After previously announcing he would vacate the seat if elected to serve Zone 3 on the Portland Public Schools Board of Education, former candidate Derrick Peterson may be walking back his plans to quit the race.
Last week Peterson made a public statement on his website saying he had withdrawn from the race, noting recent media coverage that served as a “distraction” to PPS students and was taking a toll on his family. Peterson’s name still appears on the ballot for the May 16 election.
The announcement came after reports that he maintained ties with Christian Nationalist religious groups, including an anti-abortion group that listed him as an advisory board member.
By Monday, that statement was gone, and Peterson’s website appeared as an active campaign site again, including a scrolling banner with the May 16 election date.
Peterson did not respond to inquiries from the Mercury on Monday about whether he will or won’t vacate the seat, if elected.
The day prior, Willamette Week reported Peterson told a current PPS board member that he will retain the seat if voters elect him, despite his recent statements to the contrary.
In a previous interview with the Mercury, Peterson denied affiliations with the groups, run by megachurch founder Ché Ahn, who has frequently spouted transphobic and homophobic sentiments online.
After news of his ties to Ahn’s groups broke, Peterson’s campaign manager immediately resigned.
Jessica Elkan, a political consultant who’s previously worked with candidates like City Commissioner Mingus Mapps, and McMinnville Mayor Remy Drabkin, said her boutique public relations firm made the decision last Wednesday to stop working with Peterson’s campaign.
“Based on our firm’s values and mission, we resigned from his campaign,” Elkan said Monday. “Our firm is a mission-based firm. We are LGBTQ and women-run, and we unequivocally support marriage equality, pro-choice candidates, and the separation of church and state.”
Elkan said the firm, D&E Public Affairs, supports Democratic candidates and vets candidates via "a series of questions" prior to working with them, to gauge their values and priorities on topics like social justice and civil rights.
It’s unclear which current PPS board member Peterson communicated with, regarding his change of stance.
While a majority of current PPS board members had previously endorsed Peterson, Julia Brim-Edwards, who serves Zone 6 in Southeast Portland and is also currently running for the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, said she has since thrown her support behind Peterson’s opponent, Patte Sullivan.
“I talked to him the day after he withdrew and encouraged him to make the decision that’s best for his family,” Brim-Edwards said. “I did want to reach out to him because I’d endorsed him, but it was a pretty brief conversation.”
Board chair Andrew Scott said Monday morning that he hadn’t received any communication or indication from Peterson about his plans to remain on the board, if elected.
Michelle DePass, who represents Zone 2 on the board, said she wasn’t aware of Peterson’s change of plans, either.
If Peterson is elected and chooses to vacate the Zone 3 seat, the PPS board would appoint someone to serve in his place. Sources familiar with the matter have hinted that the PPS board may be scouting out someone other than Sullivan to appoint to the board, should they need to.
This article has been updated to correct the name of Elkan's consulting group.