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City councilor and founder of East County Rising throws hat in ring for mayor post

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Eddy Morales, candidate for Gresham mayor, with Mayra Gomez, a member of the Gresham-Barlow School Board at an East County Rising function last year.

Gresham City Council member Eddy Morales has announced his intention to run for mayor of Gresham, vowing to focus on improving the city's governance and revenue streams, parks and affordable housing.

"My life's work has been to engage people," the 40 year-old said, "I want to help people understand their own power and get the community to shape the policies that shape our lives."

The mayor's job is up for grabs since former Mayor Shane Bemis abruptly resigned in mid-June. Bemis was replaced on a temporary basis by City Councilor Karylinn Echols, who said she will not run for mayor when her appointed term expires in December. Gresham's mayor is paid $61,200 per year.

The filing deadline for running for mayor and three open city council positions in the November election is Thursday, Aug. 20.

Morales comes with a sturdy political background. He's been on the city council since January 2019, and has been treasurer for the Democratic Party of Oregon for more than three years. He has also served as the director of the nonprofit Washington D.C.-based Latino Engagement Fund for more than four years.

He also founded the grassroots community action group East County Rising, which has seen success in recruiting and supporting diverse candidates that have won seats on school boards and other government bodies.

Morales said he became active in the community and started East County Rising because several times when he approached city government with questions about housing and immigration issues, he did not get responses about his concerns.

Plus, the composition of the city council and city government didn't reflect the diversity of the Gresham community, he said, so East County Rising was designed to get East County's diverse residents more involved in government.

Improving governance

Morales thinks the way the city is run can be improved.

"As mayor, I can bring forth good governance initiatives," Morales told The Outlook.

Morales backs term limits for city officials. He wants to change the way city counselors are elected. He'd like to scrap the at-large system and have councilors elected to represent specific neighborhoods and areas of Gresham.

Morales favors having an elected, independent auditor for Gresham, who not only looks over the city's books but evaluates the effectiveness of programs.

He also said, "right now it is not clear how residents can file concerns and complaints about city employees and our police."

Morales is uneasy about the city's financial situation. Even before the economic catastrophe brought on by closures due to COVID-19 pandemic, he said the city has been "chipping away at our carry forward at the end of the year. We need a more sustainable funding base, without regressive fees."

Morales is not shy about his difficult and poverty-plagued childhood. His family relocated 10 times in the Portland area before he graduated from high school. When he was 16 years old, his 18 year-old brother was killed in a random shooting. So devastated by his death, Morales dropped out of high school, but later regrouped and graduated from college.

He worked and lived in Washington D.C. for 13 years, where he was president of the U.S. Student Association and an active supporter in several congressional and state elections. He's on the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

He and his long-term partner have lived in Gresham for about a decade.

Affordable housing

Since housing was so unstable for him as a child, it isn't surprising that increasing affordable housing in Gresham is also a major goal for Morales if he is elected mayor.

"This is really important to me, that people have a safe place to stay," he said.

He also wants to make sure people have a safe place to play.

"Parks funding is really nonexistent in Gresham. I'm pushing for a parks district," he said.

Morales said Gresham has many strengths on which to build. He praised the innovation brought to the community by the many small businesses.

Morales said another of Gresham's biggest strengths is its diversity. He pointed out that about 40% of Gresham residents are Black, Indigenous or other people of color and nearly 20% were not born in the United States.

"Our diversity is a huge strength. Our diverse culture makes Gresham dynamic," he said.

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