Emilie Boyles plans to turn in 1,000 $5 donations to the city this week, hoping to qualify for public financing in her campaign against incumbent Erik Sten. Once her signatures are approved—her volunteers have double-checked every one—Boyles, a 40-year-old nonprofit consultant, will become only the second candidate to qualify for Portland's progressive "Voter-Owned Elections" (VOE) cash. Amanda Fritz, running against Sten's colleague Dan Saltzman, qualified in November.
Boyles, a Democrat, will certainly need the cash: She's a political unknown, facing off against Sten, a three-term incumbent who's also seeking public funds, and his high-profile challenger, State Senator Ginny Burdick. While Burdick hasn't filed yet, she kicked off her campaign last November—and she's expected to raise a lot of cash from the same folks funneling money into the VOE repeal. (Burdick works at the Gard & Gerber public relations firm, which is working on the VOE repeal—a campaign that's spent $350,000 so far.) Sten and Burdick are widely expected to spar over VOE.
But as long as VOE is still on the books, Boyles might have a fighting chance. Boyles, who lives in a mobile home in Mill Park—"because it's affordable, and it's important to live amongst the people you work with"—with her 16-year-old daughter, has an impressive resume of nonprofit experience, civic activism, and social work. But she acknowledges that it's not the "kind of resume to run against Erik Sten or Ginny Burdick," without the help of $150,000 in public funding.
"The reality is it takes a huge amount of money to be a contender," Boyles told the Mercury.
With financial assistance on the horizon, Boyles can focus on her message: "[Sten] is a nice guy, but we're talking about what happened with taxpayers' dollars," she says. "This is a management issue. Each of his terms has had an issue that's cost taxpayers a lot of money," like the water bureau's billing problems, which happened under Sten's watch, and his bid to buy PGE.
Boyles' priorities would be different—she prefers "looking at solutions that don't cost the city a lot of money," to help the poor, the disabled, immigrants, and small-business owners, and she's focused on being efficient and resourceful with limited resources. For example, she's helped start a free clinic at 124th and Burnside for Russian immigrants, while director of the Slavic Service Center. She helps feed 40 East Portland families through No Child Left Behind-Oregon. And she lined up a few senior citizens to assist the city's part-time disability advocate without breaking the city's budget. "We can't keep asking the city for money."
Boyles—who moved to Oregon in 1984, lured by the idea of learning the political ropes from Ben Padrow, Bud Clark's campaign manager—says most of her 1,000 campaign contributions came from small-business people, and members of Portland's Slavic community. Boyles hopes to bridge the gaps between city hall and under-represented communities, like those supporting her. "I'm not afraid to take the city on," she says.
Small businesses outside of downtown are currently represented by the Portland Business Alliance, she says, "but they feel very disempowered."
She plans to shake the city up (she admires the "amazing new blood" Mayor Tom Potter and City Commissioner Sam Adams have recently brought to the council), and produce "measurable results"—a credo she applies to things like Portland's Public Schools, which she says shouldn't be bailed out by a new tax, unless they can show results: "How many graduates are employed in living wage jobs? Use the money you have, differently, first. Show me the results, then I'll give you the money."
Several years ago, she started a consulting company when she saw that other firms were charging the city hundreds of dollars an hour to do human services work, yet only helped a few people each month. Boyles charged just $10 an hour, and was able to "serve hundreds," she says.
"The city can be a thumb that keeps squishing people, or it can get things done."