Our Opinion: Put Jayapal on county commission
On paper, the choice for the open slot on the Multnomah County Commission seems like an obvious one.
Susheela Jayapal graduated from one of the most prestigious law schools in the nation. She served on the executive team at Adidas America before leaving the corporate world nearly 20 years ago to help raise her family in Northeast Portland and work with some of Oregon's most well-respected nonprofits.
After announcing her first-time candidacy, she snagged key early backing from labor groups, civic leaders and a proverbial "Who's Who" of Portland politicians. She's now collecting endorsements from various community groups and newspapers.
She can add ours to the list, but with some reservations.
Jayapal is one of four candidates for the seat serving inner North and Northeast Portland, each with a compelling story.
Maria Garcia, the owner of Revolución Coffee House in downtown Portland, also is making her first bid for public office. A former employee of the Mexican Consulate, she says she'd be an advocate for small businesses and the large minority population that lives in the district.
The opening paragraph of any story about businessman Bruce Broussard's candidacy is sure to include the words "perennial candidate" and the phrase "former Marine." The longtime advocate for minority businesses and veterans ran for this post four years ago (and for Portland mayor in between). He has a good grasp of the challenges facing the county and his understanding of the county contracting system, particularly as it affects minority contractors, would be an asset on the board.
Sharon Maxwell also would bring valuable real-world experience to the commission. As a female African-American contractor, Maxwell is accustomed to standing up for herself and busting down barriers. A lifelong resident of the district who started her own business and a couple of nonprofits (to help house the homeless and employ local youth), she lost a challenge to city Commissioner Nick Fish four years ago. Announcing her candidacy for the county post in January, she's vowed to focus on more efficient and equitable delivery of key county services: mental health, public health and public safety.
In the 90 minutes we met with these four candidates, we found few differences on policy. Unlike the other three, Jayapal is not a fan of the idea of turning the never-opened Wapato jail into a homeless shelter. We disagree with her position, but she made her argument well.
Otherwise, all four want to take a closer look at how businesses and nonprofits that contract with the county deliver on what they promise. They all are concerned about the effects of gentrification on low-income residents and all support the effort to limit campaign contributions.
The last point is linked to one of our qualms about Jayapal. She claims to be a full-fledged supporter of the county campaign contribution limits that 89 percent of county voters approved in November 2016. But as reported by the Portland Tribune, her campaign accepted a contribution last Aug. 31 that is twice the $500 cap contained in that measure. Technically that was legal, since the measure's caps kicked in on Sept. 1. But that timing looks pretty suspect.
A second concern is that Jayapal, unlike the other candidates, was unable to articulate where she differs from the colleagues she'd join. She bristled at the notion that she's a simple "yes" vote for Chair Deborah Kafoury, who endorsed her, as have the other three members of the board. We're not looking for someone to pick up the divisive tactics of outgoing Commissioner Loretta Smith, but we would have liked to see Jayapal demonstrate a bit more independence.
Still, we think she's the best choice in this race.
As an immigrant (her family came to the United States from India when she was a teenager) Jayapal reflects the diversity of the district.
While her community activism has been largely behind the scenes, her work with nonprofits, ranging from The Portland Schools Foundation to Metropolitan Family Service, and her service as an advocate for foster children, have grounded her in the challenges facing many county families. Meanwhile, her training in law and experience in the highest levels of the corporate world prepare her well to oversee an agency with an annual budget approaching $2 billion and work force exceeding 4,500 employees.
Joining the county commission would present a steep learning curve for any of these political hopefuls. Jayapal is best suited to mastering it. We encourage county voters to support her candidacy.