Portland City Hall

We'll hear from two candidates vying for a seat on City Council: Dan Ryan and AJ McCreary.

City of Portland


With primary elections just one month away, we hear from two candidates vying for a spot on the Portland City Council. Dan Ryan currently is the Portland City Commissioner Position 2 incumbent and running for reelection. AJ McCreary is challenging him for the seat. She’s the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Equitable Giving Circle. McCreary and Ryan join us to make their case for why Portlanders should vote for them.

Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. We start today with a debate between two candidates for Portland’s City Council. AJ McCreary is the founder and executive director of Equitable Giving Circle, a nonprofit focused on Portland’s BIPOC communities. She is seeking her first elected office. Dan Ryan won a special election in 2020 to fill out the term of the late Portland Commissioner Nick Fish. He is seeking his first full term. AJ McCreary and Dan Ryan, welcome to Think Out Loud.

AJ McCreary: Thanks for having me.

Miller: I want to start with policing because it is arguably the area where there is the most disagreement between the two of you. AJ McCreary, first, how would you approach policing as one vote among five on the city council?

McCreary: Well, I think that we really need to be intentional about how we’re growing out of policing. I’m not saying just strip it away and get rid of it, but we really need to focus on how we’re growing out of that obsession. There’s a lot of data that tells us that the police are not preventing crime in the way that we would hope, I guess. They do not have a good relationship with community members and it is not productive. Currently, we’re struggling to keep police officers employed and retained, just like from an employee standpoint. So we’re not doing a good job recruiting, which is an indication that we need to start thinking about what are the different things that we can do to both keep our community safe and to evolve this institution in our city, our first responders. It’s not working. Portland Street Response is a great first step. It was piloted in Lents and now it’s citywide and now the next conversation is extending it to 24/7 hours a day and long term funding. The thing about projects like that, we really need to be thinking about the long term, you can’t get whatever data someone’s fishing for in two years. This was piloted in Eugene, in Lents and it had really great results. So we need to invest in it for more like 5 to 10 years to really see the long term solutions that we are hoping for. When we’re talking about the police, we really do need to be evolving how we are imagining public safety and engaging and that is just such a great first step, so that one of the ways that I’m thinking about it, really wanting to lean into the other things that make communities safe. So lots of resources, streetlights, sidewalks, really thinking about the things that make communities safe, investing in our schools, investing in enrichment programs. Those things coupled with us using Street Response are going to get us a new experience in terms of public safety and this relationship building from city or government entities and the community.

Miller: Dan Ryan, sticking with the aspects of policing that you would actually have control over because it’s highly unlikely that the mayor would make any other member of city council, the Commissioner of the Police Bureau, what would your overall approach to policing be as one vote among five?

Dan Ryan: Thanks Dave. To continue to build the integrated first responders system that we have in motion. When we added Portland Street Response, with the recent expansion, that is helpful and we needed and police have asked for this, for other responders to show up for incidents that don’t require the skill sets of a trained police officer. My hope is that we continue to integrate those systems and so we’re not pitting one against the other, but we need all of them, whether it’s police as the first responders, Portland Street Response or fire. And I think what Portlanders are asking for is a quicker response period. And so we also have to continue to improve the efficiencies with our 911 system, help guide Portlanders to non 911 calls, like 311, to get their services that they need. I also think that it’s morale in general, with all of the first responders, needs to be lifted at this time. I thought we had a very successful negotiation with the Police Union. We have some wins. We finally have a really clear discipline guide. We have a civilian dean of training that will be instituted. Commissioner Rubio and I started off something very important, which is getting more community investments out to those communities that are most impacted by gun violence where you see the trust built between communities impacted and anyone in the, in the first responders system, you start to see less crime. And so I think that that’s really important as a vote on the city council and that I’m a part of that bridge building that needs to go on. And really one of the bigger issues that we must face in our city and our state is the fact that we have the highest addiction rate with the lowest number of treatment centers. We don’t want to criminalize mental health. We don’t want to criminalize behavioral health, but we certainly need facilities and treatment centers to be expanded. We need to bring back the sobering stations that are in alignment with the more challenging drugs on our streets today, which are much harder and are causing more psychotic and aggressive behaviors, with the new meth, if you will. And so it’s time for us to just get out of denial about the challenges that we’re facing and as a state, as a county, as a city, figure out how we can align our arrows and have a better impact as we build. But we’re in a building mode right now.

