Portland is overdue for a leader like Jo Ann Hardesty. Most recently the president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP, Hardesty has decades of experience both inside the halls of government and outside its marble steps, pointing out its flaws with protest signs and rallying cries.
While a win would make Hardesty the first elected woman of color in city hall (it’s about time!), Portlanders should look beyond the easy tokenization that may come with that title. Yes, Hardesty would be a powerful representative for both the African American community and women of color—but she would also be the vocal advocate for meaningful police accountability that’s desperately needed in city hall.
Hardesty is no stranger to politics. She served as a member of the Oregon House of Representatives between 1995 and 2001, a role that propelled her into community advocacy as the Director of Oregon Action (now Unite Oregon) and the NAACP. She’s become one of Portland’s top advocates for reform and transparency within the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), with a particular, much-needed focus on officers’ interactions with people of color and those with mental illness. Hardesty played a key role in bringing the US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to Portland in 2010 in order to investigate why so many African American Portlanders—especially those in the midst of mental health crises—were dying at the hands of Portland cops.
At campaign events, she’s excoriated Mayor Ted Wheeler for requesting the city reshuffle budget dollars to add 93 new officers to the PPB, instead calling for an extensive audit of the entire bureau before one more cop is handed a badge. She’s specifically pointed to the bureau’s Gang Enforcement Team—a group of cops who try to sniff out gang members using methods that have been deemed racially biased—for being a massive waste of time that could be better used manning understaffed 911 lines. Hardesty has also pointed to April’s fatal shooting of John Elifritz, a man in an apparent mental health crisis who was cornered by police in a homeless shelter, as a clear example of what PPB’s doing wrong.
“If 20 officers can’t take one person into custody who is suffering a mental health crisis, then 93 more officers won’t do anything to make us more safe,” Hardesty says. She’s strongly against police officers acting as first responders for mental health emergencies.
Equally important, however, is that Hardesty still sees value in the role police officers play in the community—and she cautiously supports the bureau’s new leadership. She says she’s rooting for PPB’s new Police Chief Danielle Outlaw, and empathizes with her being a Black woman in a white, male-dominated police force.
But Hardesty isn’t a one-issue candidate. She’s also been at the ground level of Portland’s discussion on affordable housing, homelessness, education, and environmental justice. She’s fought private developers’ plans to stick homeless individuals in massive, industrial shelters, and has put pressure on local government to create more humane and sustainable housing solutions. We like Hardesty’s idea of encouraging older homeowners—“empty nesters” who have more space than they need—to welcome younger families and renters into their homes. (Hardesty proposed a kind of “speed dating” program where prospective renters and homeowners can meet and see if its a good fit.)
Besides Hardesty, we heard from a strong group of candidates who are vying to claim the seat that City Commissioner Dan Saltzman is vacating after a 20-year run. Our runner-up is Andrea Valderrama, who currently works as a policy advisor to Mayor Wheeler. We believe her advocacy for tenant protection, victims of domestic violence, and police accountability is needed within Wheeler’s office, and we’re happy she’s already inside city hall.
While working for racial justice in a painfully white corner of the country, Hardesty has remained remarkably driven and passionate—and we don’t see her petering out anytime soon. It’s time to take that momentum into council chambers.