staff from lobbying the county. 

I would also create a county manager position that acts like a city manager.

 

What about your own personal and professional background inspired you to run for this position?

On most all issues, too often, Multnomah County decision-making lacks focus, urgency, partnering and accountability. That is why I’m running for county commissioner to help fix this. I offer a lifelong passion for public service, and I have a track record of success in tackling big bureaucratic problems.

I have bachelors in political science from the University of Oregon. I have acted as United States county director for the World Resources Institute think tank, served as executive director of the Portland City Club executive director; previously served as Portland mayor and Portland city commissioner and as chair for the Lane County Democratic Party. 

Here is what my staff, others and I, moved forward when I worked in Portland’s City Hall from February 2021 to January 2023: I collaborated with my team and others to establish weekly problem-solving meetings in Oldtown, Delta Park and Gateway, then citywide. We established a street services coordination team so that for the first time we could offer shelter reservations, storage for belongings and free rides to storage. We used mayoral emergency declarations to band dangerous camps and camps on school routes. 

In response to gun violence, we oversaw new focused gun violence reduction strategies with the (new) Focused Intervention Team led by the Community Oversight Group. (We also launched) the Gun Violence Reduction Strategy Place-Based pilot, an innovative approach changing one of the deadliest blocks in the city to one of the safest. 

For the first time, we added some muscle behind the otherwise weak 7-year-old housing emergency declaration with the 20,000 Affordable Rental Housing Production Plan. 

CARLOS RICHARD

carlos richard introCarlos Richard (Photo courtesy Tabernacle of the Congregation Ministries)What would you do to improve equity for Black Portlanders?

One of the first things I would do is to define what equity is: Equity simply means meeting people where they are, and giving individuals what they need in order to be successful. 

I would form a collaboration or I would seek to collaborate with the city of Portland and with the Portland Public School District to look at the achievement gap in education and also graduation rates for these students who represent ethnic and diverse backgrounds in District 2. 

I think education is the substratum where students and individuals can find success as they continue to sojourn in life, and I think education is one of the greatest keys to getting out of poverty or never going into poverty. It also really helps to break up the prison pipeline issue among our students of color.

I would focus on economics. I think Blacks, Africans, African Americans are still in a position where they’re economically disadvantaged and when we look at improving equity, for example, as it relates to housing, we know that a lot of Black Portlanders were displaced by the I-5 bridge, Emanuel Hospital and the Memorial Coliseum; members of my family experienced that displacement. I appreciate all of the efforts that are transpiring now, but affordable housing is just one aspect. We want to go from affordable housing as a foundation to individuals actually coming back into the community to buy houses to live in.

We have to do something around restorative justice on a larger scale than just affordable housing. 

 

What is your proposal for tackling the issue of drug use and drug addiction in your district?

I’d focus on how we could expand sober centers and recovery sites using a model out of Seattle, where let’s say an individual was found to have hard drugs on them and law enforcement absorbed this, giving law enforcement the latitude and flexibility to transport an individual to a sobering center or recovery center. I grew up in the days of the Hooper Detox, and I think those are viable options for tackling drug use and drug addiction as a first stop.

We also have to remember that there are some individuals who may reject treatment, and I must say if this case I agree with Mayor Ted Wheeler that maybe there’s a different way that we can help individuals who reject the services because we can’t just leave individuals on the street to continue to cause harm, whether it’s using drugs and stealing property, stealing from businesses, or it’s individuals who are selling the drugs. We just can’t leave people on the streets. We have to give them options.

The third thing I would do is have regular community forums within District 2 to really get feedback from the community members. Anything we do is going to involve taxpayer dollars. 

 

What else do you see as the most urgent issues the county will face in the coming years and how do you plan to tackle them?

We’re still going to have to deal with inflation. And for individuals in District 2, individuals are still being priced out of their homes. And I have made myself aware of the latest discussions even at a federal level about the interest rates, but I just rode by a gas station the other day and now gas is back up over $4. We’re going to have to help people deal with choices: do I pay my rent/mortgage, or do I buy medicine? Do I pay my car insurance in full this month or do I pay a portion of it just so I can eat? We in the county are going to have to come up with ways to help individuals, and not continuously tax individuals for service. 

