Tribune endorsement: Rene Gonzalez for Portland City Council
When Jo Ann Hardesty ran for the Portland City Council four years ago, we praised her record of activism while voicing concerns about her ability to manage bureaucracies.
She didn't get our nod in the primary (that went to Andrea Valderrama), but we endorsed Hardesty in a November runoff against Loretta Smith citing her "fierce independence" and record of collaboration.
Four years later, we still have very mixed feelings about Hardesty, which is why we are again endorsing a rival, but also hoping she stays active in Portland politics.
Hardesty faced two serious challengers in a crowded field this spring — administrative law judge Vadim Mozyrsky (who got our endorsement) and Rene Gonzalez, a lawyer and small-business owner.
Hardesty got 44% of the vote while Gonzalez edged out Mozyrsky with 23%, setting up a fall runoff.
As we noted in May, Hardesty deserves credit for pushing through the much-needed Portland Street Response Program, providing aid from health-care professionals, rather than police, to people in the midst of mental health crises. She has rightly used her position to push for more accountability from the Portland Police Bureau, and she has been a champion for making our streets safer.
We also recognize that an elected body should reflect the composition of the people it works for. Hardesty is the first Black woman to serve on the council and only the second commissioner (Randy Leonard was the other) to live east of 82nd Avenue. That matters.
On a larger legislative body, Hardesty would be a great fit, asking tough questions, advocating for key causes and amplifying the voices of people often left out of important conversations in City Hall.
The problem, which may be fixed soon, is that the four city commissioners, like the mayor, must also be de-facto agency administrators. And that's why we are urging Portland voters to back Gonzalez.
He and Hardesty agree on some big issues facing the city, but Gonzalez veers sharply from her on quality-of-life concerns. He vows to curb illegal camping (including illegal RV parking), restore transit safety officers and explore establishing a municipal court to hold people accountable for misdemeanors and low-level crimes.
The devil, of course, is in the details, but we applaud his focus on making Portland, including downtown, safer and more livable. More important, we're confident that Gonzalez's experience in law and business give him the administrative skills that are needed by elected commissioners.
This fall Portland voters will be asked to approve changes to the city charter that would expand the number of commissioners to 12, elect from four geographic areas, and allow a paid (nonelected) administrator to oversee city bureaus. It's far from perfect, but, with reservations, we're hoping it passes. And, if doesn't, a vote on a Plan B could come as soon as May.
Either way, it seems that the Portland City Council could, by 2024, be a place where an outspoken activist like Hardesty can play an important role. Until then, we think Gonzalez is the best match for the job.
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