No, this isnt a new game show where contestants hare tested on how long they can sit in the Crystal ballroom without air conditioner on a 95 degree day.
No, this isn't a new game show where contestants hare tested on how long they can sit in the Crystal Ballroom without AC on a 95 degree day. Alex Zielinski

The first candidate forum for the November runoff to replace City Commissioner Dan Saltzman came with a number of rules: No politics. No rebuttals. No personal attacks.

"This is not a debate," said Tricia Tillman, the moderator for Tuesday evening's Race Talks discussion at McMenamin's Crystal Ballroom, which packed hundreds of attendees into its painfully non-air conditioned venue.

Nevertheless, candidates Loretta Smith and Jo Ann Hardesty managed to break every single rule before hitting the event's halfway mark. While Tillman was able to get both candidates to speak on the night's discussion topic—being a Black woman in a majority-white city's political sphere—the candidates repeatedly steered the conversation toward their own political records and thinly-veiled attacks on their opponent.

This is the second time Hardesty, a former state legislator, former NAACP president, and perennial advocate for police reform, and Smith, a longtime Multnomah County commissioner, will share the ballot.

In the May primary race for Saltzman's council seat, Smith collected 21 percent of the votes, Hardesty took home 46 percent, and the rest was divided up among their opponents. Since Hardesty didn't reach the 50 percent mark required to win, the election was scheduled for a November 6 run-off between the top two candidates. Regardless of who wins the November race, the election will place the first Black woman on Portland City Council.

Tuesday's event was the first time both candidates met publicly since the May race—and it gave voters a preview of what to expect for the rest of the campaign.

Both women first clashed over a question on how they have supported other Black women leaders who come under attack. The question alluded to the time Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury called Smith a "bitch" in a public meeting last year. At the time, then-NAACP President Hardesty did not publicly defend Smith.

Last night, Hardesty explained that it wasn't her decision to make, since she represented all members of the local NAACP chapter. "There are people who think the NAACP president is the decision maker," said Hardestly. "They are not. The members are the decision makers." Hardesty pivoted to talk about how she's supported Black mothers who've lost their children to police brutality.

"I have always been a very opinionated woman, that’s not because I’m Black, that’s just because I have strong opinions."

(It should be noted that Kafoury's admitted name-calling came a few months after an unrelated investigation into Smith that found she had routinely demeaned women of color working for the county.)

"As Black women, we're always under attack," said Smith. "When I was called the B-word... I was hurt by it. But I knew I could either elevate and go nuclear, or I could go forward and settle it. And I did. As an elected official in this community where people are looking at me, and young girls are trying to figure out how they respond in those kinds of situations... I always go back to what Michelle Obama said: 'When they go low, you go high.'"

Then, Smith went low.

Tillman asked both women what they admire about their opponent. Hardesty acknowledged she admires Smith's development of the county's youth summer employment program, SummerWorks.

Smith's response: “I would say that Jo Ann knows how to reinvent herself.”

The jab elicited boos from the audience—and a reprimand from Tillman for breaking the rules.

The candidates also butted heads over the phrase "angry black woman," an often-negative stereotype that Hardesty has embraced over the course of her campaign. Hardesty said she liked that Willamette Week used that phrase to describe her on the cover of WW's April endorsement issue.

"I love the Willamette Week cover. I don’t run away from that," said Hardesty. "I have always been a very opinionated woman, that’s not because I’m Black, that’s just because I have strong opinions."

Smith, however, called the WW cover "unacceptable."

"Black women have been working so hard for so long to not have that stereotype used against them," she said. "That didn’t help black women, in fact, that kind of pushed us black. I won’t allow anyone to call me an angry black woman."

"I won’t allow anyone to call me an angry black woman."

Questions submitted from the audience allowed both candidates to talk more openly about their political stances. Asked if she would support Portland's on-again-off-again relationship with the Joint Terrorism Task Force ( JTTF, a controversial partnership that turns several Portland police officers into federal informants that generally target people of color), Hardesty said that within 30 days of being in office, she'd push a vote to dissolve the local program. Smith, however, supports Portland's role in the JTTF. “I think it’s important the people have the information to make everyone safe," said Smith.

Smith bungled a question regarding how she's supported Portland's LGBTQ community by pointing to work she's done to help women and people of color see economic success. Tillman pushed Smith to clarify how that would help queer Portlanders.

"If you know anything about public money, you can't desegregate money," said Smith. "My [fund] is for everyone."

Both women said they supported Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw's work as a Black woman leading the police bureau, and are hopeful for her ability to reform a historically racist police force. They also both snuck in rather radical ideas to their campaign platforms: Hardesty called for free public transportation for everyone during rush hour, and Smith proposed Portland police officers who don't live in the city limits move into unoccupied "zombie houses" being foreclosed on by the city.

"White men have been running Portland city council for 148 years. I think having a majority female city council will radically change the dynamic."

But neither candidate dug into the actual work they'd be handed as soon as they enter office: overseeing the
"non-police" public safety bureaus. Last week, Mayor Ted Wheeler announced the latest bureau assignments for city commissioners, and noted that Comissioner Saltzman's assignments will be directly handed over to whoever assumes his position in January. Those bureaus are Portland Fire and Rescue, Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, and Bureau of Emergency Communications (the office responsible for 911 calls).

Smith did briefly mention how she was disappointed by a three-hour wait for a police officer after her son's apartment was broken into—but offered no solution to the problem. Hardesty said she'd like to have firefighters be the first responders to mental health crises rather than police officers, since firefighters are trained to save lives.

Despite the passive-agressive zingers woven throughout the discussion, both women were confident that having a Black woman on the city council would be a game-changer.

"White men have been running Portland city council for 148 years," said Hardesty. "I think having a majority female city council will radically change the dynamic."