During our endorsement interview this spring—and at several candidate forums—city council candidate Charles Lewis made it clear there was one issue where he held a different view from his challengers: He opposed the city's creation of a day laborer center.
Back then, Lewis cited concerns about "where the funds would come from," as well as the city's involvement in a messy federal issue. Now, after speaking with center booster Mayor Tom Potter, as well as center organizers, Lewis has a different perspective. Lewis sent out a "letter to the editor" with his thoughts, which is after the cut, but I called him to get the details on his changed mind.
"I had a great conversation with Mayor Potter on the day center. The thing that really got me thinking about it is he said this is an issue of civil disobedience. You've got the idea that the governments can actually practice civil disobedience against another government," Lewis says. "I've done stuff in the past where as an individual I can speak out about government... [Portland is] doing something against another government to strike out against injustice there. I feel much more at peace about the whole thing."
He also was concerned that the center would perpetuate exploitation of vulnerable workers, but was happy to hear that the workers recently voted to impose a $10 minimum wage, "which I thought was an absolute necessity," says Lewis—who's facing Amanda Fritz in the runoff for council seat #1.
He points out that the city's $200,000 investment is "a very miniscule amount of funding to get the ball rolling." Moreover, "this isn't the end all be all solution to all of this, but it's something that we can do as a community to say we're going to protect people in our community regardless of what the federal government says. We believe that people shouldn't be exploited, and we will do things as a community to protect the most vulnerable people in our society." (To that end, Lewis noticed that the center was missing basics like desks and chairs, and he donated a dozen chairs from his campaign office.)
Finally, to set the record straight: Lewis' opposition to the center seemed to curry favor with the anti-immigration set, and portrayed him as a conservative on the issue. Is that true? "Not at all," he says. So what are his thoughts on federal immigration policy? "I think it's a mess, and I think something needs to be done to address all of the issues. I don't think anyone would think that it's without problems at all. We need laws for people to become citizens. Immigrants built America and I think we should welcome them with open arms."
Lewis' letter is after the cut. And check out this week's forthcoming Mercury for an excellent feature on the center through two workers' eyes, written by Sarah Mirk.
As someone who has spent his entire adult life fighting for the underserved in our community, I believe that everyone deserves the opportunity for a safe, dignified, living wage job.
I recently visited Portland’s new Day Labor Center to get a better understanding of the project. I met with staff members who answered my questions concerning a minimum wage and worker's compensation. I was impressed with the staff, facilities and the services being provided to day laborers.
While the project isn't perfect, I’ve come to understand that the Day Labor Center is a critical first step that must be taken to help a very vulnerable part of our community. I believe that the project is important and will do everything I can to help it become a self-sustaining part of our community.
Candidate, Portland City Council Seat 1