During the Monday, November 19 lunch hour, John Branam, the 33-year-old development director for Portland Public Schools, officially launched his city council campaign. Though Branam has been campaigning for weeks—with former Mercury managing editor and mayoral candidate Phil Busse as his manager—and has collected nearly $8,000 in seed money donations, and approximately 300 of the 1,000 $5 contributions he needs to qualify for public financing, he took time on Monday to publicly lay out his education-focused agenda at Portland State University.
Outside of school fundraising circles—and beyond North Portland, where Branam headed up the Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association from 2004 to 2005 and renovated and rented out nearly a dozen houses (which he has since sold)—Branam isn't very well known. Even community activist and former state representative Jo Ann Bowman hadn't heard of Branam as of a few months ago. But on Monday afternoon, she was introducing him.
"I know he's the kind of leader we need on the city council," says Bowman. "He's one that's not afraid to speak his mind, he's not afraid to work in collaboration with people, he's not afraid to tell people they're wrong when they're wrong. He's an opportunity to bring people together across race, across class, across sexual orientation.
"He is a man that has a vision for how fabulous the city of Portland could possibly be," Bowman added.
Given Branam's career at Portland Public Schools, it's no surprise that education is one of the main pillars of his future Portland vision. Taking the microphone from Bowman, he outlined his goals.
"Simply put, my vision as Portland's next city commissioner is for Portland to become as well known for having a robust, rigorous, well-articulated, pre-K to post-graduate education vision," Branam told supporters.
Branam says he wants a seat on the council to "significantly raise the profile of public education in Portland" by convening all of the stakeholders, from the school districts to university leadership to community groups.
Beyond education, Branam's campaign largely sticks to the basics: He's for "vibrant neighborhoods, healthy businesses, robust infrastructure, flourishing arts and culture, and Portland's being more internationally minded."
Later that evening, Branam held a meet-and-greet session at the Art & Sole shoe shop on N Interstate and Rosa Parks Way. There, neighbors quizzed him on the intersection of housing and schools, the high fees associated with new development, the Interstate rename debacle, and the challenges of running a small business in Portland. Branam's responses—on small businesses, he plans to visit 15 that "say doing business in Portland is a stinking nightmare" and 15 that say it's wonderful—seemed to sway the crowd. After an hour, every one of the dozen in attendance took a public financing contribution form, and a few wrote checks on the spot.