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Portland City Council, Position #3: Jo Ann Hardesty
Listen to City Council candidate Rene Gonzalez speak, and you’ll hear concerns shared by a lot of Portlanders: a growing homeless population, rising crime rates, the shuttering of small businesses amid an economic downturn, skyrocketing addiction rates, and unreliable mental health resources. Gonzalez’ relatable and pragmatic tone is comforting to many who see Portland as a city in crisis—chewed up and spit out by a pandemic tinged with civil unrest. Yet there’s one thing missing in Gonzalez’s pitch to oust sitting City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty: Solutions.
Gonzalez hasn’t offered the public any clear plans on how he would resolve the many crises he so eagerly identifies. Nor does Gonzalez, a business lawyer, have any prior experience of addressing these types of complex social problems.
In fact, when asked by the Mercury’s editorial board how he would help unhoused Portlanders who are hesitant to enter shelters or treatment facilities, Gonzalez deflected, calling it a “gray area.” He instead told us to ask our “progressive” readers what to do. That’s not the kind of answer we can accept from a future city leader. (Later, Gonzalez tweeted that he wanted to incarcerate any homeless person who doesn't immediately accept assistance.)
There is one person on city council that has put forward successful, however maligned, policies to address the issues Gonzalez focuses his hand-wringing on.
Commissioner Hardesty has championed Portland Street Response, the city’s first unarmed team of first responders dedicated to mental health calls, which met its lofty first-year expectations in April. Hardesty spearheaded the city’s outdoor homeless shelter program at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, has pushed back on Mayor Ted Wheeler’s destabilizing homeless camp sweeps, and established the Portland Clean Energy Fund to support small green organizations (all while decreasing the city’s carbon emissions). And, while it’s easy to poke fun at, Hardesty’s plan to slow traffic and increase visibility in areas of Southeast Portland's Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood is the one city program that has proven to decrease gun violence in the past year. It’s been years—decades, perhaps—since we can remember a city commissioner accomplishing so much during their first term.
Hardesty is a rare elected official whose work on council isn’t obviously influenced by her campaign donors. She instead is guided by a mix of her own personal beliefs and the concerns raised by Portlanders whose views are often absent in council chambers—whether that be protesters injured by police, teens demanding climate action, tenants facing massive rent hikes, or immigrants who fear surveillance from law enforcement.
Her opponent, meanwhile, has already shown deference to his biggest donors even before entering office. Gonzalez has centered much of his campaign on parroting concerns of Portland Business Alliance and property developers in downtown Portland. He has used his platform to villainize homeless people, call for more police in business districts, and generally defend the interests of businesses over people. What’s more, he didn’t hesitate to take a 96 percent discount on an office space downtown owned by monied developer Jordan Schnitzer and not report it to the city elections division as required. His defense of this discount—that he did Schnitzer a favor by renting out a space that was sitting vacant, regardless of the cost—reflects poorly on Gonzalez’s understanding of the current rental market in our city.
Much has been touted about Gonzalez’s ED300, an organization Gonzalez formed to purportedly focus on returning students to the classroom on the heels of COVID-19. But a peek back at ED300’s recent school board endorsements show that the group backs leaders who oppose teaching about race and gender in classrooms. We don’t need someone on city council who is sympathetic to the right-wing movement of intolerance within schools sweeping communities across the country.
It should also be noted that Gonzalez has also demonstrated an alarming lack of transparent communication with the media throughout his campaign. After the Mercury chose not to endorse Gonzalez in the May primary election, Gonzalez’s campaign manager did not respond to emails from the Mercury or follow-through on any requests to interview the candidate prior to the general election. In his response to the city’s election penalty, Gonzalez’s campaign accused the Mercury of being “hostile” for running headlines that rightly characterized the largest-of-its-kind penalty as “historic” and a “sweetheart deal,” phrases also used by other news outlets. Gonzalez’s campaign manager has not responded to an email or a phone call from the Mercury since. We think Gonzalez will need thicker skin and a more responsive communications team if he wants a seat on council.
