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Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson

In a crowded race of experienced candidates for Multnomah County Chair, Jessica Vega Pederson stands out.

A county commissioner for the past five years, Vega Pederson has helped the county expand the region's shelter beds, supported setting aggressive decarbonization goals, and prioritized rental assistance at the beginning of the pandemic. Prior to her role at the county, she was the first Latina elected to the Oregon House of Representatives, often fighting for increased access to healthcare regardless of immigration status, transportation safety in East Portland, and workers’ rights.

As the county grapples with how to best respond to the region’s increase in visible homelessness, Vega Pederson’s experience could be seen as a pro or a con. A frustrated voter might be drawn to political newcomer Sharia Mayfield, an attorney who believes the existing county commissioners have not moved quickly enough to advance behavioral health systems and access to housing. However, Multnomah County has made considerable investments in the expansion of shelter beds, rental assistance, and behavioral health services in the region over the past few years. Having a Chair who understands the state of the region’s resources—both good and bad—is critical at a time when the region needs to respond both urgently and strategically to its housing crisis.

While fellow commissioners Lori Stegmann and Sharon Meieran are also well-primed on the issues facing the county, Vega Pederson has shown her strengths as a collaborator. In 2020, two universal preschool measures were headed towards the ballot: one created by a community campaign, the other by a county-backed task force led by Vega Pederson. Instead of risking splitting the vote, Vega Pederson spearheaded the merging of the two proposals and the collaborative ballot measure passed with over 60 percent of the vote.

At a time when government leaders and houseless services experts are calling for increased collaboration across bureaus and government systems to create a continuum of care for unhoused people, Vega Pederson has the relationship building skills required to rise to the challenge.

Multnomah County Commissioner, District 2

Susheela Jayapal

While voters may more closely follow decisions made by Portland City Council, the Multnomah County Commission arguably impacts their lives just as much, if not more directly. Unlike city commissioners, county commissioners represent geographic districts, allowing for genuine representation for the area you live in.

The Mercury endorsed Susheela Jayapal in her 2018 run, and it's not surprising we're choosing to do so again. Jayapal has proven to be a hard working and more than capable advocate for North Portland’s District 2. With her second term, Jayapal says she hopes to focus on improving forward-looking strategy and communication within her district.

An example of this is her team's adoption of WhatsApp as a method of communicating with constituents who didn’t use email or other messaging programs, opening a door to people who hadn’t previously been connected to her office. Looking forward, Jayapal hopes to de-silo services meant to support the houseless. She described outreach services, navigation services, and housing placement as all working separately, and she envisioned more of a "case management approach" would be better for the people moving through the systems, so they aren't lost in the shuffle.

As houselessness is continuing and a major concern for the county, Jayapal says she wants to provide resources to meet a wide variety of needs, with a focus on building housing, subsidizing rent, and providing services to help people retain housing.

"We need an array. Arbor Lodge, 60 beds of capacity. Safe parking sites." During the Mercury’s endorsement interview, Jayapal said she encourages an “array” of options for people, including indoor shelters, parking lots where people can legally sleep overnight in their vehicles, and housing placement services for people who are unhoused and transgender, a population that statistically experiences high rates of housing insecurity.

District 2 covers areas of North and Northeast Portland—the Willamette River to Northeast 182nd, the Columbia River to Interstate 84. Jayapal remains concerned about equity for the constituents of color in her district and says she will continue to work to buffer those communities from gentrification and displacement.

Multnomah County Sheriff

Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell

It’s not every day the public gets to decide who should lead our county’s law enforcement department. It’s a decision we certainly take seriously, which is why we’re supporting Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell in the race for Multnomah County Sheriff.

As a reminder: The sheriff is responsible for overseeing the county jail system and sheriff deputies, which patrol TriMet, the county’s smaller communities without police departments, and unincorporated areas. It’s up to the sheriff to mitigate jail capacity issues, deputy misconduct, and collaborate with other law enforcement departments on certain issues. Morrisey O’Donnell currently serves as the second-in-command to Sheriff Mike Reese, a position that gives her a clear understanding of what the job entails. Yet she hopes to take the role further than Reese by expanding the county’s homeless outreach team, which helps coordinate housing, health care, and other services for people living outside in Multnomah County, and creating a corrections system that prioritizes true rehabilitation and healing for individuals over a purely punitive experience. It’s this outlook that we believe will make Morrisey O’Donnell a strong partner to Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, who works closely with the sheriff's office. In our interview, Morrisey O’Donnell explained how overcrowding in jails is a warning sign that another social system isn’t working further upstream—whether that be access to mental health care, ignored domestic abuse, or lack of stable housing. She considers these issues to be just as important to address as relieving an overcrowded jail, and seems genuine in her interest to comprehensively address the root causes of crime.

We were alarmed to hear a recommendation from her opponent, Multnomah County Captain Derrick Peterson, to place unhoused people in vacant jail beds as a form of shelter. While the region is in need of more places for homeless individuals to rest, we believe it’s inappropriate to place them in jail, a place that carries a harmful stigma for many who’ve experienced homelessness. While Peterson’s goals for office are similar to Morrisey O’Donnell’s, we don’t want someone with Peterson’s thinking about homeless solutions making criminal justice decisions for our county. Vote Morrisey O’Donnell for sheriff.

Check out our other May 2022 endorsements here—and if you find them helpful, please consider appreciating our hard work with a small $$ tip!