We supported Dan Ryan for Portland City Council two years ago when he ran to finish the term of the late Nick Fish, and we are supporting him again this year.
Both of his opponents seem smart and energetic, but in an interview with the Pamplin Media Group editorial board, they mainly criticized Ryan for actions that other elected officials took.
Ryan took criticism for projects he's started but hasn't finished in a scant two years, policies that come from before his time on the council, or policies that originated from Multnomah County or the state of Oregon.
Voters should give Ryan the time to see his priority projects through. These include innovative options for the homeless population, resetting the relationship with Multnomah County, and streamlining city government.
Candidate A.J. McCreary is executive director of Equitable Giving Circle, a nonprofit she helped found at the beginning of the pandemic to feed families, by pairing Black and Latino farmers with low-income minority families needing food. Her investment in her community and her passion for city issues is admirable, and we hope this isn't her last foray into a leadership position. If Ryan stays in office, he'd be well advised to bring her into his cabinet of advisers. She could be a strong but independent ally, helping him push for their shared goals.
Candidate Sandeep Bali seems driven by perfectly understandable anger. A pharmacist, his business was broken into and vandalized. He's angry about homelessness, drug use, crime and violence — as are many of us.
Bali can articulate the problems quite clearly, but we suspect that once faced with the reality of governing, his solutions would start to look very similar to the ones Ryan already is pursuing. Moreover, some of the ideas Bali has floated likely aren't feasible or legal. For instance, Oregon voters decriminalized some drug possession with the passage by referendum of Measure 110. Bali told us he'd like to empower police to make a judgment call on whether to follow the law. That's a frightening concept.
We liked Ryan in 2020 and again this year because he formerly led the Portland Public Schools Foundation, later known as All Hands Raised. That means he's a keen practitioner of bringing together groups — the business community, faith community, minority communities, government and more — with a relentless focus on helping underserved communities.
He's been a tireless champion of a politically unpopular idea: Safe Rest Villages for the homeless. The idea is to create pods of small homes with 'round-the-clock services to help people suffering from behavioral health or mental health issues the respite they need to get themselves turned around, and then transition them into housing.
His concept: If you put a person with mental health issues or addiction into a home, will they be able to keep it for long? The obvious answer is "no," so get them the services they need first, then permanent housing. He likens it to colleges that tout how many students from underserved communities they enroll. Ryan says he doesn't care about that but wants to know how many of those students graduate. That's the more important metric.
In this, he is correct.
He is the city's liaison to Multnomah County on issues of homelessness. Almost everyone firmly believes that the handoff between the city and the county (and Metro) has been flawed and has exacerbated the homelessness problem. Ryan reminds us that the county runs the homeless services office, and the city serves as a funder. He wants that relationship shored up and made more efficient.
We agree. In fact, readers should take our endorsement of Dan Ryan as a three-legged stool with our endorsements of Sharon Meieran as chair of the Multnomah County Commission, and Alisa Pyszka as chair of Metro. All three want to shake up the shoddy intergovernmental structure that has slowed down real and lasting change. If these three were serving at the same time, we might see true progress on the issues of homelessness.
Ryan favors wholesale change to the city charter, which is the topic of a charter review committee now, and which will go to voters in November. Ryan favors ditching the commission system, in which elected officials act as bureau chiefs; favors voting by districts instead of everyone running at large; and favors creating a city manager position, putting professionals at the helm at every level of city government.
The most tantalizing thing Ryan told the editorial board is that the city now has "23 bureaus and 10 offices that act like bureaus," and he'd like to overhaul all that, too. He said the city government could be reduced to as few as five bureaus. Is that possible? Unknown, but we love that kind of big, bold thinking.
Ryan's opponents want to blame him for policies put into place before he was on the board, such as inclusionary housing and restrictions put on rental owners. Or they want to blame him for statewide policy, like the decriminalization of some narcotics. Are these policies potentially flawed and in need of review? Sure. But they're not Ryan's fault.
He was accused of "going slow" on Portland Street Response, the program that lets counselors and medics answer some non-emergency 911 calls, as opposed to armed police officers. But that's not true. Portland Street Response was envisioned as a one-neighborhood pilot, which would be reviewed by academics at Portland State University to see if it's working. Some people wanted to expand it citywide before that audit was in. Ryan held strong, saying essentially: Show me the data, then I'll back it. This is exactly what happened, and the program is now expanding as originally intended.
Ryan is accused of not supporting the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund, the city's climate-and-equity program. In March, it was revealed that the fund is raising three times more tax money than estimated — $90 million per year compared to the original $30 million claim. The Portland City Auditor's Office found the program has still not finalized methods to track, measure, and report its performance, as required by the 2018 ballot measure that created it. Ryan told the Pamplin Media Group, "We need to stay focused on shared community goals and track the key metrics: carbon reduction, improvements in neighborhood energy infrastructure, and local jobs created."
For which one of his opponents accused him of "racist thinking." That's an unfair assessment of the man who ran All Hands Raised, and who's asking for good data on how well a program netting $90 million per year is functioning.
Ryan reminds us that he was sworn into office two years ago, just as wildfires erupted in Northwest Oregon and smoke poured into our city. Talk about a trial by fire! He's been at this for two tumultuous years, deep in the midst of a pandemic. Has he accomplished everything he set out to do? Of course not.
Portland voters would be wise to keep a disciplined progressive in City Hall by voting for Dan Ryan.
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