The November 2020 elections ushered in a sea change for politics in the suburbs around Portland: Voters gave the nod to a new crop of young, diverse elected officials who could change the face of politics in the tri-county area for years to come.
After a tight race and an automatic recount, Travis Stovall, an African American small business owner and community leader, has been elected mayor. He brings a community-oriented mindset to City Hall and a fresh perspective as someone who has never held public office before.
"It is such an honor to be Gresham's next mayor," Stovall said. "I want to thank the voters and my supporters for getting my campaign across the finish line."
Stovall becomes the first elected African American mayor of a large suburb in the Portland area. (Ken Gibson has served as mayor of King City in Washington County since 2016; the mayor of King City is appointed by the City Council, not elected at large.)
In Gresham, while Stovall took an early lead in the election, the results remained in flux as the gap narrowed with every update. Candidate Eddy Morales, who is Latino and a member of the City Council, kept things close, and a difference of 13 votes led to the recount. That process ended Wednesday, Dec. 2.
Stovall faces a $13-plus million budget shortfall and the impact of the coronavirus on his community. He also said he plans to address racial injustices, get Gresham businesses and employees back to work post-COVID, build more affordable housing for all income levels and address community safety.
Stovall and Morales are joined on the City Council by Vincent Jones-Dixon, a community leader who was appointed to serve on the council and who then ran and won. Jones-Dixon also is African American.
All three are young for elected officeholders: Stovall is 47, Morales is 40 and Jones-Dixon is 31.
Washington County Board of Commissioners
Nafisa Fai may be the perfect embodiment of the diversity and laid-back lifestyle of Washington County: while running for the Washington County Board of Commissioners, her campaign page featured a photo of her in a headscarf and a tech vest.
Fai, 43, won, and becomes the first Black and first Muslim person to be elected to the Washington County Commission. Her district includes Beaverton, Aloha, Cooper Mountain and Reedville.
"I think people are really excited about my campaign because they see themselves in me," said Fai, a public health professional.
She came to the United States when her family fled war-torn Somalia as refugees. She lives in Aloha with her husband Sam and two children.
Wlnsvey Campos is the new legislator in House District 28, which serves Beaverton and Aloha. She becomes the only Hispanic member of Washington County's legislative delegation and, at 24, also the youngest. She replaces Rep. Jeff Barker, who retired. ("Wlnsvey" is pronounced "wins-vay.")
Campos said her candidacy was informed by her work as a case manager for the Family Project of Beaverton, an organization dedicated to serving families experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.
"There are so many people who will never know what it is to have to go to a public library restroom and roll sheets of toilet paper so your family can save $8," she said. "There are people who will never know what it is to be a child and navigate insurance companies (for their parents) because we don't have translators available."
Meanwhile, in Washington County, voters sent Ricky Ruiz, 25, to serve in House District 50, replacing Carla Piluso, who retired. Ruiz grew up in Rockwood. He works for the city of Gresham as a community services coordinator, where his role includes leading youth recreation programming, supporting public safety with the Neighborhood Ready Program, overseeing the Youth Advisory Council, and serving as a city Spanish interpreter.
During the campaign, Ruiz reflected on the challenges of running as someone within the coalition of Black, Indigenous and people of color. "As a BIPOC candidate, we have to work two to three times as hard as your traditional candidate," he said. "I work a ful-time job, I work on a school board, I don't have wealth."
That race encapsulates the new diversity of suburban Portland politics: Ruiz beat Amelia Salvador, a Latina commercial real estate broker who also runs a small business specializing in marketing and brand development, as well as specialty event design work.
The diversity extends beyond Portland and its suburbs: the 2021 Oregon Legislature will have 11 members of racial/ethnic minorities, easily the highest in state history. That includes two senators and nine representatives. The coming year's diversity also includes representatives of Oregon's LGBT community; one in the Senate and three in the House.
Desi Nicodemus broke barriers by becoming the first African American man to serve on the Milwaukie City Council, earning a vast majority of the Nov. 3 vote despite running against three other candidates.
"Milwaukie's ready for change, especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion," Nicodemus said. "If I can inspire other BIPOC community members to run for public office, that would be great." He is a teacher in the North Clackamas School District.
In Cornelius, Doris González Gómez and Angeles Godinez-Valencia won races for two seats on the City Council. It has been years since a woman served on that City Council, and the governing body has not proportionately reflected the city's changing demographics — more than half the population identifies as Latino.
Cornelius has a Latino-majority City Council for the first time ever.
Meanwhile, in Happy Valley, David Emami became the first Iranian-American city councilor in that town — or in the state.
"I will make sure that everyone in our community feels welcome and respected," Emami said. "Breaking barriers isn't easy, but I hope that my involvement with the city will continue to inspire others to chase their dreams and get more involved in their community."
He defeated Ana Sarish, who would have become the first Indian American councilor in Happy Valley.
Joining the Lake Oswego City Council is Massene Mboup, who hails from Senegal. He's lived in Lake Oswego for nine years and in Oregon for 20 years, and has served on the city's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force as well as the school board's budget committee. He is also one of the founders and the executive director of the International Leadership Academy in Lake Oswego.
"We live in times that are very challenging and times that are very complicated," Mboup said. "It's important to have folks that understand the root causes of all of this."
Mboup has had a big year: he also graduated with his doctorate degree in education from Portland State University in June.
Oregon City Commissioner Denyse McGriff made history a second time with her election victory. With her appointment by city commissioners in March 2019, she became the first person of color to serve on the Oregon City Commission. On Nov. 3, she became the first person of color elected to the Commission.
"I have been humbled and grateful for the outpouring of the support that I've received for this campaign," McGriff said. "My goal is to do my very best for everyone, no matter whether we agree, and we're not always going to agree, but I'll always listen."
Gladstone voters chose to increase the diversity of their City Council by electing Annessa Hartman, who is Indigenous and of the Cayuga Nation. She became the first Indigenous person elected to the Gladstone City Council.
"My campaign has changed the norm for the type of person who is getting involved with local politics at all levels," Hartman said. "I hope that I have inspired people no matter what they look like to participate in democracy."
While the voters in November ushered in a new class of diverse — and often young — office holders, the newcomers aren't alone. They join others including:
• Smart Ocholi was appointed to the King City City Council in 2016 and still serves; he moved to the United States from Nigeria in 2002 and served in the U.S. Army.
• While not a minority, a 21-year-old, Rory Bialostosky, has joined the West Linn City Council.
• While not a suburbanite, Khanh Pham of Portland joins the Legislature, serving in House District 46; she is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees.
Reporters Max Egener, Dana Haynes, Christopher Keizur, Clara Howell and Raymond Rendleman, as well as intern Shauna Muckle, contributed to this article. Oregon Public Broadcasting, a news partner of Pamplin Media Group, also contributed.
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