Miller: AJ McCreary, you said you want to grow out of our obsession with policing. In the past, you said that you don’t want to provide more funding to the Portland Police Bureau. Would you vote to take money away?

McCreary: Yes. And to reinvest that money into the community. So leaning into the other services that help keep communities both safe and functioning. So again, food resources, housing, streetlights, transportation, like all of the things that make our city safe. And we’re talking about police and crime. A lot of crime is rooted in desperation, where people start moving into, maybe not the best choices because that is the only choice that they have because they are struggling to have their basic needs met. So when we’re talking about police, we really need to be talking about prevention and we need to be investing in things that actually prevent crimes. Well-resourced communities are safe communities and so if we’re going to really resolve this problem, we have to grow out of the way that we are operating and funding things and we have to be intentional about that preventative work.

Miller: Dan Ryan, AJ McCreary wants to take more money away from the police budget. Would you vote to increase the police budget?

Ryan: Yeah, I’ve been on record to stop the defunding slogan and really focus on building a better restorative justice system that includes a strong community safety system that does include a very strong police force. I think right now the focus, Dave, is to get the vacancies filled in our police and with at a time with homicides, sadly, already on pace this year to outpace the largest number of homicides on record, which was last year, with burglaries up. I know more about catalytic converters than I ever thought I would because a week doesn’t go by where someone near me doesn’t report there was an incident. We need to have a strong first responders system and I look forward to being a part of a city council that can build a culture of community policing with restorative justice practices that are part of our system. And that will include getting us closer to other cities of our size in terms of the ranks and file that we have in the first responders system, whether it’s police, fire, Portland Street Response, it all needs to grow.

Miller: So sticking with you, Dan Ryan, how would you specifically approach the epidemic of gun violence in Portland, that you mentioned there in your list, record numbers of shootings where the victims and perpetrators are disproportionately young black men?

Ryan: Yeah. The reason I leaned in with Commissioner Rubio a year ago was that we needed better relationships between those communities that have been impacted by gun violence and those that are first responders. When you look at studies across the country, you notice that when there’s a clearance rate on crime, which means that it’s case closed, that was because of that trust built between the two and when that goes up, you see crime go down and that’s the data that you can find in Camden, New Jersey or Newark. So that’s why I wanted to lead with that. I’ve done some ride-alongs with those impacted communities, many of them in East County and just seeing the relationships there, building with those families, checking in with them after the sad incidents, bringing them supplies, getting to know them and then building relationships with the police officers. That’s the bridge building that needs to take place. So that’s something that I would support wholeheartedly as we build back a better community safety system.

Miller: AJ McCreary, you’ve talked about disinvesting from police and reinvesting in communities in various ways. We talked about sidewalks and streetlights and schools and other community resources. How do you think about this issue, specifically in the context of gun violence?

McCreary: Gun violence is also something that needs preventative work. We really have to think about why people are moved into that space and a lot of it has to do with their being oppressed, their in general, our communities are not getting the resources they need. So we’re going to be thinking about preventative services or preventative measures around gun violence. We really have to be thinking about, are we helping people before they have moved into a space of violent crime or crisis or whatever is happening because a lot of crime, like when you get to the root of it, violent crime particularly, it’s rooted in trauma, it’s rooted in needs not being met and it pushes people to the brink. So this is a long term solution. Like we’re not going to just resolve this overnight. These are issues that have taken decades to grow into what it looks like now. And so we’ve got to make pivots, working with community based organizations, working with our schools, really building out strong micro communities and our larger city community is going to be really important. Making sure people have those resources they need so that they are not pushed into those extremes is the preventative work, and part of like building relationships with communities, with individuals and neighborhoods, people that are families or young professionals or whoever it is that you’re trying to build with, you have to have an ongoing relationship to establish that trust. And it can’t just be when we want something as a nonprofit or as a city entity. So that trust building can’t just be like, well, we see that this is a problem, so you’ll have to stop. No, there has to be a long term commitment and we haven’t seen that commitment, not in my lifetime. And so when I’m talking about reinvesting in community, I’m talking about truly building those relationships and also having long term commitments. The way that community based organizations or nonprofits or community programs are funded are on short cycles. You cannot, it’s really stressful for folks that are working and trying to do that work if they’re really looming about, what are we going to be funded? Are we gonna be here in six months or a year? That really negatively impacts the actual community work. So from a city level, we really need to be thinking about funding programs long term so that we can get those results, so we can build those relationships and so that’s what I’m talking about. Like we can’t have a two year solution. It needs to be a 5, 10, 15 year commitment because these are long systemic issues that we’re trying to break down and shift out of.

