Milwaukie appoints historic first Muslim member of City Council
Milwaukie City Council's appointment of its first Iranian or Muslim council member in history came after much debate over another candidate that councilors felt was equally qualified for the seat.
On May 4, Councilor Angel Falconer resigned from council, saying her recent bout with COVID exposed underlying health conditions that made it impossible to continue public service.
"There's always arm-wrestling," Milwaukie Councilor Lisa Batey quipped as the City Council debated for over half an hour which candidate to appoint to Falconer's vacant seat.
City councilors had been deadlocked at 2-2 between Batey and Mayor Mark Gamba for Planning Commission member Masoud Adam Khosroabadi, and Councilors Kathy Hyzy and Desi Nicodemus for Rebecca Stavenjord, chair of the Lewelling neighborhood and chief of staff for Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann.
Finally, Hyzy broke the tie in favor of appointing Khosroabadi after hearing that the city would later this year be reengaging Clackamas County officials over park planning and thinking about how Khosroabadi was already knee-deep in county politics as chair of its veterans advisory committee.
A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq, Khosroabadi was the veteran committee's secretary last year when committee members stood up to Commissioner Mark Shull for attacking LGBTQ+, BIPOC and Muslim and Jewish communities in the county. Later in 2021, the city held a "Breakfast & Learn" with Khosroabadi to learn directly from the Middle Eastern Muslim community about what Milwaukie can do to be more inclusive and equitable.
As a city councilor, Khosroabadi told Milwaukie officials, "Not only would I be an ally, but I would be a force in support of the city's commitment who would ensure that all members of our historically marginalized communities are heard and always have a seat at the table."
Hyzy's vote for Khosroabadi came despite her earlier assurances to Nicodemus that she would give extra weight to Nicodumus' preference as the only member of City Council who is guaranteed to continue as an elected official past the new year.
Hyzy is up for reelection this November, but she could choose to run for mayor instead. Gamba, who is leaving to run as a state representative, said that Batey is also eyeing the mayoral position because Batey is term limited as a city councilor.
Hyzy said her reversal on Khosroabadi versus Stavenjord came with the asterisk that she would support all three candidates who applied for the vacant seat if they ran in the November election. Sitting councilors also had many words of encouragement for the third candidate, Arts Committee member Joshua Freeman, a Black/African American paralegal who helped organize last year's first Juneteenth event.
"If all three of these candidates don't run in November, I'm going to be real mad at them," Hyzy said.
Gamba agreed that the candidates were all deserving of appointment to council, and all three of the applicants could be counted as "folks who have been historically kept from participating," he said, citing their gender or ethnic backgrounds.
Hyzy had originally said that the Stavenjord would be "hitting the ground running" as a councilor with her experience in government, and Batey called Stavenjord a "powerhouse."
"Equity was embedded in each and every answer," Nicodemus said of Stavenjord. "She gave really good ideas to how we as a city, we as a council, can change things."
But Gamba said that Khosroabadi would equally be able to hit the ground running, with his experience on the city's land-use committee.
"70% of the hard things that come to this council first came through the planning commission," Gamba said.
"I'm having a problem with your line of thinking," Nicodemus told Gamba. "Let's judge them based on the answers that they gave, not what they've done."
In the end, councilors will be leaning on Khosroabadi's experience as a Milwaukie planning commissioner who helped form the city's tree code as the city expands the regulations to commercial development. He said these tree codes will further help mitigate the effects of climate change and warming global temperatures.
"Earthquake retrofitting is another way we can help by reducing the damage done to the environment in the case of a natural disaster," he said. "The major concerns for residents are affordability, sustainability, climate change and infrastructure."
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