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Race to succeed Loretta Smith at Multnomah County heats up
The race to succeed outgoing Multnomah Commissioner Loretta Smith looks like it will be a hard-fought one, with three accomplished Portlanders already either in the race or exploring it.
Community activist and consultant Susheela Jayapal has been racking up endorsements. Business owner and social justice activist Maria Garcia has filed and set up a Facebook campaign page. And Charles McGee, a prominent nonprofit executive and advocate, has formed a campaign committee and is vigorously exploring a run.
The winner of the race would join the five-person county board, help oversee a $2 billion budget, and represent the residents of the county's District 2, which includes North Portland and the bulk of Northeast — all while earning a yearly salary of $103,165.68.
Smith, has reached the two-term maximum imposed on elected officials by the county's version of its constitution, called the Charter. Smith has announced that she intends to run for Portland City council
First to jump into the race to succeed her was Jayapal, who filed on Sept 7, the first day possible. Born in India, Jayapal, 54, was raised in Singapore and Indonesia before attending college and law school in the United States. She became a corporate lawyer before the mother of two decided to pursue full-time advocacy in social services, health care and education. She's been active in a variety of nonprofits and agencies, including Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette and the Regional Arts and Culture Council. She currently sits on the boards of All Hands Raised and Metro Family Service.
"l've had just a growing sense of urgency about what I see in the city and in the county around us," Jayapal said. "We are in this period of incredible prosperity on the one hand and on the other hand, people are struggling. There's the old adage of a rising tide lifts all boats, and in this case I think it's lifting some boats and drowning others."
She's set up a campaign website that lists several endorsements, including Nicole Maher of the Northwest Health Foundation, Portland Public Schools board member Amy Kohnstamm, State Representative Tawna Sanchez and Alberto Moreno, executive director of the Latino Health Coalition.
Her sister, Pramila, represents Washington state's 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her advice to Jayapal? "She warned me that it' s a long and grueling process. She warned me that fundraisong is no fun at all. And then she told me that if I cared enough, to go for it."
The second candidate to file for the seat, Maria Garcia, 40, has her own story of self-driven success. Born and raised in Mexico City, she emigrated to Palm Springs. The then-teen mother pursued a career in orthopedic massage therapy before moving to Portland, where she first volunteered at, then got a job in the Mexican Consulate.
In 2014, she founded Revolucion Coffee House in downtown Portland, selling fair trade coffee and authentic Mexican offerings. She has pursued social justice issues at the same time. She's active in helping state prisoners, joined the police accountability group Don't Shoot Portland and is now its president. She also co-chairs the city's New Portlanders Policy Commission, working with new immigrants.
She said she was driven to run by the political climate, including around immigration.
"My community is very full of fear and uncertainty, and everything is up in the air for us," she said. "We need to send those messages that we shouldn't be afraid, we should value who we are and it's a good time for us to get involved, to be a part of politics even though we're not experts."
If elected, she said she'll focus on cultural awareness and the issues of District 2, including the need to bring prosperity to the district.
The most recent potential candidate to file formal papers is Charles McGee, who heads the Black Parent Initiative, a nonprofit he co-founded in 2006 to help parents and promote children's health and development.
Like the two candidates who've already filed, he started somewhere else. His family brought him to the United States from Liberia at the age of 5. He's a Franklin High graduate who ran for the Portland Public Schools board at the age of 19.
He said one of his pet peeves is people who decide to run for office in a "vacuum," based on input from only a couple of people. So he recently set up a campaign committee for he calls a "deep exploration" before he makes a decision.
"This has to be about something deeper than an individual. This has to be about the future of North, Northeast Portland," he said. "The goal right now is to talk to a couple of hundred folks … We want to talk to as many people as possible."
He said the community is at a turning point given the trends of displacement, housing shortages and other changes in the community. "The conversation has to be about the next 30, 40 years and not about the next two ... I want to be part of the solution."
The filing period ends March 6. Though it didn't begin until Sept. 7, the candidates have already set up political action committees. Jayapal has raised $31,225, Garcia has raised $350, and McGee has not yet started fundraising.
In other county races, Sheriff Mike Reese has filed for reelection, and two candidates have filed to succeed Auditor Steve March. County Chair Deborah Kafoury is expected to file for reelection, and no other candidates have filed for that race.