Former Oregon Representative Akasha Lawrence Spence is running for Portland City Council position 2, challenging first-term City Commissioner Dan Ryan in the May 2022 primary election.
"I’ve always rooted my service in meeting a need," Lawrence Spence told the Mercury Tuesday. "Right now I see an opportunity to address the urgent community needs punctuated by health and economic crises of the last two years."
If elected city commissioner, Lawrence Spence said she would prioritize community safety, climate action, economic development, and housing and homelessness.
Ryan, the position 2 incumbent, intends to run for reelection in 2022. Ryan joined city council in September 2020 after winning the special election to fill the seat of late Portland City Comissioner Nick Fish, who died of cancer early last year.
During his time on City Council, Ryan has introduced “safe rest villages,” six sanctioned outdoor shelters for unhoused Portlanders, as a way to address what he refers to as a "humanitarian crisis on our streets." Ryan has frequently aligned himself with Mayor Ted Wheeler, voting against the expansion of Portland Street Response, a team of mental health professionals who respond to welfare calls instead of the police, in May.
"The current commissioner in position two is good, but our city deserves great," said Lawrence Spence, who ardently supports the Portland Street Response. "Our city deserves someone who understands the intersectionality of the issues facing our communities. We need transformative change, and it's long overdue."
Lawrence Spence was appointed to the Oregon House in January 2020 to serve out the remainder of the term of former Representative Jennifer Williamson, who resigned to make a run for Secretary of State. Lawerence Spence's term ended at the end of 2020. In her brief time as an Oregon House Representative, Lawrence Spence supported tenant protection and police reform bills, and helped pass the Oregon Cares Fund for Black Relief and Resiliency, a program that provides cash grants to Black individuals and Black owned businesses and organizations that have experienced financial challenges due to COVID-19. She used that achievement to compare her success as a politician with that of Ryan, who intends to run for a second term at Council.
"There is something to be said for someone who has been in office for 18 months and has such little to show during a critical moment in our city," said Lawrence Spence. "I was in the legislature for a year during that same time and accomplished, with community centered leadership, something nobody thought I could achieve, in a legislature where I was one of 90. Imagine what I could do as one of five.”
Prior to entering politics, Lawrence Spence founded her own real estate firm and served on the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission.
Lawrence Spence said she'd go beyond what Ryan has done to address problems with affordable housing and homelessness across Portland. That includes talking about living wages for people forced to choose between "paying rent and buying groceries" each month, and reconsidering Ryan's plan to open "safe rest villages" (or, outdoor shelters for unhoused Portlanders) across the city.
"The truth is, there is an urgent need for housing in Portland and we need to find and provide necessary services right now," said Lawrence Spence. "The way we enact that has to be community-centered. One of the villages is proposed at Burnside and 122nd. That’s a community that’s seen fatalities due to inefficient infrastructure that’s made that intersection dangerous. When you propose that location as a community solution, you’re not thinking holistically about what that means for the community."
Lawrence Spence is also vying for the open Oregon Senate District 18 seat, left vacant by Senator Ginny Burdick that represents portions of downtown Portland. Lawrence Spence is eligible to serve the district during the upcoming short legislative session, which will end in March 2022, before the May Council race. Oregon's recent redistricting process will create new geographical boundaries that will prompt a new election for the district.
Lawrence Spence said that her closeness with the state legislature makes her a "boon" to the city.
"My work as a legislator dovetails with work I would do as a city councilor," she said. "Having a relationship with state legislators will only bolster my work in City Hall."
She added that her relationships with city leaders outside of Portland's city limits—like Tigard, which is encompassed by Senate District 18—will also strengthen her ability to craft city policies that align with the entire Portland metropolitan region.
Lawrence Spence has gathered endorsements from local officials and community leaders, including Rukaiyah Adams, the chief investment officer at Meyer Memorial Trust, and State Senator Kayse Jama.
“Support for Akasha is support for a leader who knows that the creation of affordable homes and support for small business is the foundation of community-centered economic development,” Jama said in the press release. “She has worked with community-based organizations to champion this work and I am confident that as a Commissioner, she will continue working to advance economic justice so that Portland can truly be a livable city for us all.”
Lawrence Spence is the fourth candidate to join the race against Ryan.