The two candidates for Metro Council Position 5 described themselves as different people but agreed on most issues during a City Club of Portland debate on Tuesday, Oct. 13.
Former state legislator Mary Nolan and technology marketer Chris Smith are facing off at the Nov. 3 general election. Nolan repeatedly described herself as a consensus builder who achieves workable compromises while Smith said he was a climate change activist who will advocate for his own ideas.
"I have a track record of solving problems with people who disagree on issues. That is the role of elected officials," said Nolan.
"I am an advocate committed to making the region more climate friendly every day," said Smith.
But, during the hour-plus debate moderated by Portland Tribune Managing Editor Dana Haynes, Nolan and Smith saw eye-to-eye on virtually everything. Among other things, both support Metro's $5.2 billion regional transportation funding measure on the November ballot but want to teak it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions further if it passes; will consider redeveloping the Expo Center in North Portland owned by Metro if that is what a current study recommends; believes Metro is better positioned to oversee any improvements to the I-5 Bridge between Oregon and Washington than the Oregon Department of Transportations; and do not believe Metro has exceeded its authority by purchasing parks and greenspaces, helping to finance affordable housing and funding homeless services in recent years.
"Metro is responding to and leading on things that need regional solutions," Nolan said.
"Metro is supporting services because the community stepped up," said Smith.
The most significant disagreement was also the most awkward moment of the debate. Smith has limited his campaign contribution to $500 and previously criticized Nolan for accepting a contribution from Northwest Natural Gas, which he accused of distributing gas from fracking. Nolan defended the company as an enlightened local utility and pointed out that it was co-sponsoring the debate.
Smith was also adamant that Metro should not expand the urban growth boundary it regulates to allow more housing for people moving into the region, saying Portland should accept more than its share of infill housing instead. Nolan said she would listen to all sides of the issue before making a decision.
Position 5 represents parts of North and Northeast Portland on the elected regional government's seven-member council. They are in the runoff because no candidate received more than 50% of the vote to win the race outright at the May primary election. Nolan finished first with 35% and Smith came in second with 22% The seat is being vacated by Sam Chase, who ran unsuccessfully to fill the unexpired term of the late Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish.
Nolan, a Chicago native, was in the first class of women admitted to Dartmouth and graduated with a degree in math. After serving as Wall Street banker, she ran two of the city of Portland's biggest bureaus, public works and environmental services, from 1986 to 1990. She then left public employment to cofound a Hillsboro company specializing in custom engineering for the airline industry. She is currently a director of the Unitus Community Credit Union and Teatro Milagro.
In 2000, she jumped back into public life after winning an Oregon House seat. She rose through the ranks of the Oregon Legislature, serving as House Majority Leader from 2009-11, before leaving Salem in 2013.
After an unsuccessful bid for the Portland City Council — she lost in November 2012 runoff with Amanda Fritz — Nolan went on to serve in leadership positions with a pair of nonprofits, FamilyCare Health Plans and Planned Parenthood.
Smith, a former Xerox and Tektronix employee, is a longtime sustainability advocate, transportation activist and blogger, He is a member of the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission and has served on several other boards and committees, including the Metro Policy Advisory Committee, the Metro Transportation Policy Alternatives Committee and the Portland Streetcar Board.
Nolan has raised over $130,000 in cash and in-kind contributions so far. Major donors include $19,000 from the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors, $5,500 from the Portland Association of Teachers, $5,000 from the United Food and Commercial Workers and $2,500 from the Portland Metro Firefighters. She has also loaned her campaign $10,000.
Smith has raised over $91,000 to date. Despite his contribution limit, he has loaned his campaign $12,500.
The next City Club debate co-sponsored by the Pamplin Media Group will be between Mayor Ted Wheeler and challenger Sarah Iannarone at noon on Thursday, Oct. 15. A link to it can be found at pdxcityclub.org.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.