WHETHER SHE WON or lost in 2012—the latter briefly seeming possible in her bitter fight against then-State Representative Mary Nolan—Commissioner Amanda Fritz was adamant that would be her last campaign. She wasn't even sure she wanted to run that race, let alone another one, for a third term, in 2016.
She already missed her family, she told anyone and everyone, having traded precious time with them for the long hours she spent doing the public's business. And after cracking into her and her husband's nest egg to win again in 2012—Fritz is famously allergic to fundraising—she found herself seeing the "love of her life," Steve Fritz, even less over the past two years.
To rebuild their savings, her husband, an Oregon State Hospital psychiatrist, worked more than the equivalent of a second full-time job, Fritz says. It was another sacrifice. But they wouldn't use that money to finance yet another campaign. Instead, they'd use it to finally retire.
But everything changed one tragic day last September. Steve Fritz, beloved by his patients and the city's arts community, was killed during his morning commute to Salem after a car heading the opposite direction on Interstate 5 jumped a median and smashed into his famed zebra-painted Nissan Sentra head-on.
And now Fritz is running again—a difficult decision announced with bracing confidence on Wednesday, January 28.
"Things have changed," she told me in her office before making her announcement public. "It's all been since the crash."
Fritz's reversal was much discussed and long expected in political circles.
For months after her husband's death—a period that saw Fritz mourn him with black, white, and gray outfits, only recently returning to colors—it was clear her work provided her with a necessary anchor. She raised money for the parks bureau. She led efforts to build the civilian oversight apparatus around the police bureau's federal reforms.
Work shepherding along oversight of the federal reforms has been "one of the things getting me up in the morning," she says.
The only real question had to do with money. Would she stomach fundraising calls that might sap time away from the office? Or would she find some other way to run?
Turns out, the tragedy that left Fritz with the time to seek another term also left her with the means. Because her husband's death was an accident, Fritz received a substantial life insurance check. You'll be able to give to Fritz ahead of 2016 if you'd like. But she's not going to ask first.
"It's money I wish I didn't have, and I would give it back in a heartbeat if I could spend just one more day with my husband," she says in a statement announcing her intentions. "But it's there, and I know Steve would completely support me as he always did, in choosing to invest it to win re-election in 2016 so I can continue to serve the people of this city we both love."
She may not need all of it. Fritz is a stronger candidate now than in 2012, having fended off a well-funded challenger on her way to building a robust record in 2013 and 2014. She's pushed through paid sick leave, spent money on parks in East Portland, championed Right 2 Dream Too on West Burnside, created an independent city budget office, and crafted a new policy that gently forces her colleagues to spend more money on infrastructure.
In the next two years, she's looking at building on the work she's undertaken since January 2013, like lobbying Salem to pass a statewide version of her Portland sick-time policy and making sure parks continues to address equity disparities between neglected parts of the city and those that are richer with services.
She's also looking ahead—she hopes to continue working on homelessness issues and mental health, having taken some credit for the city's hiring of a liaison meant to work specifically on opening government's doors to people with mental illness. She also notes the police reform settlement with the Department of Justice lasts through 2020, which would be her revised final year on the council, assuming she wins.
Fritz, by the way, says she expects to keep control of the parks bureau in the short term, even if Mayor Charlie Hales shuffles some other assignments around this winter and spring—a reward for her efforts to stump for a $68 million parks bond renewal. "I'd be miffed if the bureau was taken from me," she says, a message the mayor apparently was made to understand.
That's part and parcel with the blunt, assured attitude Fritz has carried throughout her second term.
She's thundered against Hales in public hearings—loudly and successfully demanding money for priorities like human trafficking and questioning his engagement with the police bureau's handling of protests. She's been willing to buck Hales on issues like reservoirs and the street fee (it's interesting to note, as she's settled on re-election, how her rhetoric has shifted away from her seeming certainty that a council-only vote would suffice).
Fritz knows her seat, if it opened up, would attract a crowd of would-be successors. She may yet face another challenger. But announcing so early will give others time to look elsewhere—and maybe stay some hands.
"They need to know what I intend to do," she says. She's convinced she waited too long to announce last time, not making things official until April 2011.
Besides, she says, running again is the best way to make sure the council still has at least one woman among its five spots. Fritz says there's no guarantee a woman would win in a scrum over an open seat.
Her decision also settles any rumors that she might have considered becoming mayor, whether or not Hales runs again. She confirmed she'd been approached by community members, but she convincingly pooh-poohed the job in the next breath.
"I like being a city commissioner," she says. "I feel like I'm useful."