Julia DeGraw

Julia DeGraw, a progressive organizer and longtime water rights activist, has announced her campaign to fill the Portland City Council seat left vacant by Commissioner Nick Fish.

DeGraw is a critic of Portland's century-old commission form of government, arguing that city commissioners' outsized focus on specific city bureaus limits the city from solving broad issues that span bureaus. But, DeGraw says, she doesn't require this kind of structural shakeup (which may follow a pending ballot measure or city charter review change) to get things done on council.

"We need to ask all candidates, 'Even if you are going to be a commissioner in this commission form of government, what are you going to do to work across the silos?'" asked DeGraw in an interview with the Mercury. "I see [City Commissioner] Jo Ann Hardesty doing that with the police bureau. But that's about it."

DeGraw is especially interested in creating multi-bureau responses to climate change, since "climate change doesn't just impact one part of the city."

DeGraw is currently the director of PDX Forward, a nonprofit that lobbies for progressive government policies, like campaign finance reform and creating a public bank. Prior to PDX Forward, DeGraw spent a decade working for nonprofit Food and Water Watch, and helped lead the campaign to keep a Nestlé bottling plant out of the Columbia River Gorge.

DeGraw previously ran against Fish in May 2018, losing to the incumbent candidate with 32 percent of the vote. She says she never saw Fish as a rival.

"I genuinely agree with his values," she said. "I believe government can play an incredible role in solving society's problems."

DeGraw is one of many progressive Portlanders eyeing Fish's seat. Tenants' rights activist Margot Black and Metro Councillor Sam Chase have both signaled their intent to join the race—and local government veterans, like former Portland mayor Sam Adams and former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, are considering a run. The special election to fill Fish's seat will take place during the May 19 primary election.