Sarah Iannarone has been busy campaigning for a shot at what some have called the hardest job in Oregon.
The Portland mayoral candidate laid out her policy ideas and responded to prepared questions during a Multnomah Neighborhood Association meeting Tuesday, Oct. 13. The incumbent, Mayor Ted Wheeler, visited the month prior.
Iannarone stands out from the incumbent. She prides herself on being in tune with working-class Portlanders. She doesn't own a car, instead biking or relying on public transit. Long before she took an interest in politics, she was a pastry chef and owner of Arleta Library Bakery & Cafe. She studied urban studies and planning at Portland State University and later went on to work as a program director for First Stop Portland. After losing a bid for mayor in 2016, Iannarone returned in 2020, this time amassing enough votes in the May primary election to force a runoff between her and Wheeler. She's been criticized for lack of governmental experience — a claim she's pushed back on fiercely.
With the general election less than three weeks away, Iannarone made the case for why Portland's current mayoral leadership isn't working, and why she's the right person to get the city on track.
Note: Questions and answers have been condensed for brevity. Watch the full meeting here, using password M%.ig66y.
Q: What is your experience managing the finances of a large municipality?
Iannarone responded by bringing up her background in urban policy and her position on the Portland Bureau of Transportation's bureau and budget advisory committee. She touched on her longtime involvement on the Mt. Scott-Arleta Neighborhood Association, where she currently helps oversee transportation and land use issues on the association's board of directors.
"We're not hiring a CEO for the city; we're hiring someone to set the values and the vision for the city and, in large part, to keep the global CEOs in check so they're not scraping value off our city," she said.
"People who don't have prior elected experience, doesn't necessarily mean they're not up to the task at hand," Iannarone said.She pointed out that Wheeler had never held public office before winning a seat as chair of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in 2006 with the help of a well-financed campaign.
Q: How would you manage the city budgeting process and what are your priorities for allocating the general fund money received from property taxes?
Iannarone was quick to suggest that task falls to the city's budget office. "We have a city budget office where there are some amazingly skilled people working inside there to help execute the vision that I and the council will set for them," she said, but cited climate change and green jobs, housing affordability for all and addressing injustice — both racial and spatial — as her top three priorities.
Q: Rates have continued to rise for both water and sewer. What is your proposal to flatten rates to make them more equitable between residential and business?
"It's not an issue that I've heard being a priority this campaign cycle. I haven't given a lot of thought to what our plan for that should look like."
Q: Given the city's budget deficit and current crises of riots and the pandemic, what plans do you have for funding existing priorities such as earthquake preparedness, homelessness and public safety?
"What we've seen is ballooning police budgets year-over-year," she noted. "We haven't seen, necessarily, spikes in violent crimes. What we've seen is nuisance calls, petty vandalism, theft, what we would call largely non-violent property crimes."
Police Bureau data does show gun violence in the city has spiked heavily since last year and Iannarone's own campaign website acknowledges that the city is seeing more homicidal violence.
Iannarone referenced her six-point community-led plan for gun violence prevention, which calls for a holistic, public health approach, combined with criminal justice reform, to address the issue.
Referring back to emergency preparedness and earthquake safety, Iannarone suggested neighborhood associations are "untapped resources" all over the city that could play key roles in disaster response and preparation, as well as street safety.
Q: What campaign priorities would you focus on in your first term?
"We know right now that we don't get to choose. The next mayor doesn't get to choose what her priorities are, really, because they're outlined for us. We have to deal with COVID, we have to deal with the economic crisis that we're facing. We have to deal with the crisis of homelessness, and that's cross-sectional with COVID it's going to be exacerbated by that and the eviction moratorium and the mortgage moratoriums being lifted. And then we have to look at police reform and criminal justice and racial justice. Those three things, whether you wanted those to be your priority or not, that's what you need to deal with."
"That's something that we'll have to do in tandem with the community. We may have to look at some public-private partnerships to think about how we can shore this up, maybe through some sort of improvement measure …" Iannarone brought up Seattle, noting Portland may need to explore a special parks district to ensure sustainable funding for the city's parks.
Q: If SWNI's financial audit shows no misuse of funds will you initiate an ordinance to restore SWNI's city finances? Will the Office of Civic Life be limited on future investigations related to this issue and other issues that suspend SWNI's funds?
"I don't know that that's a question that we should answer neighborhood coalition by neighborhood coalition. What we have to do is look at how we're going to repair, shall we say, the relationships between the neighborhoods, the coalition offices, City Council and the city at large."
Iannarone seemed unfamiliar with the current city audit under way to examine Southwest Neighborhood Inc.'s finances, and the coalition's city contract suspension.
