Our Opinion: Valderrama is the clear choice for council
It's a five-way race to replace retiring Commissioner Dan Saltzman on the Portland City Council, and voters can be forgiven if they have a difficult time deciding among this field of smart, but quite different candidates.
Each of the five brings a unique perspective — and a distinct personal history — to the fray. But in the final analysis, it is Portland's unusual form of government that makes this an easy call.
City commissioners are not just advocates or public representatives. They also are bureau chiefs who must be able to supervise certain complex functions of city government. And they must be able to find at least two allies on the five-member council to turn their priorities into policies. Given this reality, the candidate who emerges as the best choice for Council Position 3 is Andrea Valderrama, a policy adviser to Mayor Ted Wheeler who also worked for former Commissioner Steve Novick.
Valderrama has a working knowledge of much that goes on at City Hall. And in a group interview with our editorial board, she also demonstrated she can be an independent voice on the council, even diverging at times from the positions taken by her current boss.
Beyond her obvious grasp of policy, Valderrama would bring another asset: She lives in the Hazelwood neighborhood in outer East Portland, which has been woefully underrepresented on the council for decades. She knows the challenges of taking her young daughter on walks along streets lacking sidewalks and — as a staffer for Novick — worked on bringing better transit and safer roads for cyclists and pedestrians to that side of town.
As a member of the David Douglas School Board, Valderrama has shown a commitment to the community and an ability to reach consensus, a valuable skill in City Hall. Among a group of candidates with compelling personal stories, Valderrama has one of her own: She is a first-generation Peruvian-American, whose family fled from political violence.
Although she's just 29, she's attracted a long list of impressive endorsements that includes former Commissioner Mike Lindberg, retired businessman Al Jubitz and AFSCME Local 189, which represents the largest block of the city's unionized employees.
To get past the May 15 primary and into a fall runoff, Valderrama must break out of a grouping that includes some better-known names.
If we were looking for an activist who can back up inspiring rhetoric with sound research, Jo Ann Hardesty would be at the top of our list. Hardesty's passions — which include police reform, the environment and housing — are a good match for the city. But her approach to the role of city commissioner is at odds with the job requirements. The former state lawmaker said her strategy would be to hire good bureau managers and then focus on constituent work. That could work in most cities, where a strong mayor or administrative manager is responsible for overseeing departments. But it won't fly in Portland.
Loretta Smith, who we endorsed for her current job as a Multnomah County commissioner, remains the best retail politician in this race (and maybe the city). She's often correct on the issues, such as her push to at least consider the Wapato Jail site for a homeless shelter, but we are troubled by the high turnover of her staff (some of whom have accused her of bullying behavior) and her penchant for picking political fights at the county.
Two other candidates — architect Stuart Emmons and biotech manager Felicia Williams — have substantial backgrounds in business and community service. Emmons has the most well-developed plan for addressing Portland's housing crisis and his first-hand experience navigating the city's vexing building regulations would be an asset on the council. But his focus on a single issue, for which he would likely have no authority, rules him out.
Williams has an impressive record of community service in Northwest Portland and a refreshing no-nonsense approach to problem solving. We share her view that Portland must abandon its commission form of government and urge her to join the effort to make that happen. But we think she would make a better bureau head than council member.
In the end, we see this as a clear choice. Valderrama would bring exciting fresh perspectives and valuable insider insights into the job, allowing her, unlike her challengers, to hit the ground running as the head of whichever city bureaus she is assigned. And, if elected, she'd be the first millennial and first Latina to serve on the Portland City Council, while also giving voice to an underrepresented — and often underserved — area of Portland.
We strongly recommend voters support Andrea Valderrama for Council Position 3.