Hardesty has made some missteps in her four years in office, which shouldn’t be overlooked. Her suggesting to a Teen Vogue reporter that police may have set fires during the 2020 protests was wrong and needlessly inflammatory. Police officers and right-wing media outlets made sure she paid the price for this error by falsely identifying Hardesty in a hit-and-run in hopes of smearing her reputation. More recently, Hardesty has fallen short on her role overseeing the Fire Bureau—where staffing shortages have created mandatory overtime for already overworked firefighters. The city firefighters’ union says its workers are burnt out and feel like their concerns have been ignored by Hardesty. This discontent is bad for both city workers and the public who rely on them in times of crisis.
But when it comes to creating successful policy untampered by big business interests, Hardesty is our choice. Although it may feel comforting to hear a candidate like Gonzalez echoing your concerns about Portland, what matters more is electing someone with proven capability to address those concerns head on.
Portland Measure 26-228: Yes
Here’s an uncontroversial opinion: Portland’s system of government is garbage.
First established in 1913, the city’s commission form of government requires council members to lead city bureaus as well as write policy—resulting in a clunky, compromised, and redundant system that makes inter-bureau collaboration weirdly political and needlessly complicated. Worse, it’s nonrepresentative of Portlanders, since the five commissioners (which include the mayor—I know, it’s weird) don’t represent specific geographic districts and are appointed through citywide elections. For the majority of Portland history, that means the folks on the ballot with the most money to campaign citywide end up in City Hall.
Measure 26-228 would do away with that bureaucratic mess—and more.
Measure 26-288 is the end result of work done by a commission appointed by City Council in 2020 to review Portland’s charter—the city equivalent of a constitution. This process takes place every ten years, and requires months of research, interviews, and community engagement by its 20-person members.
This year, the charter commission proposed a hefty and surprisingly controversial amendment to the Portland charter, all bundled up in Measure 26-228. The measure would change the form of government, create council districts, expand the size of city council, strip some of the mayor’s powers, and overhaul the way Portlanders elect representatives to city council. The change would considerably alter our current city government by adjusting what representation looks like in City Hall and undermining the ways outside lobbyists wield power through politicians. We think it’s a chance worth taking.
The measure proposes growing the number of people sitting on city council from five to 12. Unlike our current council, this lineup would not include the city’s mayor. The mayor would not be given a vote on council, unless it’s needed to break a tie. The mayor would also be responsible for appointing and overseeing a city administrator, a non-elected role in charge of managing bureaus and other city services. That would relieve council members from the job of overseeing bureaus, and allow them to focus solely on crafting legislation reflective of their constituents’ needs. Which brings us to another change: Under this new system, the city would be divided into four new geographic districts, with three council members representing (and residing in) each district. These “multimember districts” would allow for a number of views to be represented in each district, and raise the chances of voters in that district feeling heard by their elected officials.
Here’s the curveball that’s turned many off to this proposal: In each district, all candidates for city council will run for three seats simultaneously. That will be achieved with a process called ranked-choice voting, in which voters rank their candidates on a ballot in order of preference. Under this system, a person’s vote will still make an impact on the election results, even if their top choice isn’t selected. If their first choice doesn’t get enough widespread support from other district voters, their ballot will be used to boost their second or third choice—scrapping the idea of a “throwaway” vote.
Ranked-choice voting is becoming an increasingly common voting method in the United States—adopted by dozens of cities and both Alaska and Maine. However, those jurisdictions use ranked-choice voting to elect just a single person to office, not three people at once, as Measure 26-228 proposes. That’s why many opponents of the measure have dubbed it “experimental.”
We don’t disagree with that characterization, but don’t believe it’s a reason to reject it.
