Historic vote greater than the sum of its parts
In January, in this column, I encouraged all of us to live by the example set by the late Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish.
As he so eloquently stated in his final letter to the community:
"…I have insisted that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, and I have focused on partnership, collaboration, and shared success. Across the country, the last decade has seen a stark decline in civility. Portland has not been immune to the national weakening of civil discourse. We can rise to this occasion and embrace inclusivity, sustainability, and shared prosperity for all. We must unite around these values and make them real through collective effort. City Council can do its part by fostering diverse rather than divergent priorities. It is our obligation to find the common ground in order to advance the common good. I have seen the power of partnership, and I trust our community's leaders to see that the people of Portland deserve our best."
Since the coronavirus pandemic has hit our state, the last few months have seemed like years. It is hard to believe that it was only five months since we tragically lost Nick's leadership and dedication to serving our city.
In January, I recall feeling pessimistic about the future of leadership in Portland and worried about our ability to rise-up and meet the challenges we were facing, despite unprecedented economic growth.
I noted rising homelessness, a severe housing shortage, the skyrocketing cost of living, and a degrading and overburdened infrastructure. I worried that we had lost our last great "compromiser-in-chief," and we were moving into a new era of ideological, political warfare.
But then we were hit with a once-in-a-century pandemic, which gave us the starkest reminder of the importance of leadership qualities — competence, collaboration, data-driven decision-making, and pragmatism.
And in the bleakest of times, when we filled out our ballots amid the COVID-19 crisis that has upended our lives and wrought widespread economic damage, primary voters lived up to the challenge commissioner Fish left for us — giving us renewed hope for the future.
The process of rebuilding an economy that benefits everyone in our community will require unprecedented collaboration between the public and private sectors for years to come. Across the board, voters clearly prioritized candidates they believe have the leadership ability to rise to the moment.
Despite missing the required 50% threshold by just a few hundred votes for an outright win, Mayor Wheeler received a clear vote of confidence for his strong leadership during the pandemic.
Candidates Loretta Smith and Dan Ryan emerged from a crowded field to advance to the runoff to replace Nick. Both have proven track records of bringing different sides together to solve real problems.
Our community elected Carmen Rubio, the first Latinx person to be elected to the Portland City Council. Carmen, who served on Commissioner Fish's staff and built one of the most diverse coalition of supporters in Portland history, received the final endorsement ever issued by Nick. The Portland Business Alliance was pleased to endorse her, too.
History was made again when voters overwhelmingly approved the Metro homeless services measure. This effort was led by perhaps the largest coalition ever built to support a regional ballot measure, with more than 400 organizations, including the Portland Business Alliance.
When writing about the measure's victory, Willamette Week wrote, "business groups and nonprofits that serve the homeless became unbeatable allies." I could not have said it better.
And Portland Democratic voters overwhelmingly re-elected Rep. Rob Nosse to the Oregon Legislature. Nosse, another pragmatic progressive, faced a challenge from a far-left candidate who was heavily backed by the public employee unions. The challenge was simply because he supported a compromise in the 2019 Legislative Session, which paved the way for $2 billion in new school revenue and meaningful PERS reform.
The overall result of this election is that voters overwhelmingly responded to a call on the community to prioritize collaboration over ideology and division and support candidates and policies that bring us together rather than divide us simply for political purposes.
Our work is not finished. The challenge of re-opening and paving the way for our regional economic recovery relies on all of us to continue to work together and support leaders who are committed to new and innovative partnerships. COVID-19 has changed so much in our community, the challenges ahead are as big as any our region has ever faced.
Last week, voters gave us hope that by electing a new generation of collaborative, solution-oriented leaders, we can make it through and rebuild a stronger future together. I believe Commissioner Fish would be proud.
Vanessa Sturgeon is chair of the board of directors, Portland Business Alliance and is president and CEO of TMT Development. To find out more about Portland Business Alliance committee involvement, visit the website (portlandalliance.com/committees).
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.