Jo Ann Hardesty
Jo Ann Hardesty Facebook
The race for Commissioner Dan Saltzman's city council seat just got interesting early.

Jo Ann Hardesty, a former state representative (1995-2001), president of the local chapter of the NAACP, and a constant police oversight advocate, informed Saltzman this afternoon she'd be challenging him in the May primary.

First, though, Hardesty tried to convince the city's longest-tenured current elected official not to run.

"I just left his office," she told the Mercury this afternoon. "I told him that I thought he had been there for a while and he probably would be ready to retire. He didn't say much except he's committed himself for re-election." (We've reached out to Saltzman's office for comment on the meeting.)

Hardesty's name has been floated for months as a potential council candidate, but she'd so far declined to reveal her plans. She also had two seats she could choose to pursue—Commissioner Nick Fish is also up for re-election next year, and has said he's running. (Her candidacy was first reported on Twitter, by the Tribune's Nick Budnick.)

Asked why she chose to take on the more-seasoned Saltzman, Hardesty said: "Because he has been there a long time. He has been a housing commissioner for a lot of that time, and yet we continue to see a rise in the houseless population and really poor policy around affordable housing. He’s the one I’m most disappointed in." (Mayor Ted Wheeler has been housing commissioner since January.)

Hardesty says she began seriously mulling a council run last October, when police officers mobilized in City Hall to prevent protestors from interrupting approval of a controversial contract with the city's largest police union (a contract that's looking like a worse and worse deal, these days).

Hardesty began more formally laying groundwork for a campaign five months ago, she says, and today launched a campaign website before going to speak with Saltzman.

While Hardesty's platform currently includes police reform, changes to city meetings policy, housing, and job creation, there's little doubt she'll also emphasize her differences from Saltzman as she courts voters. According to her campaign bio, Hardesty grew up in Baltimore, the daughter of a longshoreman and stay-at-home mom. Saltzman comes from a wealthy Portland family. She lives in the Gateway neighborhood, off 102nd. Saltzman lives in Southwest Portland's Hillsdale neighborhood. She is African American. He is white.

"I just don't think his lived experiences and mine match," Hardesty says. "I think mine match most of Portland."

In tossing her name in as a candidate, Hardesty is possibly damning herself to campaign twice next year. She plans to be the chief petitioner on a ballot measure that would create a new corporate tax to pay for renewable energy projects.

She'll also have to hit the fundraising circuit—hard. State records show Saltzman's been tapping the connections forged in nearly a quarter century in public office—five years as a Multnomah County commissioner, and 18 as a city commissioner—to rake in cash. His campaign committee has raised more than $62,000 this year.

Hardesty says she needs to raise $250,000 to mount a viable campaign. She thinks she can do it.

"I‘ve talked to a lot of people who I have sought support from who would have traditionally supported Saltzman becuase they've always supported Saltzman," she says. "What people are saying is, 'We’re going to wait and see who else is in the race."