Portlanders have a choice this election between two women seeking the same seat on city council. Incumbent Amanda Fritz and state representative Mary Nolan are in a runoff, since neither one took the seat outright in the May primary.
They debate Friday at the City Club of Portland.
When you appear before voters as a candidate, are you on a job interview? Amanda Fritz and Mary Nolan answered that question differently at a recent event in North Portland. Fritz, the incumbent, put it this way:
“I am Portland city commissioner Amanda Fritz, and this is actually my job evaluation.”
Mary Nolan countered, “I’ve served six terms, and each time there’s an election, I think of it as a brand-new job interview.”
Mary Nolan served those terms in the Oregon Legislature.
The commissioner’s job she’s running for now would involve managing city bureaus and voting on city spending and policies.
One big question that came up when the candidates spoke at the Center for Intercultural Organizing is the relationship between the Portland Police, and ethnic minorities and the mentally ill.
Fritz sees the problems through her experience as a psychiatric nurse.
“I will certainly take responsibility for working with people with mental illnesses to provide more services, and to provide training to our police officers about how people with mental illnesses may react differently. It’s also incumbent on all of us to make sure that the police accountability system is strong and much more robust than it has been.”
State Rep. Mary Nolan says she takes a personal interest in the issue.
“With a teen-aged Latina daughter, I am starting to feel some anxiety myself about her interaction as she becomes more and more independent.”
But she says she’s looking to other people for how to improve things.
“I wish I knew the answer to this. It’s something that really undermines our community’s sense of comfort and connection,” Nolan says.
Another stop on the Fritz-Nolan tour of community events was a forum earlier this week, organized by Portland State University’s student government.
There, the candidates staked out different positions on an urban renewal area. Fritz takes a fiscally conservative line.
“We should not be saddling you and your children with long-term debt for something which might be nice, but we can’t afford it right now,” she says.
Nolan said she was “not ashamed” to raise taxes for public priorities.
“The critical role that Portland State plays, and the critical need for having a really, really strong university, I support the education urban renewal district.”
The candidates agree on some big issues, like water fluoridation. Nolan says leaders shouldn’t be afraid to press ahead on important policies, even if they’ve been rejected in the past.
“While I think it’s important to listen to the voters, I think there are times when leadership says ‘It’s time to bring this issue up again’.”
Amanda Fritz calls herself “your voice in city hall.” She says her position on fluoride evolved.
“I came to the same conclusion as Representative Nolan, that yes indeed, on balance, it’s in the best interests of the most people in Portland, to fluoridate our water, but I listened first – and that’s the key difference.”
Nolan emphasizes results - like her legislative efforts on children’s health care and college financial aid.
Nolan also says she’s a stronger manager. Years ago, she ran the city’s Bureau of Environmental Services. Nolan says Fritz mishandled a computer conversion at the Emergency Services bureau.
“And there are still some problems today with the way the information is presented to the first responders.”
Fritz says if problems were as bad as Nolan alleges, Portlanders would have heard more about it.
Fritz counts her creation of a new city bureau among her accomplishments. She says the Office of Equity will help disadvantaged Portlanders by changing how city staff work.
“What questions should they be asking to encourage more people of color and women to apply for non-traditional jobs, or for traditional jobs, within the city of Portland – so the people know that they’re welcome. We’ve been tracking the numbers, and they’re not good.”
But if you’re a young person hoping to get a job as an elected official, Fritz advises you to get a “real job first.” Nolan, on the other hand, told students at Portland State, to “go for it.”