Primary Ballot recommendations
Updated: May 1, 2020
(See individual candidates underneath the Editor's Comment below, and scroll down to end of article to leave your own comment.)
Putting our community and economy together again after COVID-19 will require city leaders who can interpret new realities and apply lessons learned with courage, insight and humility. The four we elect to Portland City Council this year will need adaptive minds and candor, not fealty to standby phrases and familiar norms.
Unfortunately, the near shutdown of normal campaigning and public engagement means that we are entering the critical May 19 primary in the dark. New candidates and new ideas have few opportunities to gain name familiarity or put their views before the voters.
The NW Examiner cannot analyze each race, but I feel a duty to share what I know and think about some of the candidates I’ve covered. To interpret my interpretations, you should be aware of the following biases I bring (and realize that I am not aware of every bias I hold). Almost every candidate says we need more affordable housing. The meme of our day is that more housing construction—the denser and taller the better—is the real solution. The talk is of Economics 101; increase the supply and the demand (price) declines. That is easy to grasp but also simplistic. Real estate is not covered in Economics 101 for a reason. If the supply and demand nostrum explained it all, why don’t restaurant prices decrease as we build ever more restaurant spaces?
I also have a thing about public opinion and grassroots democracy. I believe that citizens, working together, want to do their part to solve social problems. Their behavior individually and on social media is another matter, but when they come together they tend to mute the wingnuts and angry fringe while inching toward the best ideas.
Bureaucrats and public officials who assume the voters are selfish NIMBYs—forever addicted to their cars and conveniences—do not see the powerful potential for reform beneath the polling numbers. Therefore, these “experts” may see their job as administering harsh medicine as they deem necessary. The experts are often right (on climate change and COVID-19, for instance), but without adequate accountability, they can steer us wrong while we assume they know what’s best in all things.
Finally, I believe that we are one people and we should govern ourselves accordingly. If this truth is not always self-evident, we should act as if it is, which will hasten that day. Elected officials govern all the people, not just the faction, interest or identity group that did the most to get them elected.
You may not agree with these views, but perhaps they provide prisms through which to more clearly see your own civic values and how they fit your ballot choices. – Allan Classen
City Council seat Number 4
Mapps has outstanding scholastic credentials and authentic community organizing experience in the Parkrose area. Few, if any, commissioners in Portland history have had doctorates in government or have taught public policy at the university level, and few have applied such deep knowledge in working beside citizens to address their daily issues.
That package may be a plus for voters who covet good government processes and evidence-based policymaking. Because normal campaigning has been impossible in these virus-filled times, it has not caught the attention it merits.
Mapps’ character was demonstrated during his brief stint with the Office of Community & Civic Life. While a purge of those insufficiently loyal to the new regime caused staff morale to plummet, some workers stayed on because his presence inspired faith that a rational path forward was still possible. He was dismissed for refusing to initiate a sham disciplinary process to rationalize the firing of an employee who refused to espouse the ideological rhetoric of the Eudaly regime.
City Council badly needs people like Mapps, and no one would be better as the commissioner for the Office of Community & Civic Life.
Adams has more experience in local government than anyone on the ballot, and his skills are sharply honed. His terms as mayor, city commissioner and chief of staff during the 12-year Vera Katz administration proved he could find the money for pet projects and mobilize a political base ranging from business kingpins to underserved minorities. He did things for Northwest Portland—the repaving of Northwest 23rd Avenue, painting crosswalks at every intersection and settling the 20-year parking wars—that others in City Hall said couldn’t be done and wouldn’t even try.
The problem with so much horsepower is that it is not rooted in a respect for grassroots democracy. He knows how to enlist neighborhood association support when it serves his goals, but other constituencies are usually more valuable to him. He takes the typical Portland pro-diversity tack of considering each subgroup’s case separately, which thwarts the possibility of various interests coming together at the local level and compromising before enlisting City Hall.
The tradeoffs between the two approaches—each group with a direct pipeline to power versus accommodations reached before seeking council support—have not been widely debated in Portland. I compare the first approach to that of political kingpins and autocrats who cultivate aides and favor-seekers to vie for their ear. This dynamic rewards backstabbing and duplicative work to win favor while the person on top hears nothing but flattery and lurid accounts of misdeeds by rivals. The result is ever-greater power by the decision-maker and chaos below.