I think we’re going to have to deal with community safety and livability over the next four years. Violent crime is seemingly on the increase, but one of the crimes that is really not talked about is property crimes. For example, I know a young lady who goes to work every day as a security guard in downtown Portland. She lives off of Halsey (in Gateway), and her car has been broken into twice. The first time they stole her car, and the car was totaled by the insurance company because it tested positive for fentanyl. And so she gets another car and she’s doing fine, and then that car was also broken into. So since Dec. 28 of 2023, she’s had three cars. Not because it was her fault or because she was in an accident – it’s simply because of community safety and livability. 

We’re going to have to work in collaboration on a greater scale with the city of Portland and the state of Oregon..The list is as long as Killingsworth: You’ve got to deal with food insecurity at the same time that you’re dealing with affordable housing, people being priced out. We have to really sit down and think about, as a county, how do we help every single individual in this county, at the same time while we’re trying to focus on the big three issues of fentanyl, drug addiction and homelessness. 

 

What about your own personal and professional background inspired you to run for this position?

This started back in 1989 when a couple of young men – Tony Hopson and Ray Leary – were in the initial stages of developing Self Enhancement Inc. And so a lot of us young men and women who were graduating from high school or in college, we were brought in to be employed as counselors working the one-week basketball program. It expanded into a six-week summer program for students at what was then Humboldt Elementary School, and then it expanded into the high school program and the in-school program. By that time I had launched my career, but Self Enhancement was the early substratum and foundation that really informed me and raised my awareness of issues that our African American children and families were facing. I’m going back to the days at the height of gang violence, the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, the drive-by shootings, the murder of friends that I went to high school with. 

As I transitioned into working in child welfare, I worked with kids who were in foster care, who were in transition. I worked with kids who were in the adoptive stage, getting ready to transition into a permanent family. So again, looking at some of the problems that our kids faced, and how poverty impacted children.

Now, I’m working as an equity manager with Multnomah County and I’m also an adjunct professor with Warner Pacific University. I grew up in North/Northeast Portland. I’ve been here five decades – all of my life. I’ve seen the different transitions that have impacted North and Northeast Portland. We lost our community through gentrification.

NICOLAS HARRA

www.nickhara.com

nick hara introNicolas Hara (Photo/Carly Someplace)What would you do to improve equity for Black Portlanders?

One of the first initiatives I really want to work on is codifying better public involvement processes that don’t rely on people passively coming to the county when there is an issue, but for us actively reaching back out and saying hey, these are the things that are going on, this is how they’re going to affect you.

A big issue within the county is that lens of Whiteness plays itself out in all of our departments, especially in our contracting processes. So I’d really like to go through and evaluate, how are these policies benefitting or not benefitting minority and women-owned businesses? We have specific programs for (Minority & Women Business Enterprises) contractors. However, I’ve always been struck by how they’re meant for small MWBE contractors, and we don’t have good longitudinal data for when some of those organizations are graduating out and becoming more general contractors. Are we truly creating opportunity, or are we just creating a side door for smaller chunks of our projects? How are we really evaluating that?

Third is better, actionable data, specifically on the racial impacts of our departmental policies. We have a department of diversity and we also have a department of racial justice, but while I see a lot of emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion in our departments, I don’t see a lot of going to that next step saying hey, have we systematically created processes that have excluded these populations? How are the facilities that we have – our library services, for example – how are they placed to benefit, or how is the programming created, to actually create exclusion for (marginalized communities)? A sense of unwelcomeness, either intentional or unintentional?

 

What is your proposal for tackling the issue of drug use and drug addiction in your district?

Currently, Multnomah County in partnership with the city and state have declared a fentanyl emergency. Reading the updates, the first 30 days were dedicated almost exclusively to establishing lines of communication. The only goals they had were about collaborating better. But it’s a little scary to me that we get to a state of emergency and we say hey we’re not collaborating well. To me that speaks to a deeper problem of government coordination, and the problem of one department or one government knowing something that the other doesn’t, and that information not being conveyed in a meaningful capacity for us to have made different choices. It’s a 90-day emergency and they burned the first third on that.

