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  • Kenneth Huey

The Oregonian's Editorial Board, like many entities around town, only has eyes for two mayoral contenders.

For a candidate debate scheduled a week from today, the O's invited State Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey—two out of a dozen people vying for the city's top elected position.

And in an election year where lesser-known candidates have been fighting for exposure, that's riling people up. Now, a handful of Portlanders are threatening to disrupt the event with "civil disobedience" if the O doesn't make room for more candidates.

"We insist that you open your upcoming mayoral debate to all viable candidates, or We the People of Portland will ensure that your event does not take place as planned on February 29 (at least not within Portland City Limits)," reads an "open letter" posted to Facebook over the weekend and linking to an online petition.

The letter urges people to call on Wheeler and Bailey to refuse to participate if more candidates aren't invited. Assuming that won't work, organizers say they'll disrupt the event—though they're not offering many specifics. The letter's signed by four Portland community rights activists: Paul Cienfuegos, Alex Anderson Beaulieu, Naga Nataka, and Sara Long. The online petition currently has 347 "signatures."

This isn't the first pushback the O's received over the event. Outcry was large enough that the paper decided to run an explanation earlier this month laying out that Wheeler and Bailey hold elected office, so are more worthy of attention than other candidates. From the piece:

We could have invited all of those who'd filed for office to this month's debate, but this would have involved a significant tradeoff. The audience might come away knowing more about a handful of candidates with little chance to win and limited ability to serve effectively. In exchange, though, they'd know less than they would otherwise about Wheeler and Bailey.

That reasoning ignores the fact that additional candidates can steer a debate into new and interesting places (see: Nicholas Caleb's long shot race against Dan Saltzman in 2014, which shone a light on the minimum wage debate and led to Saltzman publicly supporting a $15 wage). As we noted this week, a recent forum on homelessness was better for the inclusion of six mayoral candidates, rather than two.

The O's position spurred candidate Sarah Iannarone, a Portland State University employee and cafe owner, to issue a scolding release last week.

As for prior experience as an elected official, I don’t see this anywhere in the job description. Neither did Ted Wheeler when he ran for Multnomah County Chair in 2006, when he told the Portland Tribune that such criticism “presumes the only people who can fix the problems created by politicians are other politicians. And I disagree with that.” On this point, I agree with Ted 100%

Iannarone also claimed in the release she's raised $20,000 so far—way less than the $100,000 she'd counted on, but enough, if true, to land her on other mayoral forums (as of this writing she's only reported $100). The O's not considering campaign contributions, though, says Editorial and Commentary Editor Erik Lukens. Just experience as an elected official.

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"Experience in elective office is certainly the most significant difference between the two candidates we’ve invited and the 10 we did not," Lukens said in an email this morning. "In our opinion, the qualification/relevant experience gap between these two and the rest of the field is wide enough to justify inviting only them."

Asked whether campaign contributions might spur the paper to change its mind, Lukens said no. He suggested, in fact, that nothing will.

"Our lineup for this debate is set."