Our Opinion: Hardesty will bring welcome change
Jo Ann Hardesty or Loretta Smith will make history this November, as the first African-American woman on the Portland City Council and the one shifting the council to its first-ever female majority.
We think Hardesty is more befitting of this historic role.
Both women have devoted decades to public service: Smith as a longtime aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and a Multnomah County commissioner, and Hardesty as a state lawmaker, aide to former county Chair Bev Stein, and a community organizer and volunteer on several important community groups.
On public policy stances, we tend to side more often with Smith, particularly her unflagging efforts to get the county and city to provide a comprehensive service center and lodging for the homeless at the never-used Wapato jail facility in North Portland.
But we believe Hardesty shows the best potential to be an effective and game-changing city commissioner. She combines the diligence, energy, people skills and organizational savvy to succeed.
We are troubled by some of Hardesty's public positions, such as saying her "first approach" at addressing homelessness will be to encourage more self-governing encampments such as Dignity Village. Those make sense for select situations involving perhaps dozens of people at each site. But city commissioners must focus their time on solutions that serve thousands of people. That will take time, money, creative problem-solving and collaboration.
Portland city commissioners' effectiveness often can be traced to their chief of staff and their staff liaisons to city bureaus. On this, we hope, Hardesty will hire top-quality staff and heed their input.
Hardesty's campaign, which has enlisted a broad swath of volunteers operating under the theme of "One Portland," shows her potential to bring different kinds of people together and inspire them.
Smith, unfortunately, has a history of interpersonal conflict — with her colleagues and even with her own paid staff at the county. She tends to turn policy disagreements into personal affronts that divide her from people who should be her allies. Smith's campaign was reckless in its charge that Hardesty engaged in "embezzlement" when she was working to revitalize the Portland NAACP. It's true that Hardesty's handling of payment for a $10,000 contract was irregular, but we see no evidence she took any money she wasn't entitled to receive.
In this case, Smith's ends-justify-the-means attack represents an old style of politics. Hardesty is capable of a newer style that better suits Portland at this time.
Portlanders need ongoing conversations about the city's racist practices, past and present, but all too often those devolve into name-calling, guilt-tripping and unproductive discussions. Hardesty has the skills and smarts to move that dialogue forward in a productive manner.
She will be a constant advocate for community policing and effective police oversight — both sorely needed in Portland. While we may disagree with some of Hardesty's public safety positions, we trust she will learn to play a positive role as an insider, instead of the outside agitator behind a bullhorn at protests. As a legislator, Hardesty learned how to work with people she disagreed with to come up with compromises.
Hardesty has extensive experience with two key East Portland projects, the East Portland Action Plan and Human Solutions, and can be expected to constantly prod the city to end its decades-long neglect of that part of the city.
Lastly, Hardesty pledges to be involved in all aspects of city government, not just paying attention to the bureaus that the mayor assigns her to oversee. Portland's commission form of government tends to devolve into silos, with each member tending to their bureaus and leaving the others to their respective commissioners.
We think it's time to break down those "silos" that are a defect of our form of municipal government. Hardesty is the best bet to break down those walls.
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