A great example is the sobering center that we were supposed to have in Multnomah County. In 2019, the sobering center shuts down in downtown and the county says, we’re going to build a new one. Now it’s the end of 2023, and what we see is the county say, you know what, all that work you did trying to figure out a new site and new facility? We’re going to throw that out the door and do another three-year process. So now the next time that we intend to have a sobering center is 2027 – we’re pushing a decade since we’ve had a facility like that to handle that kind of issue. Yet we continue to have 500 some-odd overdose deaths that potentially could have been mitigated or prevented with the presence of a sobering center, just in 2022 alone. It’s a kind of procedural getting stuck in the weeds and not steering our programs toward action – I feel there’s a lot of room for improvement there.

I’d like to think of this as part of a more holistic continuum of care. With the fentanyl crisis, we’re primarily talking about an unhoused population that is using fentanyl, not fentanyl users in general, because they generally have safer avenues for use. At the point that these tragic situations are occuring, it’s reflective to me of multiple failures within our community, within our local government, to have made interventions. Just stepping in and building community with somebody. These are all opportunities for us to help somebody along a different path, and we’ve missed them over and over again until the point where we have significant interventions from our local governments, and those become exponentially more expensive and they become extractive of the county’s resources. 

 

What else do you see as the most urgent issues the county will face in the coming years and how do you plan to tackle them?

One in two households in Multnomah County are considered cost-burdened. One in three are considered unable to meet their basic needs. In the next four years, what we’re going to be faced with is the question, can we make a change on that? We’re going to build about 5,800 new homes through Metro and their housing bond. That’s great, but the National Low-Income Housing Coalition Estimates that we will still need 75,000 affordable units. All of this is the same problem to me: We have a crisis of affordability, because affordability in Multnomah has been systematically taken away from its residents over a long, slow period of time. We’re talking about the degradation of high-paying wages, increases in day to day costs and tax structures that just are fundamentally geared toward letting the winners win and letting working-class families and everyone else just sort of fend for themselves.

We need to look in-house and focus on, how do we make Multnomah County an employer of choice? How can we offer a living wage for all staff, for all contractors, and ensure that anybody who gets a chunk of our $3.5 billion budget is also paying living wages to their staff. It’s also ensuring livable conditions and pushing people away from that edge of being cost-burdened or being unable to meet their basic needs. Part of that is looking into, can we favor unions more? 

 

What about your own personal and professional background inspired you to run for this position?

For the last four years I’ve been a data director for Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, and before that I worked for a tech company and worked with some really cool accounts, like the entire United Nations ecosystem. And what you find is that what makes an organization work well is first, the ability of leadership to let the experts do what they’re best at and give them the tools. Second, they were data-informed, they weren’t data-driven. Data-informed is not pretending that data has the answers. It’s understanding that it is one tool to understand the world around us, and in order to get a full and complete picture of that we have to integrate the lived experience of the people that we trust or the people we are working with.

I’m really proud of the work I’ve done. I’ve helped with census outreach – during 2020, we went to historically undercounted populations and helped them fill out their census. It was huge because New York City, prior to the census, was estimated to have a much smaller population than it did end up having. I’ve used mapping data after a flood to figure out where areas were flooded, and we coordinated that with direct outreach to businesses or homes that were affected and made sure that they were ok. I’ve done hurricane recovery, literally working off spreadsheets and coordinating with people on the ground, in boats, to get people to safety. It’s that kind of direct action I’ve had a lot of pride in, and I’d love to scale that up to a government level. 

I see Multnomah County is still in the early stages of doing that data integration.

The county is starting to build lots of dashboards but you can’t find any of them, and the dashboards aren’t giving you quite the information you’re looking for – a lot of numbers, but not a lot of that direct impact work. I think that’s really starting to show with the way people perceive the effectiveness of Multnomah County right now. There are a lot of ways we can mature the use of data to integrate that lived experience of the people around us to make for a much better functioning county. 

 

Read Part 1 of these interviews here: Five Running to Represent Northeast Portland at County Level Include Former Mayor, Social Worker, Hotelier

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