Q: The West Portland Town Center project will displace thousands of single-family dwellings and replace them with 10-plus story multi-use buildings. What will you do to ensure funds are allocated to infrastructure, given the multi-jurisdictional funding sources?
"The best thing that Portland can do is lead with our values, especially when there's a situation that we don't control. When you think about population growth, when you think about the need to make sure that we have high density residential capacity in our town centers, it is actually more effective to get critical infrastructure there. We can look at the affordability question in terms of making sure that we're foregrounding anti-displacement."
Iannarone emphasized the need for a range of housing styles and affordability when planning for growth and said the city hasn't been progressive enough on its anti-displacement plans.
Q: What policies will you apply to address social and economic disparity and equity issues? How will you encourage home ownership for low income and people of color?
"This is where we're going to look at a couple of things. One, I'm going to have a lead for small business and entrepreneurship right in the Portland mayor's office to make sure that we're getting the necessary capital and technical assistance, especially to our BIPOC entrepreneurs. …Our city's workforce is still 75% white," she said. "And so we can think about ways that we can increase diversity in our cities and our workforce … you clean up your own house first, as they say."
The candidate mentioned Prosper Portland — the city's economic and urban development agency — but also touched on the need for "various community partners" to help the city invest. Iannarone said any programs need a mechanism for tracking their effectiveness.
Q: We support all policies that preserve trees and the canopy, as well as regulating (commercial and industrial) land use zones that are currently exempt from regulation by the tree code. … There are no preservation requirements or mitigation fees associated with these zones. Please share your position on this issue.
"This is actually a really critical issue for me because as a climate champion, I believe tree canopy is one of the best investments that we can make to mitigate urban heat island impacts, especially. I don't like trading off industrial land uses with tree canopy. I've actually worked in my housing for all plans to find ways so that we can increase tree canopy, even as our city grows."
Q: How do we ensure that the city monitors residential infill and controls haphazard construction?
"I've been focused not just on the comprehensive plan update through the mixed-use zones project, the Better Housing by Design project and the Residential Infill Project … in fact my neighborhood association signed on to that, calling for the deeper affordability bonuses and calling for us to track … the displacement effects of that. As someone who's concerned foremost with climate justice, with making sure that we're realizing racial equity and maintaining affordability, tracking the Residential Infill Project will be of particular importance, along with all of our housing."
Iannarone said the Portland Housing Bureau needs to make sure each housing project aligns with the city's climate and equity goals.
Q: How would you end the rioting successfully and with police officers committed to managing the riots, how would you ensure capacity for routine calls?
"Obviously the job of the Portland mayor is not to control a civil rights movement. It's a leaderless movement, largely, and the job of the Portland mayor right now since he serves as police commissioner is actually to make sure that he's reeling in police brutality.
I believe that when there is equal enforcement of the law, and that the people feel that their needs, with regard to racial justice in terms of policing, are being met, then you will not see protests mainly in the streets.Ultimately, what we need to do is make sure that anyone who is committing violence is held accountable, and we need to make sure and that includes police because we've seen police brutality of medics, legal observers, journalists, even breaking the federal temporary restraining order … but also we need an equal enforcement of the law, between right wing outside agitators and Black Lives Matter protesters. …Until there's a clear sense among what I would call the protesting public that the law is being equally enforced, I do not think that we'll see an end to the nightly violence."
Iannarone has repeatedly said she intends to hand over control of the Portland Police Bureau to Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.
Q: While we are frustrated with Mayor Wheeler's response ... we are concerned with your stated positions on [homelessness, violence and protests] that seem to turn a somewhat blind eye to the violence and damage that is caused, not just by militias on the right, but by Portland's homeless.
"What I have done is said that all violence is wrong, no matter who does it. And that we need equal enforcement of the law, and it's not just a talking point. If you do not enforce that then you do not have trust in the public, and … no one in this city knows where they stand. What we have seen from the beginning of this situation is a devolution on many sides with regard to who is being held accountable. When it comes to people experiencing homelessness, we know that they are often the victim of crimes. We know that women experiencing homelessness in particular, some of them are experiencing sexual assault, multiple times a day, they're being trafficked. There is a lot of criminal activity that is perpetrated on people experiencing homelessness, as well as petty crimes that people both housed and unhoused are committing in the city.
I believe that over-policing the protest is what's leading to the intensification of the protests. I would rather see our Portland Police, not on protest duty, not spending $8 million in police overtime in the summer policing protests, and I would rather them actually be doing things like solving property crimes and violent crimes … that's actually what I want the police doing.I don't want them just harassing homeless people. I don't want them sweeping the homeless people from one end of the block to the other just to have them come back … I want people to move somewhere where they feel safe and comfortable and have the resources that they need."
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