Ranked-choice voting for multimember districts tilts Portland toward having a vastly more representative city council body. We’ll give you a hypothetical example to help illustrate this concept:
A voter who cares about addressing climate change lists the most environmentally-focused candidates for their district at the top of their ranked-choice ballot. Their neighbor who believes Portland needs more police officers ranks the candidates who promise to expand the police department at the top. A third neighbor picks candidates based on their commitment to building more affordable housing. Some of these candidates may overlap.
Under this proposed voting style, anyone who gets over 25 percent of the district vote on election day immediately wins. On election day, a pro-housing environmentalist collects 30 percent of the district vote. They are immediately declared a winner, which prompts elections staff to equitably divvy up the surplus 5 percent votes to all candidates who received #2 votes from those who put the pro-housing environmentalist at the top of their ballot.
At the same time, an anti-development police supporter collects the least amount of votes from the district. That person is immediately eliminated from the race. Any voter who ranked that candidate as number one will then have their vote go toward their second choice candidate.
It turns out that several fans of the pro-housing environmentalist and anti-development police proponent ranked a pro-police housing supporter as their #2 choice, boosting that candidate over the 25 percent line. They win, too! Again, the remaining candidate with the lowest amount of votes is cut—which in this hypothetical is a pro-cop environmentalist. Whoever ranked that candidate as #1 gets their votes passed on to their second choice. With those votes added to the remaining candidates, an anti-cop environmentalist makes it over the 25 percent mark.
In the end, the district sends a pro-housing environmentalist, a pro-police housing supporter, and an anti-cop environmentalist to City Hall. And all three neighbors, despite their differing priorities, each have their values represented on council.
Sure, it’s not the easiest process to explain. But does that make this more empowering system of voting bad? We don’t think so. We’re comfortable sacrificing simplicity for a promise of better representation in city government. (Frankly, most Portlanders are oblivious to how our city’s current voting system works).
Another reason to back this plan is that it gets rid of pesky primary elections. Our spring primary elections are an opportunity to whittle down a large pool of candidates running for office to one—if they gather 50 percent or more of the vote—or to the two top vote-getters, who then face-off in a November general election. Primary elections historically attract much fewer voters than general elections in November, meaning much of the race is decided by a small number of Portland voters. In many ways, primary elections are just a backhanded way of suppressing votes.
Those who oppose this measure fear it will make it harder to bump incumbent candidates out of office or spur confusion around which of a voter’s three council members are responsible for what. These scenarios could very well come true. Fortunately, we have a system in place to adjust such issues—the charter commission, which will meet again in 2030 to revisit this proposal. Portland has barely tweaked its charter in more than one hundred years, giving residents no opportunity to pursue alternative systems. It’s time to give Portlanders the chance to experiment with something new.
Vote yes on Measure 26-228.
Portland Community College Bond, Measure 26-224: Yes
The Portland Community College (PCC) bond would raise $450 million for various modernization, safety, and accessibility improvements at multiple PCC campuses—and because this bond would essentially replace a PCC bond that is ending, it will raise the money while keeping taxes the same for Portlanders. The bond would tax property owners 38 cents per $1,000 assessed property value per year for a maximum of 16 years. For a property with an assessed value of $250,000, that’s about $95 per year.
The money would go towards renovating older buildings at the college’s Rock Creek and Sylvania campuses, as well as expanding PCC’s technical career training offerings to Washington County. The bond will also fund accessibility upgrades for students with disabilities and technology upgrades to better support hybrid learning. Property taxes are high and money is tight, but we think this bond is worth it. PCC is a valuable resource for Portlanders seeking higher education at a lower cost than public universities and requires infrastructure investments to keep it modern and valuable.
The Mercury Election Strike Force is News Editor Alex Zielinski, News Reporter Isabella Garcia, Arts & Culture Editor Suzette Smith, and Editor-in-Chief Wm. Steven Humphrey. Political advertisements on the Mercury's website have no influence over our endorsement decisions. BTW, if you find our endorsements helpful, please consider appreciating our hard work with a small $$ tip!