Portland’s city government is like no other*. Since 1913, Portland’s been ruled by a wonky form of democracy that makes the mayor and city council members seem more like agency executives than regional representatives. Under this “commission” form of government, the five Portland commissioners (including the mayor) each represent a few million-dollar city bureaus—like transportation, water, or parks—instead of the actual human beings who elect them to office. In normal modern cities, council members are elected to represent specific regions of a city, so that the needs of a community on one side of town are given equal consideration as those of folks on the other side of the city. But in Portland, all commissioners are expected to speak for the city’s entire population. That’s why it’s so important to know what your city commissioners are up to—and who to call when you’re feeling underrepresented or ignored by the city’s rule-makers.
To help get you up to speed, here’s a quick rundown of who does what in Portland politics (and why you should care):
Mayor Ted Wheeler
One of Portland’s loudest critics of the city’s style of government is Mayor Ted Wheeler. That’s largely because Wheeler is both the city’s police commissioner and mayor—two job titles that are often at odds with each other. This has made it nearly impossible for Portlanders to trust that his decisions on police-related issues put the concerns of the general public before those of the police department. Wheeler’s been known for his reactionary style of governing in post-Obama America, where alt-right agitators have made Portland a battlefield (literal and figurative) for political battles.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly
Chloe Eudaly was elected in 2016 to skewer the city’s housing crisis and revolutionize renters’ rights. Nearly two years in, she’s still sticking by those promises. Eudaly’s office championed the 2017 ordinance requiring landlords to help relocate tenants they price out or evict—and by the end of September, Eudaly’s office will put another bundle of tenant protections in front of city council, this time aimed at improving the tenant application process. Eudaly was recently put in charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, and in a city that really cares about how people get around, we’re eager to see how she leads the charge.
Commissioner Nick Fish
In the past few years, Nick Fish has led city programs tied to water and the environment, like turning Portland’s poop into renewable natural gas or transforming polluted watersheds into salmon-friendly habitats. But, as the architect of the nine-year-old Portland Housing Bureau, Fish has an evergreen devotion to the city’s housing projects, recently reflected in the Water Bureau’s work to lower water bill costs for low-income tenants.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz
As the first candidate to successfully run an election for city council using Portland’s short-lived public campaign finance system, Amanda Fritz has consistently pushed for transparency in the way the city and its political candidates use outside dollars. Recently, Fritz has played a significant role in keeping Portland parks from closing down under budget constraints, and making sure the city (specifically, the police department) is being held accountable for the the property damage it inflicts on members of the public.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman
Three months away from retirement, and Dan Saltzman’s fully embraced his status as city council’s lame duck. After 19 years of wrangling the city’s growing housing crisis, keeping a constant eye on city budget blunders, and creating a beloved tax-based children’s fund, Saltzman is now sitting back and riding out the rest of his term at the helm of the fire department. What’s more interesting is watching the race to fill his council seat play out: Regardless of who wins the November election, 2019 will welcome Portland’s first Black woman to the city council dais.
Police Chief Danielle Outlaw
While Mayor Wheeler can tinker with the Portland Police Bureau’s budget and policy ideas, Chief Danielle Outlaw calls the ultimate shots. Less than a year into her job, Outlaw has already demonstrated her power over the police bureau—whether it’s by making the decision to sweep Southwest Portland’s Occupy ICE campout, or to call for nearly 100 new police officers. We’re still waiting to see what kind of mark Portland’s first Black female police chief is hoping to make in a city with a long history of police violence.
* Except for Columbus, Ohio.