In any other year, the Portland Tribune would ask every candidate for every Portland City Council race to traipse over to our office for an hour-long sit-down endorsement interview. It's a time-honored tradition.
But this year came the coronavirus, the quarantine and social distancing. Plus, this year saw a record number of people running for a record-number of seats: Four of the five seats of the City Council are up for grabs in May.
So this year, the editorial board of the Tribune triaged the endorsement process. It's not the way we've done it before. As British novelist Leslie Poles Hartley once wrote, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."
This year, the members of the editorial board collectively agreed among themselves that certain races would require telephone video conference interviews. For some races, we relied on our staff of reporters — reporters do not have a vote on the editorial board but they often know their government beats far, far better than the editors and publishers do. For some races, we relied on our own experience with candidates and the exigencies of these truly unique days.
Here, then, are our endorsements.
Portland Mayor: Ted Wheeler
A total of 19 people filed to run for mayor this year, including the incumbent. Some of the candidates were experienced and interesting. Some were out-of-left-field names taking a flyer at elected office because, why not?
The editorial board of the Portland Tribune opted to endorse Ted Wheeler for one simple reason: The COVID-19 pandemic. Wheeler may not have been the most dynamic mayor in his first term. He may not have wowed us at every turn. But he's been a steady leader and this year, of all years, is not the time to change the top job.
Wheeler hasn't accomplished everything he promised four years ago related to homelessness and other issues. However, he's been mostly unflustered, typically reasonable and fiscally smart. Those are all qualities that will serve the city well as it faces its biggest financial crisis in 10 years.
Candidates like Sarah Iannarone have been lobbying hard to take Wheeler on from Portland's far-left wing. She would offer seismic changes to the city. Candidates like Teressa Raiford have a proven track record as potent activists. In another year, they and others would have deserved a much fairer hearing from us.
But given where we are and the challenges everyone faces, we are endorsing Ted Wheeler to stay the course.
Position 1: Carmen Rubio
Nine people signed up for this race but the bad news for eight of them is that Carmen Rubio, executive director of Latino Network, is on the list.
Rubio isn't just the best candidate for this job, she may be the best candidate to run for Portland City Council in years.
Born and raised in Hillsboro, the granddaughter of immigrants who came to this country as migrant workers, Rubio was the first in her family to graduate from college. She cut her political teeth on the staffs of Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz, Portland Mayor Tom Potter and Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish. In 2009, Rubio was named executive director of Latino Network, which advocates for Portland's Latino and Latina community. Initially, she had a staff of fewer than a dozen people. Today, her staff is 120-people strong and has an enviable track record on issues such as helping youths and families achieve their potential; supporting literacy and early childhood education, plus high school completion; working with underrepresented and low-income families; advocating for energy and rent assistance; and so much more.
Her endorsements are a who's who of Oregon, including unions such as the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, SEIU, and Portland Association of Teachers; pro-business organizations such as the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland; and activists and organizers like APANO, NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon and Basic Rights Oregon. She also has the support of community leaders such as: Linda Jaramillo, board chairwoman of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon; Lisa Watson, executive director of the American Leadership Forum of Oregon; and Michael Alexander, past president and CEO of the Urban League of Portland.
She's endorsed by current and former lawmakers including: Gov. Barbara Roberts; Beverly Stein, former chair of the Multnomah County Commission; State Sen. Michael Dembrow, State Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer; current county chair Deborah Kafoury; U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley; and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer.
Carmen Rubio is the right pick. She's got the endorsements and she's got the experience; she's got the heart and she's got the smarts. We're excited to see her impact on the City Council.
Position 2: Dan Ryan
This position is open in 2020 because Commissioner Nick Fish passed away at the first of the year after a long battle with cancer. Eighteen people jumped at the chance to replace him.
Dan Ryan is the one who should.
Ryan is a former member of the Portland Public Schools School Board and former executive director of All Hands Raised, the nonprofit foundation for PPS whose mission expanded to include Parkrose, David Douglas, Centennial, Reynolds and Gresham-Barlow school districts. Under his leadership, All Hands Raised grew from being just the Portland Schools Foundation to serving the eastside districts for the simple reason: That's where the need is. That's where the poverty and the most under-served families are.
Ryan's three-plus decades of proven advocacy work in the nonprofit realm speaks for itself. He builds bridges. He forms coalitions.
That's a skill set needed on the Portland City Council more than ever right now.
He'd be an outsider on municipal governance issues with a steep learning curve on matters such as water, sewer and development services. But education services for low-income communities is a Gordian knot, and he's proven he can wrap an agile mind around that topic. Plus, he'd bring a fresh eye to old issues. He'd represent North Portland, where he lives. He'd keep a weather eye on the eastside, where his heart has been focused for years.
When we asked whether this is the time to reform Portland's notoriously and often hilariously dysfunctional governance system, most of the candidates we spoke to hemmed and hawed, and said, perhaps, it should be studied. Ryan rolled his eyes. "Oh, Yes. I mean, Keep Portland Weird but we have to stop being stupid."
We loved that answer.
Traditional candidates didn't shine in this race. Loretta Smith is a former aide to Sen. Ron Wyden and a former member of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, where her history was a mixed bag of accomplishments and incessant feuds with other elected officials, other agencies and even staff. Sam Chase formerly served as chief of staff for Commissioner Nick Fish and former County Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury. He's an elected member of the Metro council — the regional government serving much of the urbanized tri-county region. He represents good, old-school political stock but, when we interviewed him, his answers seemed tepid and thin.
