City Council: Our wish list for the coming year
Everyone has been so focused on the national election news that some Portlanders likely haven't noticed the seismic changes going on at Portland City Hall.
The death in January of Commissioner Nick Fish and the retirement of Commissioner Amanda Fritz means the five-person City Council already has undergone big changes. Carmen Rubio and Dan Ryan are coming on board.
If — and this is written before the outcome of Tuesday's election is known — Sarah Iannarone should beat Mayor Ted Wheeler, and if Mingus Mapps should beat Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, then we would be seeing the most diverse Portland City Council in history, and one in which Commissioner Jo Anne Hardesty, who took office in 2019, would be the senior-most elected official!
That's the scenario with the most change. But even if the two incumbents, Wheeler and Eudaly, win, this is still one of the most fractious city councils the city has seen in decades. The elected officials aren't rowing in the same direction; they're often not in the same boat.
That has to change. There is far, far too much potential right now to improve our city, or to further crater the city's reputation. These five people have the power to make a sea change. And they must.
Regardless of who won (past tense, from the reader's perspective) on Tuesday, here's our advice for the Portland City Council.
• It's time for "family counseling." This isn't the same as going to the usual "goal setting retreat" and staking out your corners of the boxing ring. It's going to take the five of you agreeing on the need for an outside consultant and a laborious, serious effort to find common ground.
It's OK for commissioners to disagree with each other. In fact, it can be healthy and positive. But it's become personal, with commissioners wielding endorsements — or giving them and then withdrawing them — as cudgels to beat on each other.
Mayor Wheeler: You were not able to bring the last configuration of commissioners together. Maybe nobody could have. That's why it's vital to seek an outside counsel, to admit that unification won't come from within your ranks, but with help from a neutral third party.
Commissioner Hardesty: You are not an activist any more. You're an elected leader. Your job is to lead every single Portlander: left, right and middle, people of color and white residents, rich, poor and middle class. You represent all of us. And that means compromise, communication and comity.
U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith once described how hard it was to go from the majority to the minority party and still be the faithful opposition: One side gets the gavel and one side gets the grenade, he said. And if your muscle memory is slinging grenades, it takes a lot of willpower to learn to wield the gavel.
Strife on the council is nothing new. Mayor Frank Ivancie didn't get along with Mildred Schwab. Mayor Vera Katz had it out with Gretchen Kafoury. The trick is to keep it civil. And, in the case of Katz/Kafoury, to seek an outside facilitator.
• Commissioners Carmen Rubio and Dan Ryan: You're the newcomers, and you're likely going to feel like you need to politely refrain from reining in the other, longer-serving commissioners. Fight that urge.
Rubio served as a staffer for Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz, Portland Mayor Tom Potter, and Nick Fish. She's the executive director of Latino Network, a team of about 120 people who advocate for Portland's growing Latinx community.
Ryan ran All Hands Raised, which served as a fundraising arm for Portland Public Schools and the eastside school districts within Portland's borders. He was masterful at coordinating the needs of the lowest-income Portland families, with the goals of multiple school districts.
Rubio and Ryan: You bring tons of experience working with diverse groups and finding common ground. Neither of you should be afraid to bring those talents to the fore, now that you're on a council in dire need of reunification.
• Start small. During, or after, your counseling sessions, pick three or four priorities that you can all agree on. Articulate them to the community. Come together to work on them.
How about a focus on the pandemic and its impact on small businesses and unemployment? That's something all five commissioners surely could agree on.
As the economy implodes, is there a way for the city to hire unemployed or laid-off people for projects that include street cleanup, or services for our homeless residents, or repairs to businesses vandalized this summer?
Police reform is badly needed in Portland (and the rest of the nation). But if done in a fractious, rushed and my-way-or-the-highway mode, it's likely that any reform will be worse than what we have now, and will be mired in decades of lawsuits. In this area — policing — now more than ever we need five elected officials who agree on a plan. Does that mean pushing back reform for a month? Or six months? If it's the right reform, it'll be worth it.
Those of us who love Portland are longing for a city council that can serve as the grownups in the room. We're longing for real solutions and not personal grudges. We're longing for you five to live up to your potential.
And believe it or not, we're rooting for you.
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