It’s been four years since Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, a former bookstore owner and activist, booted out an incumbent by riding a wave of fury against landlords and powerful interest groups into City Hall.
This election cycle, it’s Eudaly who is in danger of losing the seat to a political newcomer. Recent polling done for OPB shows Mingus Mapps, a former political science professor and city bureaucrat, with a healthy lead over Eudaly. If elected, Mapps would be the fourth African-American to win a seat on City Council.
Related: OPB’s 2020 election coverage, ballot guide and results
Eudaly won her seat in 2016 by promising to champion the needs of Portlanders who have been historically overlooked by City Hall — renters, low-income Portlanders, people with disabilities. Her supporters say she’s remained in their corner throughout her term, pushing through signature pieces of legislation to ease the burden on renters and attempting to make the city’s system of civic engagement more equitable.
“I brought in a team of activists and advocates to my office — not political operatives,” she said. “We share similar values and priorities, and a lot of us bring lived experience to this work that lends a sense of urgency.”
But her term has left factions of the city — notably landlords and neighborhood associations — feeling rebuffed by her office. Mapps is counting on their vote.
In debates and interviews, Mapps has painted Eudaly as a bridge-burner, elevating the voices of Portlanders she agrees with while shutting the door on those she doesn’t. With a city mired in crises and political division, he’s banking that Portlanders are ready to swap out Eudaly for a candidate pledging a more pragmatic, consensus-building approach to the job.
“I think one of the things that we’ve proven is that if we don’t talk to each other, we get bad outcomes. We don’t evaluate our programs, we get bad outcomes. And if we don’t embrace being smart, and frankly kind, we get bad outcomes,” he said. “We haven’t been smart. We haven’t been kind. We’ve been weirdly contentious.”
Before running for office, Mapps spent part of his career in academia as a political science professor teaching at Bowdoin College and Brandeis University in New England. He graduated from Reed College and has a Ph.D. in government from Cornell University. He returned to Portland in 2015 with his family and he went on to lead Historic Parkrose, a nonprofit that aims to revitalize that neighborhood’s business district. His last job before running for office was overseeing the city’s crime prevention program at the Office of Community & Civic Life — a bureau run by Eudaly.
Mapps was fired after a half year on the job. He has said it was because he refused to follow orders to discipline an employee working under him because he didn’t think the punishment was deserved. He says the dysfunction he experienced at the bureau inspired his run against Eudaly — and his most common line of attack: She doesn’t listen.
“Her management style is to throw, frankly, people under the bus and resist empirical information. She just picks wars randomly with people ... basically anyone who she disagrees with," Mapps said. “That’s a terrible way to run a city bureau and it just doesn’t work.”
In her first term, Eudaly ushered through a slew of notable policy achievements. She pushed through a plan to move the city’s buses and streetcar trains out of traffic and set up a fund to pay for a legal defense for immigrants facing deportation. She implemented rules requiring landlords to pay for moving fees if they significantly hike up rent or issue a no-cause eviction. She passed another sweeping set of rules that made it easier for tenants with criminal records to get housing.
But Portland’s civic life bureau has remained a bit of black sheep within the commissioner’s portfolio. Her attempt to reduce the influence of neighborhood associations, where leadership tends to be white and wealthy, infuriated those civic groups and that push has been tabled. There were so many complaints from employees about how the bureau operates that the city ombudsman asked for an outside investigation.
Eudaly counters that the bureau was already in tough shape when she received it. A 2016 audit found the bureau had been poorly run under Commissioner Amanda Fritz and former mayor Charlie Hales, who ran the bureau before her, with minimal accountability for how city money was being used. Since Eudaly took the helm, she said, she changed the leadership and attempted to restructure the bureau. But she said it’s clear there’s resentment and discontent among the staff, and the city is moving forward with an outside investigation as requested by the ombudsman. Eudaly said she won’t know what changes she needs to make to the bureau until the assessment comes back.
Mapps said his time under Eudaly underscored the need to change the city’s commission form of government — perhaps his most commonly discussed policy position. He said he saw firsthand working at the Civic Life bureau the way the city’s unique form of government siloed commissioners and discouraged others elected from intervening in whatever dysfunction may be taking place in the bureau down the hall.
If elected, Mapps said, he’d want to see the city move towards neighborhood-based electoral districts, and he’d push to increase the number of seats on the council and hire a city manager. He’s said he believes housing bonds passed by Metro and Portland could be used to create enough affordable housing units to end chronic homelessness within his first term.
Aside from governing styles, Mapps and Eudaly differ on issues of policing, housing and civic engagement. Mapps has called for specific changes to the police bureau — an end to tear gas, rubber bullets, and chokeholds — but cautioned against dramatically slashing the bureau’s budget. Eudaly’s office said this week it was supporting an additional $18 million cut to the bureau.
Mapps has said he encourages housing density but wouldn’t vote for the residential infill project, a massive overhaul of the city’s zoning code that passed this summer, because he believes it doesn’t do enough to stop displacement. Eudaly, while she originally shared these concerns, ended up supporting the proposal after pushing for changes to reduce displacement. And Mapps has spoken highly of neighborhood associations and said he wants to “reinvent them for the 21st century.” Eudaly has pushed to give other types of community organizations the special status that neighborhood associations enjoy.
But, Eudaly contends, to understand the real differences between the two candidates, voters should look at endorsements. Mapps has received endorsements from groups alienated by Eudaly’s term: the lobbying group that represents landlords, the Portland Business Alliance and the police union.
“I don’t think that there’s particular policy solutions that he’s championing that are attractive to these powerful special interests. I think it’s the fact that there’s not much there to his policies. He seems malleable to me, and he seems much more conservative than I am.”
Eudaly has earned the support of a slate of progressive organizations and elected officials, including Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, both Oregon U.S. senators, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, and former Commissioner Steve Novick, whom she defeated in 2016.
In addition to the groups highlighted by Eudaly, Mapps has the endorsements of former Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts, former State Sen. Avel Gordly and former Portland Mayor Sam Adams, who ran for the seat in the primary but didn’t make it into the runoff. Service Employees International Union Local 49 and the Northwest Carpenters Union have also thrown their support behind Mapps.
Coming in the midst of nightly protests against police, it’s the endorsement by the Portland Police Association union that has drummed up the most attention. Mapps said he believes the union endorsed him, likely, because he had a reputation in the world of crime prevention and, he argued, a nod of approval by the union does not place him in the pocket of the police. Eudaly has fired back the union would never support a candidate they felt threatened by.
“It’s a little bit insulting as an African-American man who’s devoted his career to promoting community policing and building safer, more livable neighborhoods,” he said.
Voters have until next Tuesday to return ballots in the mail. After that, voters are encouraged to use an official drop site.