One year ago, few Portlanders had heard of Mingus Mapps.
Most of those who had heard of him lived in East Portland, where he served as executive director of Historic Parkrose, one of eight city-funded Neighborhood Prosperity Initiatives that serve low-income communities, from 2015 to 2018.
Today, Mapps is the newest outsider elected to the City Council. He defeated two City Hall insiders to unseat Commissioner Chloe Eudaly in the Nov. 3 general election.
First, Mapps squeezed past former mayor Sam Adams at the May 19 primary election to finish second with 29% behind Eudaly, who finished in first place with only 31% of the vote. Adams subsequently endorsed Mapps, who went on to defeat Eudaly by the lopsided margin of 56% to 43%, with 1% for write-in candidates, a stunning victory for someone who has never run for office before.
Mapps is also the fourth Black Portlander elected to the council after commissioners Charles Jordan, Dick Bogle and Jo Ann Hardesty, who currently serves on the council.
Four days after the election, Mapps was still accepting congratulations from friends and strangers while attending soccer practice with one of his two sons on Saturday morning when the Associated Press declared that Joe Biden had defeated President Donald Trump.
"I feel like it's a new day," Mingus said with a broad smile.
Mayor Ted Wheeler's reelection has received more press coverage that Mapp's victory, and for good reason. Wheeler is now the first Portland mayor reelected to a second term since the late Vera Katz, after fending off a well-organized and well-funded challenge from the far-left by Sarah Iannarone. Katz served as mayor from January 1993 to January 2005.
But Mapps' win may prove more significant in the long run. Wheeler's reelection did not change the political orientation of that council seat. But Mapp's victory did — and he immediately asserted himself by hosting an online press conference of Black leaders who denounced the attack on Commissioner Dan Ryan's home after Ryan voted against the $18 million cut to the Portland Police Bureau budget proposed by Eudaly and Hardesty.
Mapps opened the event by saying he grew up with grandparents who had multiple guns in their home to defend themselves against attacks by the Ku Klux Klan.
"Your story reminds me of my story and it reminds me of the African-American story," Mapps said of Ryan, and in a criticism of the white protesters who claim to speak for Black Portlanders. "I know what it's like to wait up for the white mob to roll up on your house in the middle of the night because you have the audacity to vote or you had the audacity to hope."
Eudaly, a former small business owner and disability rights advocate, is a self-described progressive activist who repeatedly championed controversial proposals outside the jurisdiction of her bureaus. They included the proposed Police Bureau budget cut that was rejected by the rest of the council after the City Budget Office determined it would have required officers to be laid off, contrary to promises made by Hardesty and Eudaly.
In contrast, Mapps is more moderate and a coalition builder. Asked about his top priorities by the Portland Tribune after winning the election, Mapps said police reform, ending homelessness, recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and changing the form of city government. But he did not insist he had the best solutions.
"I'm looking forward to working with the council," Mapps repeatedly answered during the interview. He also told the Portland Tribune he would be "honored" to oversee any bureaus that Wheeler assigns him, although he would appreciate the Office of Community and Civic Life, where he previously worked.
Mapps will join the council in early January with Latino Network Executive Director Carmen Rubio, who won the race to succeed retiring Commissioner Amanda Fritz at the May 19 primary election. Rubio told the Portland Tribune her priorities are similar to those outlined by Mapps, especially helping families recover from the pandemic.
"The first order of business is definitely to focus on helping Portlanders get through this pandemic," said Rubio, the first Latina elected to the council. "COVID19 has only crystalized the deep economic and racial disparities that already exist in this community, so I am very interested in digging into how we will shore up our support for families and individuals hit hard economically, to get basic needs met and, as a city, support businesses, such as our micro-enterprises, with the lifelines they need to survive this time."
Upset win not a surprise
Despite his come-from-behind victory, Mapps' win was not a surprise, said DHM Research Political Director John Horvick. His firm's polls show more and more Portlanders believe their city is on the wrong track.
"This is a very tough environment for any incumbent," Horvick said.
Eudaly called the wins by Wheeler and Mapps "a sad day" for Portland in her election night concession speech, saying Portland took a step back from being poised to have one of the most progressive city councils in history.
"It's a win for big business, the landlord lobby and the police union," Eudaly said. "It's unfortunate that voters couldn't see more clearly."
Eudaly also took a personal shot at Mapps, saying, "I think Portland is in for a surprise when they realize who they've elected. He's good at saying lots of words without actually saying anything."
Eudaly may have been her own worst enemy, however. She was elected to the council by defeating then-Commissioner Steve Novick at the 2016 general election after he alienated many voters by appearing arrogant. But Eudaly also was accused of not listening to the public when she pushed a civic engagement overhaul that arguably reduced the influence of the city's legendary neighborhood association system. That system sprung out of grassroots efforts in 1974 to stop the federal government's proposed Mount Hood Freeway, which would have destroyed many neighborhoods.
Mapps was identified as the first opponent to challenge Eudaly's neighborhood proposal in a Portland Tribune story on his candidacy on Sept. 23, 2019. Eudaly was subsequently forced to put it on hold after failing to convince any other council member to support it, but not before fueling a backlash by many longtime neighborhood activists.
Experience and education
Mapps is a single father who grew up in California but has family in the area whom he frequently visited. He graduated from Reed College in 1990 before earning a doctorate in political science from Cornell University in 2004 and serving as an assistant professor at Brandeis University and Bowdoin College, and as a post-doctorate research fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
In between and since, Mapps also worked for former Multnomah County Chair Bev Stein, in the county's Department of Human Services, and in the Government Relations office at Portland Public Schools, where he helped lobby the Oregon Legislature to assure adequate funding for the state's largest school district after the state's property tax limitation measures. He also has worked for the United Way of the Columbia Willamette.
Significantly, after leaving Historic Parkrose, Mapps worked briefly for the bureau overseen by Eudaly, working on the civic engagement proposal, the Office of Community and Civic Life, formerly known as the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. In the 2019 Portland Tribune article, Mapps said he was abruptly fired after six months for refusing his supervisor's order to discipline an employee for not actively participating in an emotionally wrenching office meeting. He said the experience helped inspire his run again Eudaly, although he insisted the race was not personal.
The City Ombudsman Office subsequently reported that it has received an "unprecedented" number of personnel complaints from office employees. Eudaly accused the City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero, who oversees the ombudsman, of allowing the office to become "politicized."
Mapps said his education and jobs have given him an understanding of how the different governments can and should work together to address problems like homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.
It was apparently a message that resonated with Portland voters.
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