Local nonprofit Coalition of Communities of Color (CCC) has been hired to help gauge Portlanders' interest in overhauling the city's current form of government through a November 2020 vote.
CCC was selected by the City Club of Portland, a civic-minded nonprofit that's been researching the downsides of Portland's unique government structure for years and, more recently, has considered launching a campaign to replace that structure in the general election.
The decision to hire CCC, an alliance of local organizations advocating for communities of color, to gather community-level feedback about this potential campaign is significant, as non-white Portlanders have been particularly isolated by the city's 106-year-old system.
Portland is the only town of its size that has a "commission" form of government—a structure that tasks five Portland commissioners, including the mayor, with overseeing a number of massive city bureaus such as parks, transportations, and police.
Unlike the vast majority of modern city governments, commissioners are not elected to represent a specific region of the city, where they would be required to live. Instead, commissioners are appointed through a citywide election, where those with money and name recognition usually have the best chance of winning.
More often than not, those victors are upper-middle class and white.
In November, City Club announced it was looking to hire organizations to research if a 2020 ballot measure calling for a new form of city government would be a success. On Thursday, it chose CCC—along with campaign strategist Hilltop Public Solutions—to do the job.
In an email to the Mercury, CCC advocacy director Andrea Valderrama said her organization is invested in shifting the distribution of power in Portland politics.
"We are excited to be working in partnership with City Club of Portland, Hilltop Public Solutions, and others in the community to run a robust and meaningful community engagement program to gather the perspective of stakeholders about their priorities for this important conversation," Valderrama wrote, "particularly the perspectives of communities that have been historically underserved by city government like Black, indigenous, and other people of color."
This won't be CCC's first foray into campaign research and advocacy work. In 2018, CCC played an integral role in passing a ballot measure that created the Portland Clean Energy Fund, a city program that taxes major retailers to create renewable energy jobs for minority Portlanders.
CCC and Hilltop have until February 28 to gather community feedback and create a detailed campaign plan to effectively get a measure on the November 2020 ballot. At that point, it's up to City Club to decide whether to go forward with a ballot measure—which would have to be submitted as an initiative petition and approved by the city no later than July 6.