My View: Divisiveness not 'a good look' for election
The next few months are going to be an interesting time for anyone who, like me, follows City Hall.
Four of the five seats on the City Council will be on the ballot in May, and an exciting field of candidates is taking shape.
I'm looking forward to a robust, even freewheeling, debate about Portland's future. But I believe a statement by one of the candidates, incumbent Chloe Eudaly, needs talking about.
Here is what really concerns me: A member of one marginalized community dismissing the experience and lived truth of another, for political advantage.
First, a disclaimer: I intend on voting for Sam Adams. As a city commissioner and mayor, Adams was one of the most effective, progressive leaders in Portland history, someone who not only ran to shake up City Hall, but actually did it.
Adams was able to work with his colleagues to create forward momentum on issues including transportation, doing our part to address climate change, and keeping the needs and interests of Portland's working people and current residents at the center of the conversation.
I think this election should be about how to reestablish that kind of momentum for our future.
Of course, as a longtime advocate in the LGBTQIA+ community, I also was incredibly proud and moved when Adams became the first openly gay mayor of a major American city.
So what did Commissioner Eudaly say, and why is it a problem?
Upon learning that Adams was challenging her for commissioner, Eudaly implicitly questioned his right to run against her, saying "I just don't think it's a good look," because he is a "middle-aged white man," and that he shouldn't be challenging a progressive incumbent.
Really? Let's talk about Adams' "look."
Adams grew up in a hardscrabble setting, in a home that was impacted by substance abuse. After his family broke up, his mom relied on food stamps and subsidized housing to keep things going. He worked as a paperboy in the morning and as a dishwasher in the evenings and weekends so he could afford clothes in high school.
That "growing up" was in a small town on the Oregon coast, at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offense. Throughout his childhood, Adams was threatened, beat up and called the f-word.
But he focused on a life of public service and kept fighting for his community and for other repressed minorities. And in that process, he did even more growing up: when Adams made a mistake — a dumb one — he ultimately owned up to it.
He made a public apology, paid a considerable personal price, and he also kept his promise to never falter in his work to serve our city. "... even his toughest critics acknowledged by the end of his term that he had been an accomplished mayor." Willamette Week, 2018.
We all are given different advantages and disadvantages, based on who we are and how we grew up, but I don't think Adams should be disqualified to run for office because "it isn't a good look."
Instead, to be a middle-age gay man in 2020 should be celebrated because in the 1980s, when the HIV/Aids epidemic wreaked havoc on our community, many of us did not think we would live to middle age.
As a community, we have had to fight for employment protections, marriage equality, access to life-saving medication, hate crime legislation, and the list goes on and on. Comparing Adams' life experience to that of a heterosexual counterpart is not only unfair, it's uninformed.
Let me be clear: Commissioner Eudaly's story also is one of struggle, and she lays legitimate claim to how that informs her service. But we are witnessing the painful effects of the politics of dismissal and division across the nation and across all marginalized communities. It is especially concerning from anyone professing to be a progressive.
I hope this is the last we will see of this kind of divisiveness in Portland's election season. Because that is not "a good look."
Frank Dixon is a retired Portland attorney. He has participated in numerous Portland neighborhood, city and county volunteer committees; was a founding organizer of Veterans for Human Rights, an early LGBT Veterans group; is a former co-chair of Basic Rights Oregon, and former Oregon Democratic Party chair.