Miller: If you’re just tuning in we’re talking right now with Dan Ryan and AJ McCreary. They are candidates for a seat on the Portland City Council. Dan Ryan, I want to turn to homelessness. This is an area where you have had power to affect change, as a commissioner, as the commissioner of the housing bureau. The most high profile policy that you’ve been championing is to try to set up six outdoor shelters, shelters called Safe Rest Villages, each of which could have as many as 60 people, but that’s obviously a small fraction of the people who are living unsheltered right now. What’s your larger plan?

Ryan: Larger plan was first of all, it was to disrupt the system in general. We did, I was not seeing on ramps from people who are living on the streets, especially those that have dual diagnosis of mental health and behavioral health and how they were going to successfully be housed and have success for long term. So the model, the Safe Rest Village is about bringing assessments and services to the ground. So in these restorative settings we will be able to look at their behavioral health and mental health. We’re able to look at their workforce readiness and look at how well they’re doing being a part of the community. As those resilient scores go up with services, we do expect that they will be able to then move into housing and have a much better success rate. I know that we’ve had a conversation before on this and I keep saying the same thing because it’s true, you could interview 100 people on the ground and get 100 different stories, but we have to understand who is on the ground, which is why I’ve been leading the effort to get real time data and the villages will give us an opportunity to do that. Remember, there are nine to, they’re a 6-9-month assessment period. So the villages will rotate and I do believe it’s the start of us building better on ramps to permanent housing which is finally coming on the market at a much faster rate.

Miller: AJ McCreary, can you describe how you would approach homelessness as a member of the city council?

McCreary: Yeah, this is a multi-pronged approach and we need immediate impact solutions and long-term solutions. So thinking beyond two years and thinking beyond even four years, and immediate, while shelters offer some short term reprieve, we need to be making sure that the shelters that we’re supporting, that we’re getting behind our shelters that have long term funding and can build relationships with community members so that people that are experiencing houselessness, they know that the services aren’t going away and that they can rely on it and that because that they’ve already had so much trust broken and so, to build that relationship in an intentional way, they need to know that these shelters have the support and service in the backing. So that’s kind of number one. These temporary solutions like the Safe Rest Villages don’t work in that regard and they do have an expiration date. When I’m talking about housing, I’m thinking about that 3000 challenge and how we can really be activating that and getting behind that and putting a dent into this larger, broader issue. I’m also thinking about how can we really also think about the folks that are not currently facing houselessness and how do we get them rooted in this community in different ways. So, when we’re talking about housing, we also will be talking about home ownership, because this is a much larger umbrella and we need to be moving people from even renting situations, which is not very stable and help get people rooted back into this community. The majority of Portlanders, the average age in years is like 37, and 37 year olds aren’t homeowners, 37 year olds aren’t trusting establishments, but we would like to be a part of the solution and we would like to be rooted in our community. We also really want to make sure that our houseless neighbors are being treated in a humane and thoughtful way. And so housing has to be a multipronged approach. It has to be with immediate solutions now and it has to be about building community trust and it has to be about long term solutions. Right now we keep spending money on these, the Safe Rest Villages or these temporary shelters and it’s a money pit and nothing is being resolved. And so what I’m thinking about is, I want to work with the community based organizations that are doing this work in a sustainable long term way. We also need to be making sure that services are where folks are, so you can’t be shifting people from wherever they are to St. Johns or to Multnomah Village. We have to make sure these, like these shelter services or immediate first contact services are throughout the city, where people already are, because it’s unrealistic to ask somebody who’s living in Lents, oh, you’ve got to be over in St. Johns or you got to be out in Multnomah Village, that’s not how it works and also that’s where the trust is breaking down. So those are some of the things that I’m thinking about in this larger moving issue and really excited to tackle, with a lot of thoughtfulness, and really getting to the root issues.

