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There are no bad choices in this talented field of candidates, but some were able to separate from the pack.

Lake Oswego is lucky.

During a time of immense turmoil and transition — both locally and across the country — eight uniquely qualified candidates stepped up in the hopes of becoming either mayor or a city councilor. While the council will certainly feel the effects of vacancies left by outgoing Mayor Kent Studebaker and Councilor Skip O'Neill (who are termed-out after eight years) as well as councilors Theresa Kohlhoff and John LaMotte (who are running for mayor), our coverage and editorial board interviews with each candidate left us feeling comfortable that Lake Oswego would be in capable hands no matter who wins Nov. 3.

And this is critical, because if you were awake during 2020 you are well aware of the challenges facing the city. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the city's schools and businesses, with some families struggling to make ends meet while others deal with upended personal and professional lives as their children learn from home. Beloved local businesses have disappeared, and many may never return.

Meanwhile, like so many cities across the country, Lake Oswego is in the midst of a long-awaited racial reckoning; many residents, especially those who have been historically marginalized, have said "enough," and there is hope that this time their words will be heard and action will be taken. The city will soon hear recommendations from its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee, while also examining its methods of community policing.

The September wildfires served as a devastating reminder of the climate change emergency, and many residents seem to have realized that this, too, is an issue they can no longer observe idly from the sidelines.

Put simply: This new Lake Oswego City Council will have its work cut out — and then some. It is of utmost importance for residents to do their research and vote.

Our "vote," so to speak, came only after deep consideration of a talented field. There is not a candidate in the field who we feel is ill-qualified for a role on the council.

But some candidates stood out.

For mayor, we believe Joe Buck is the most promising leader to bridge ideological gaps and bring the community closer together. Buck has spoken passionately — and, we think, sincerely — about Lake Oswego's need to address its reputation for racism and intolerance. His record is also impressive when it comes to sustainability and the environment, and his work as a restaurant owner gives him firsthand knowledge of the challenges facing the business community during these unprecedented times. We are heartened by the support Buck has garnered from a diverse range of community members and believe he is the candidate with the best chance of being a consensus builder.

This decision was not easy, as Kohlhoff and LaMotte are impressive in their own right. Kohlhoff's intelligence, integrity and honesty have been evident throughout her time on the council, and in particular she should be lauded for advocacy on behalf of Lake Oswego's stunning tree canopy and racial justice. She has also been one of the city's most consistent voices in favor of affordable housing.

Kohlhoff is an important voice on the council, but we worry that her fierce ideological approach would alienate some community members and potentially cause conflict on the council.

LaMotte, meanwhile, combines the expertise of a city planner with an infectious drive to move forward and take action. We see him as an idea man and we like that. He has been cast, at times unfairly, as the more conservative candidate — and while significant donations from developers raised eyebrows, we take him at his word that he would not let outside influences affect his ability to make decisions on behalf of Lake Oswego.

But LaMotte's hard-driving style has caused some dust-ups during his time on the council, and we worry that this style could alienate some in the community and create the impression of a mayor who doesn't listen to all. Nonetheless, LaMotte — like Kohlhoff — would be missed on the council if he is not elected mayor. Both deserve credit for four years of steadfast service.

The race for three open council seats was no easier to decide. In the end, we believe Rachel Verdick, Melissa Fireside and Massene Mboup are the best candidates to move Lake Oswego forward.

Verdick is full of concrete ideas on issues ranging from diversity to economic development, housing and transportation. She also enjoys support from a wide swath of community members. We believe she would mesh well with her fellow councilors, no matter who is elected alongside her.

Fireside has an extensive record of working behind the scenes to enact change in Lake Oswego, and we were particularly impressed with her ideas about how to better engage community members and make City Hall more accessible. She has advocated frequently on behalf of marginalized voices across the city, and we feel confident that would continue if she joined the council.

And after falling just a few hundred votes shy of a council seat in 2018, we hope Mboup is able to break through in this election cycle. We laud his knack for building relationships in the community and believe he would be a powerful voice on behalf of inclusivity and justice for all residents. As the operator of a local school, he also brings expertise in education that would be welcome on the council.

Each of the other candidates has distinguishing qualities that should be noted. Aaron Rapf, a self-described reluctant politician, has impressed with his financial expertise and genuine passion to make Lake Oswego a better place. We were especially taken with his focus on listening to other perspectives and leaving political partisanship at the door, and we hope he stays involved with the city if he isn't elected.

Emma Burke also ran in 2018, and like Mboup she has worked over the last two years to become an even more active member of the community. We admire her drive to bring what she calls the "working class perspective" to council, and hope she stays involved with the city regardless of the election results.

This is a pivotal election in Lake Oswego. More than anything, we ask this: Please vote.

— Review Editorial Board


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