A non-partisan race for Portland city council pits an activist-turned-commissioner against a longtime state legislator.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz says she’s saved money for taxpayers, made tough decisions, and confronted the city’s longstanding problems of economic disparity and racial bias.
“The disparities that exist in Portland have been appalling, and we’ve been hearing reports from the communities of color – evidence that we’ve done enough studies, it’s time for action.”
That’s Fritz speaking last week at city council, when she proudly introduced the new director of the city’s Office of Equity.
But Fritz’ primary rival, longtime Democratic legislator Mary Nolan, says Fritz’ leadership has been lacking.
Case in point: Fritz’ answer to a question at a City Club of Portland debate. She was asked what tangible results the Office of Equity could show, a million dollars and nine months after it launched.
“So, we actually don’t have a work plan yet,” said Fritz.
“I just heard her say, that nine months into this year, she doesn’t have a work plan for an agency with a million dollar budget,” says Mary Nolan.
Fritz says she’s not great at sound bites. In an OPB interview, she responded to the Office of Equity critique.
“Most of the money for this fiscal year will be going back into the General Fund, because we haven’t spent it yet,” says Fritz.
Supporters and opponents say her strength is in doing thorough research, as a community activist and member of the planning commission.
Fritz reached the Portland city council in 2008 relying on the city’s public campaign finance system. Voters overturned that system in 2010. This time around, Fritz is self-imposing contribution limits.
“I’m keeping true to the spirit of public campaign financing by limiting contributions to 50 dollars per person, per year, which is what you can get back as a tax credit on your Oregon tax return – so it’s still public campaign financing, of a sort,” says Fritz.
Fritz has four challengers: Nolan, Bruce Altizer, David Gwyther, and Teressa Raiford. Nolan has by far the most campaign cash, with nearly 160,000. Fritz has raised less than 12,000. But she says she has provided great value to the city on council.
“The most significant vote was saving six million dollars a year, by persuading the rest of the council not to move forward with an expensive filtration system for Bull Run water,” says Fritz.
“Amanda seems to think that her greatest value is that she made a suggestion about a different way to address the environmental standards for clean water, and saved a couple million dollars a year,” says Nolan.
In an interview with OPB, Nolan argues that if Fritz can claim credit for that future capital project, then Mary Nolan should get credit for three money-saving efforts she led, during her tenure directing two city bureaus. The first involved lighting:
“… worth about three or four million dollars a year since the 1980’s. Total that one up.”
And Nolan says she helped downsize the city’s recently completed “Big Pipe” project.
“Finding ways to prevent stormwater from getting into the system, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in capital cost,” says Nolan.
In the 12 years Nolan spent in the legislature, she helped provide healthcare for children, worked to protect gay and reproductive rights, and toughened environmental laws. And, Nolan learned to raise money, and sent thousands of dollars to elect more House Democrats.
Mary Nolan says in the end, Amanda Fritz is best suited to the role of an advocate, not commissioner.
“She is good at identifying where problems are. What she doesn’t do is pull together enough of a coalition, to actually fix things,” says Nolan.
Fritz says her efforts with the Offices of Equity and Neighborhood Involvement prove that's not the case.
The closest Amanda Fritz would come to criticizing Mary Nolan was to question who council candidates might be beholden to, if they accept large campaign contributions. Though she noted that two other commissioners - who’ve endorsed her – accept large sums from private contributors.