Lake Oswego candidate forum focuses on equity, diversity, inclusion
Equity, inclusion and diversity were on everyone's mind Monday night when the seven candidates for Lake Oswego City Council took the stage at a forum hosted by the grassroots groups LO for LOve and Respond to Racism.
The forum was the latest in a series of at least six opportunities for Lake Oswegans to hear from the candidates in advance of the Nov. 6 general election. Ballots are scheduled to be in voters' hands late next week.
Monday's event drew more than 150 people to the sanctuary at Lake Oswego United Church of Christ, where the discussion centered around issues of diversity and inclusion. Amy Waterbury and Willie Poinsette — founders of LO for LOve and Respond to Racism, respectively — kicked off the evening with opening remarks about how their organizations came to be — and what they want to achieve.
"Lake Oswego has many strengths," Poinsette said, "but in equity, inclusion and diversity, there's still work that needs to be done."
Paula Posadas and Lake Oswego High School senior Anushka Nair, both Lake Oswego residents and members of the LOSD's advisory committee on diversity, equity and inclusion, served as moderators. On the dais: candidates Randy Arthur, Emma Burke, Jackie Manz, Donald Mattersdorff, Massene Mboup, Daniel Nguyen and John Wendland.
Each candidate was given one minute to present an opening statement, followed by four rounds of questions — including a lightning round — and then closing statements.
The four questions mostly dealt with each candidate's vision for how the City, the school district and the broader commmunity could address issues of equity and diversity. But they also gave the candidates a chance to talk about their broader platforms through the lens of inclusion.
The result: answers that covered everything from workforce housing and transportation options to hiring practices and increased cooperation between the council and the LOSD. (For short videos of the candidates, go to www.instagram.com/respond_to_racism )
"We need to stop saying that (improving equity and diversity) is hard. We know it will be hard, because anything worth doing is going to be hard," Nguyen told the audience and his fellow candidates. "We need to start talking about specific ways we can get it done."
Mboup agreed, and said he believes the community is open to change.
"This is no longer 'Lake No Negro,' because I am here," he said. "I've knocked on thousands of doors, and thousands of doors have opened to me — but not just those doors. People's hearts as well."
The format proved to be a hit with attendees. Respond to Racism members Jan Standlea, Pat Ginn and Jane Lovelady all said they were pleasantly surprised by the number of people who came to hear the candidates talk about diversity.
"I thought the format was very good, because everybody had a chance to say what they wanted to say. The questions they asked were excellent," Standlea said. "The only one I was disappointed in was near the end, because there weren't a lot of concrete examples of what (they) would do to impact change here in LO."
As an educator, Standlea said, she felt some of the answers were akin to a student writing an essay that failed to address the prompt, whereas others provided a response that she likened to when a school teacher hosts a Cinco De Mayo party as a way to explore Hispanic culture; when Cinco De Mayo is over, she said, that's the end of it.
Still, Ginn said the chance to hear from the candidates who are newer to the political arena was a big help in understanding where each candidate stands.
"I didn't have that much information on all the candidates, because some are very new. Having the information and their perspective now is very helpful," Ginn said.
All three agreed that making a decision on Nov. 6 will be tough, considering Lake Oswego has seven solid candidates.
"We're sitting here thinking, 'We wish there were more than three openings," Lovelady said. "What surprised me the most was the fact that each of these candidates seemed so open to this conversation and really did invite participation. I was surprised they were all so open to listening. I heard several of them say, 'OK, I don't have the answers, but I want to hear what you have to say.' People need to hear this exchange."
"I thought the forum went well and the candidates did a good job, but the most important message was the one of diversity. Just by having the forum on diversity in LO sent a message to the candidates and to the entire city that a large segment of Lake Oswego truly values diversity and inclusion," Standlea said. "The candidates were well spoken, but the message of the importance of inclusion that was sent was phenomenal."
Voters will have two more opportunities to hear from the seven council candidates next week. The Palisades Neighborhood Association will host a forum in the Rotunda Room at Lakeridge High School (1235 Overlook Drive) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 17. The Review and the Youth Leadership Council will co-host their own forum the following day — from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 18 — in the Community Room of the Lakewood Center for the Arts (368 S. State St.).
The Review's forum will also be recorded and available for viewing online at www.lakeoswegoreview.com.