The city of Gresham has arrived at a historic crossroads, when the shape of local government will evolve in ways not even imagined.
After nationwide Black Lives Matter protests ignited in late May by the heartbreaking death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, the shockwave and outrage soon reached Gresham. We bore witness to the racial unrest, followed by the sudden and remarkable resignations of Gresham's city manager, police chief and mayor. And then the return of the police chief who decided she'd been too hasty in her earlier departure.
With protests and counter protests setting the stage, and the largest field of City Council and mayoral candidates assembled in anyone's memory (17 candidates for four positions), Gresham's leadership and the tone and direction of local governance will change.
The shape of that change — what Gresham's city government will look like a year from now — will largely depend upon the people Gresham residents elect to lead as mayor and city councilors. With a diverse group of candidates, the stakes have never been higher and the importance of putting the right people in office has never been greater.
In The Outlook's endorsements for mayor and City Council, we're looking for the candidates who will best embrace diversity, who are open to smart changes in policing, who have life experiences that prepared them to lead, and who won't advocate narrow agendas to the exclusion of other important issues. We need people in the these elected positions who represent a cross-section of local residents, so that the City Council truly represents the entire community.
With few exceptions, each of these 17 candidates has their individual merits. Each of them have been brave enough to put themselves forward at a difficult time to serve in any political office. And we congratulate each of them for their willingness to serve.
OUR RECOMMENDATION: Elect Travis Stovall
Gresham voters will not find a better candidate on the ballot to serve as the city's next mayor than Travis Stovall. As a Black man, he faces the overt and systemic racism that Black men, women and children encounter everyday in the United States. His lived experience as a Black man gives him the perspectives that will shape discussions on equity and unity. Issues of social and racial equity will rank high on his list of priorities.
As the city's next mayor, Stovall's approach to addressing injustices will begin through what he calls "equitable economic development." In his words, "The best way to enhance a community's livability is to ensure we have adequate jobs and opportunity for all."
Though Stovall has never served in elected office, his credentials in leadership are unmatched by his opponents. He lists 18 volunteer appointments to boards and committees, among them serving as vice president of the TriMet Board of Directors that oversees a $1.5 billion budget.
Stovall is an entrepreneur who launched his own tech business, employing nine people at living wages here in Gresham. Managing budgets, supervising professionals and providing leadership are all in a day's work for Stovall.
His talents in running a successful business will be beneficial as the city of Gresham and East Multnomah County work to pull themselves out of the economic disaster created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In today's political climate, no candidate for city government will be able to avoid the conversation of police reform. Stovall is not an advocate for defunding Gresham's police force, which he describes as historically underfunded. Rather, he wants Gresham to reimagine public safety in a way that the entire community — especially Black and Brown members — feel safe and protected. Rather than cutting police funding, Stovall envisions a need for further investment in public safety.
Lastly, voters can be assured that Stovall isn't interested in using this election as a stepping stone to higher office. He's running out of pure commitment to the people and the town he calls home.
Travis Stovall is the right choice for Gresham's next mayor.
COUNCIL POSITION No. 1
OUR RECOMMENDATION: Re-elect Jerry Hinton
As local government goes through a turbulent transition, Jerry Hinton would offer stability and balance that is so necessary to providing representation to the entire community. Now running for his third term, Hinton has been a rock-solid member of the Gresham City Council. Dependable, prompt, engaged, informed are just a few of the adjectives that describe his leadership on the council.
But Hinton is so much more.
Like Stovall, Hinton is worried about Gresham's low per capita presence of police on the streets, and rather than cutting police funds, he's an advocate for developing additional funding for mental health intervention and other social services.
Hinton agrees that Gresham can do better in addressing racial inequities, saying "We owe it to future generations to take advantage of the heightened awareness of inequalities right now in order to make positive and permanent change."
As a returning city councilor, Hinton would complement Stovall's vision for strong, equitable economic development. Hinton understands business, having operated a successful company for 34 years, and had more than 7,000 employees pass by under his supervision.
Jerry Hinton has served admirably on the Gresham Council for two terms, and he possesses the vision necessary to bring about the social and racial changes needed in local government. On top of that, electing Hinton would ensure Gresham's council reflects the entire community.
Re-elect Jerry Hinton to Position No. 1
COUNCIL POSITION No. 3
OUR RECOMMENDATION: Elect Vincent Jones-Dixon
For the first time in more than 30 years, a Black person was appointed to the Gresham City Council in July 2020. That person was Vincent Jones-Dixon, chosen from a field of 15 candidates to fill the unexpired term left vacant when Carolyn Echols was elevated to interim mayor.
Not even two months into his appointment, Jones-Dixon is now seeking election to that seat.
In the same vein as Stovall and Hinton, Jones-Dixon fits with the overall theme of electing a council that is truly representative of the community at-large. Besides being Black, Jones-Dixon, at 31, is also young in comparison to most on the council. He brings a point of view that would otherwise go unspoken by the "get off of my lawn gang."
But Jones-Dixon is more than a young man. He's had aspirations of seeking elected office for at least the last five years. He did his homework by holding conversation with Gresham residents as he honed his priorities.
And Jones-Dixon brings life experience to the role, having lived through the tragedy of his brother's shooting death in Rockwood. Jones-Dixon resisted the temptation of the gang lifestyle, and instead, went in the other direction.
Along with volunteering with the Rockwood CDC, he has been supportive of Beyond Black CDC and Play Grow Learn, which hosts camps and activities for homeless and foster children. He is active in his children's' schools, serves on the Gresham Charter Review Committee and was a community liaison for the Rockwood Rising development, which was rebranded as Downtown Rockwood. He also has been involved in conversations with law enforcement around community policing.
It would be a shame to see this young man — who earned the respect and confidence of fellow city councilors — lose the opportunity just a few short months later. Let's give Vincent Jones-Dixon a chance to prove himself by electing him to a full term on Nov. 3.
COUNCIL POSITION No.5
OUR RECOMMENDATION: Elect Sue Piazza
You may have noticed, our endorsements have been somewhat male dominated. It's time to fix that with the endorsement of Sue Piazza, a woman with intense committment to community involvement and business acumen.
The fact that she's a woman matters. But it's really only secondary to the talents she would bring to her role as a city councilor.
Piazza is an entrepreneur, having helped lead a family business to international success. From there she became one of the top real estate producers in East Multnomah County. And after the Great Recession she reinvented herself as a travel professional. When elected, she will bring her fiscal responsibility and know-how to her role as a city councilor.
As a community volunteer, she recently launched the East County chapter of "100+ Women Who Care," a group that raises over $10,000 per quarter in support of local nonprofit organizations. She's served on the Gresham-Barlow Budget Committee and Education Foundation. And the list goes on and on.
Piazza has proven herself as a compassionate and engaged member of our community, who fits perfectly into the group of diverse individuals who form the new Gresham City Council.
Piazza is an advocate for public safety, ranking it her top priority as a city councilor. She's an advocate of seeking creative solutions to people in mental health crisis, child protection situations and homeless services without sacrificing the funding for police.
As a city councilor, she will be prepared and keep an open mind when listening to differing points of view. Her votes will take into consideration all Gresham residents.
Piazza is more than prepared to take on this role. Elect Sue Piazza to Gresham City Council, Position No. 5.
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