Could either Smith or Chase do the job? We believe they could. For voters looking for a safer, more experienced candidate, scour the Voters Pamphlet pages for these two.
For our editorial board, it was a tough choice between Ryan and Tera Hurst, a former organizer with Basic Rights Oregon; a former aide at the state Legislature and, most recently, executive director of Renew Oregon, which has proven to be a powerful voice on issues such as cap-and-trade and climate change. More importantly, she served as chief of staff for former Portland Mayor Charlie Hales. In Portland's form of government, the people who truly understand the whole budget, in all its complexity, are the staff of the City Budget Office, the mayor and the mayor's chief of staff. Those are the people who craft the budget for every agency, every corner of the city. Working for Hales, Hurst showed she's got the savvy to understand the budget at the granular level, but also the people skills to navigate the notoriously prickly City Hall. Any other year, against most any other candidate other than Dan Ryan, Hurst would be our pick. We can't wait to see where her heart and her leadership skills take her next, and we only pray it isn't outside Oregon.
Voters looking for a city leader with impeccable chops on issues such as the environment, public health and behavioral health couldn't do much better than Tera Hurst.
But this year, for this race, Dan Ryan gets our nod.
Position 4: Keith Wilson
So a funny thing happened on the way to the endorsement — after interviewing candidates for this seat, including incumbent Chloe Eudaly, each member of the editorial board reached the same conclusion: "You others will think I'm crazy, but I'm leaning toward Keith Wilson."
Each of us thought: No way the others will go for him. No experience in city government. A slightly goofy-looking, gray-haired white guy in a race with admirable diversity, both in ages and race. All Wilson has going for him is that he's a successful businessman who's run a trucking company through two recessions. And who says all the right things on equity and inclusion.
We did not expect to endorse Wilson.
Then we spoke to him.
Wilson was born and raised in North Portland, and is the son of a truck driver and "a lifelong Avon Lady." He's a graduate of Roosevelt High School, Portland Community College, Oregon State University and the University of Portland. After graduating, he joined his father's trucking firm and now serves as president of Titan Freight Systems.
He touts the company's progressive banner: More than half of the management and supervisory team are women or people of color; all wages are transparent; above-industry-standard wages; and no unfair practice violation complaints before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
It's a company Wilson said he would sell if elected; serving on the Portland City Council is a full-time gig on the easiest of weeks.
We liked his answers on homelessness and the unsheltered homeless population; his passion about addressing climate change; his take on equity and inclusion.
As with another race this year, we asked the candidates for Position 4 where they stood on revamping Portland's chaotic and outdated governance structure. Most candidates equivocated because of the current pandemic crisis. Wilson said he hadn't studied the issue well but added, "If it's the right thing to do, then it's the right time to do it. Right now. I mean, when are we not in crisis?"
That's a savvy answer. There's always a reason not to make the tough call.
We couldn't endorse Chloe Eudaly to keep her seat this year. The first-term commissioner came into office four years ago with tons of promise but proved to be needlessly divisive. She's likely right that Portland's longstanding neighborhood association system needs a revamp, but not with a sledge hammer.
The other well-known candidate for this job is former Mayor Sam Adams, who has moved back to Portland and who's hoping to jumpstart his old political career. He shouldn't.
Let's bypass the scandal that plagued his one term as mayor: a consensual and sexual relationship with a then-18-year-old legislative intern. Since the Oregon attorney general later reported finding no evidence of inappropriate sexual conduct before the intern reached the age of consent, that's not the reason for our non-endorsement.
The Adams' administration was plagued by haphazard budget decisions, including dozens of good causes funded with "one-time funds," but over and over again, year after year, with no bureau oversight. He's the author of the unpopular and often-repaired Arts Tax. He tried to create an urban renewal area around Portland State University to address urban blight that hardly exists. He left City Hall and served for a short period of time as executive director for the City Club of Portland, where insiders tell us the same slap-dash budget system nearly capsized that organization.
Adams has an impeccable background in city government, having served as former Mayor Vera Katz's chief of staff. And he's beloved in some facets of Portland, including the arts community and the left. But our problem with Adams is this: He's always wanted to do good but isn't interested in doing it well. Theres's an Andrew Lloyd Weber/Tim Rice line from the musical "Evita" that sums up Sam Adams: "When the money keeps rolling out you don't keep books/ You can tell you've done well by the happy, grateful looks."
Once is enough, Portland. Hard pass.
The other candidate who very nearly got our endorsement this year is Mingus Mapps, whose pedigree is outstanding: Bachelor's in political science from Reed College and a doctorate in government from Cornell University; college professor; helped manage Portland's Neighborhood Association and crime prevention programs; former executive director of an urban renewal zone in east Portland; worked for then-Multnomah County Chair Bev Stein; served in the Portland Public School's Intergovernmental Relations Office and the United Way.
Mapps is smart and isn't afraid to speak his mind. He has studied the issues facing the city and rattles off answers with fluidity. He's an African American man, and you have to go back as far as Dick Bogle (1985-92) and Charles Jordan (1974-84) to find the other black men who've served on that council.
This was a tough call for our editorial board. Mapps would be an excellent choice, and we hope this isn't his last race for leadership within our community.
But by a narrow margin, Keith Wilson gets our nod as a progressive businessman on a council that could use that perspective.
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