I generalize and exaggerate to make my point, but the style of leadership Adams has mastered has such tendencies. Good governance is rooted in a system that works for everyone, not just the power and glory of the chiefs.
Eudaly is the Portland version of Donald Trump—full of meanness and victimhood (though of course of a left-wing stripe). Her self-righteous social media rants and condescending email lectures to council colleagues should have wiped out her political standing long ago, but no one can remove her council vote and Mayor Ted Wheeler lacks the will to do anything about the two bureaus she runs as she pleases.
Her startling rise from poverty to a seat on the council did not prepare her for her administrative role, handing her vast powers overnight without guidance or anyone to say no. She reversed her campaign position on the clamorous construction method known as impact-hammer pile driving without explanation by her or her staff. She dumped a noise reform favored by council and did so in a manner that told reform-minded residents that she cared nothing about their grievances and never would.
Eudaly attempted to rewrite the function of the Office of Community and Civic Life while shutting neighborhood associations out of the process, creating the absurd spectacle of revising Portland’s citizen participation system without citizen participation. She goads audiences and constituents with broad slurs and then pities herself on Facebook posts for the predictable criticism.
Even “Portlandia” would have found her unbelievable.
City Council seat Number 2
I was not aware of Dan Ryan’s candidacy until last month and was prepared to make no recommendations among a list of Position 2 contenders I considered weak. But Ryan’s interactions at a virtual gathering and a follow-up interview convinced me that the council needs what he brings.
Ryan grew up in Portland but was living in Seattle when doctors gave him less than a year to live. So he returned to his hometown to prepare for death only to discover renewed health and a new mission. He chaired the Portland Public Schools School Board and served 11 years as CEO of All Hands Raised, a foundation expanding the mission of the Portland Schools Foundation to include outer Eastside schools.
He brought in all stakeholders, including business people, and helped bring about reforms that dramatically improved the city’s notorious dropout rate. He headed development for the Oregon Ballet and Portland State University.
Ryan has earned the sense of self that can see many sides of an issue, speak moderately and still come down firmly when appropriate. He was asked about a recent ordinance to ban city use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers, an ordinance he had never heard of. Without hesitation, he called these devices “senseless toys” that disregard neighbors while bearing a carbon footprint that alone merited their prohibition.
He also faulted the City Hall “shaming” campaign against neighborhood associations as reminiscent of what comes out of Washington, D.C., these days. Ryan called it a missed opportunity to bring the city together around goals “we all agree with.”
We have seen enough of wedge politics in Portland; Ryan is the kind of coalition builder who can bring the city’s splintered sectors together. In a sea of candidates striving to sound bold and capable, he stands out for a self-assuredness that needs no ego trips. He has found his home, and his hometown needs him on council.
City Council seat Number 1
In the two Rubio campaign speeches I have heard, I was taken by her cluelessness. She did not correct for errors made in the first appearance. Both times she opened with the foundational story that lifted her into public service. It was about stepping out of her job description to help an elderly Latina who did not speak English. At this woman’s insistence, Rubio aided her each time she returned, taking great satisfaction in providing more culturally comfortable assistance than anyone else could. That may have been appropriate, even laudable, behavior, but if that touched Rubio’s highest ideals in 20 years of public work, she is not ready for high office.
Serving on City Council means representing all the people of the city, not favoring those of one’s own cultural background. Primitive democracies have often been led by regimes that give patronage to members of their own tribe while marginalizing (or worse) rival factions. Even to Westside gatherings, Rubio spoke of directing more resources to the Eastside rather than recognizing particular concerns of her audience.
Rubio was unfamiliar with topics she was asked about: system development charges, the bail bond system or the shortage of district attorneys. She flatly denied that there is an anti-police bias in Portland by countering that there are reasons some feel that way. The topic begged for acknowledgment of a possible bridge between the camps.
She said local approaches to affordable housing and homelessness are well-conceived, lacking only in sufficient funding. As to the two clear alternatives on the regional agenda now—a $250 million tax or the privately funded Wapato Jail conversion—she offered no thoughts. Rubio needs more schooling before taking on this more challenging test.