After a week of mixed messages, Derrick Peterson said Wednesday, May 10 that he is officially withdrawing from the race for the Portland Public Schools Board of Education.
Peterson updated his campaign website Wednesday, after posting a statement the week prior about his decision to withdraw from the race, then telling a current board member that he planned to stay on the board, if elected.
Peterson withdrew after media reported he maintained ties to Christian Nationalist religious groups.
“Recently, my character and reputation have been called into question. I want to be clear; I am not a Christian Nationalist,” Peterson stated, in response to media reports that Peterson was involved in groups led by Ché Ahn. Ahn, a homophobic and transphobic megachurch leader who remains a Trump supporter and spoke at a Stop the Steal rally in Washington, D.C. the day before the Jan. 6 insurrection in 2021.
While Peterson denied being a Christian Nationalist–a sect of Christians who believe their values should be reflected in state and local government policies–his past affiliations with Ahn’s network of New Apostolic Reformation churches were enough to give pause to some of Peterson’s supporters and voters.
In his statement Wednesday, Peterson championed the need for diversity of opinions in social and civic spaces, touting his background in diversity training.
“I stand by my life’s work, my extensive civic engagement, my over 25 years as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Instructor, being an integral part of the team developing the Equity Lens at Multnomah County, my over 35 years in public safety, serving in numerous local and national professional and volunteer roles, my commitment to giving back to my community that I grew up in, and my genuine desire to help others and the community in which I live,” Peterson added. “I have not wavered and for decades have been consistent in who I am, my message and working towards the betterment of humanity.
“After considering the state of my family’s health and concern for my endorsers and supporters, I am officially withdrawing from the race.”
Peterson’s web statement came after confusion and frustration from current Portland Public Schools (PPS) board members and voters, when Peterson went radio silent, declining to return calls or emails this week after telling PPS board member Eilidh Lowery via text message that he planned to wait and see if voters elected him.
“If I get voted in, I will remain on the board,” Peterson told Lowery last Saturday, despite announcing plans to end his campaign just three days prior. On Wednesday, May 3, Peterson said if he were to be elected, he would vacate the seat and allow the board to appoint someone else.
Peterson, a former Multnomah County Sheriff’s captain, was widely favored in the race for Zone 3–the only contested seat on the school board this term. He was previously endorsed by a majority of the current PPS board, securing campaign contributions from at least four current board members. During his school board campaign, he secured the financial backing of prominent politicians like Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, City Commissioner Dan Ryan, and the Democratic Party of Oregon. He was also endorsed by Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt and media outlets like Willamette Week and The Oregonian, before losing each of those endorsements.
After his announcement of withdrawing from the race, PPS board members Julia Brim-Edwards and Lowery said they were no longer backing Peterson. Ryan also changed course.
“I have rescinded my endorsement of him because he refuses to confirm with the media,” Lowery told the Mercury Tuesday, May 9, before Peterson updated his website with the explanatory statement.
Brim-Edwards has encouraged voters to elect Patte Sullivan, Peterson’s challenger for the Zone 3 seat.
The revelations about Peterson also led his campaign manager to resign abruptly.
Because Peterson’s decision to withdraw from the school board race came less than two weeks before the May 16 election, his name still appears on the ballot.