Miller: I want to hear briefly from both of you about what you see as the most significant difference in the way you’re talking about addressing homelessness. Dan Ryan, first, what distinguishes what you’re talking about from AJ McCreary? I’m asking because I actually hear a lot of overlap in terms of immediate solutions and, more important, longer term solutions. So where do you see the differences?


Ryan: The status quo in the houseless industry, as much of what AJ is speaking of, which is talking about housing first and everyone knows that housing is important. No one’s dismissing that. I’m presenting and disrupting that model by saying we need service first and bring the services to where people are and I’m glad she agrees with that. I think that it’s important to notice that the geographic distribution of the villages is by design, because when I drive around the entire city, I see homelessness on the streets everywhere. And so I think it was important for us to have that geographic distribution. We do have all the sites selected now and so you can see that when you look at the map.

Miller: But you haven’t answered what I’m still curious about is what do you see as the differences between what you’re putting forward and what AJ McCreary is and then we’ll ask AJ.

Ryan: Yeah. And I’m for long term solutions too. I want to have practices first. I think I know, I’m talking about data more. If we don’t know where we are, it’s hard to know where we’re going. So I’ve been pushing and pushing and pushing the joint office which I have a dotted line relationship to, to make sure that we have real time data sets so we can have different strategies for different people that are homeless. There is not a one size fits all strategy and that is a consistent approach of mine that I’m not hearing from my opponent.

Miller: AJ McCreary, what do you see as the most significant differences in terms of your homeless policies?

McCreary: I’d say, in mine, that I’m uplifting the dignity and the humanity of people in this crisis and thinking about long term solutions and how do we shift out of this? This, like the Safe Rest Villages, is taking folks from being outside to fancier outside and that’s not a solution and that’s not even a good budget plan. So housing solves houselessness and I’d say that the difference is that I’m wanting to use things that we have now. The 3000 challenge we’re talking about, accessing empty apartments with rent support and landlord coordination and wrap-around services for folks that we can get off the street and into housing right away as one of the ways that we can move this issue forward in the immediate. Talking about purchasing properties that are ready to provide housing. Now, working with CBOs, community based organizations and long term solutions. When my opponent is talking, he’s not bringing that up. He’s not talking about how we really move this in the immediate. It’s really hyper focused on shelter, shelter, shelters and we know as a community that the shelters and this particular type of solution isn’t a solution, it’s just a money pit and it’s inhumane and we’re just going to be having the same conversation in two years and four years and eight years and so on and we want change, we want a different experience for everybody, a place where everyone is thriving. That is the city that I want to live in. That’s the city that everyone that I’ve talked to across the city from different demographics, different walks of life, want. So that’s one difference.

Miller: Dan Ryan

Ryan: I’d like to insert really quick. I lost a brother on the streets who was homeless and they were diagnosed with bipolar and mental health and substance abuse. They needed services. We could not find them anywhere. And the only solution I’m hearing is to give someone keys. We had our brother Tim live with one of my brothers and when you’re isolated, when they would go to work then Tim would go back out and be with the community on the streets and keep using drugs. When you’re choosing your addiction over the love of your family, it’s pretty tough to do that intervention. But we’ve got to start being more assertive about that intervention. We’ve been the chief enabler to such behaviors for too long and many of those suffering on the streets actually want those services and we have to offer them to them and guide them towards them.

Miller: Dan Ryan, I wanna move on to some other issues because we were running out of time soon. We’ve talked about crime and policing, the homelessness issues that have gotten a lot of attention for obvious reasons, in races at the city and state levels this year. Dan Ryan, first, I’m curious what important issue you think has not gotten enough attention?

Ryan: I think it’s an issue that I’m focusing on with Commissioner Mapps and that is something that’s been really plaguing our city in terms of economic development for decades. And that’s our permitting system in the city of Portland. We have a kind of true to the form of our 23 bureaus. We have eight bureaus that do permitting and on any given day, the customer has to track which bureau is now taking their time to make those decisions. It’s just not streamlined and integrated. So I have, I’ve brought everyone together. It’s weird. It’s data driven. In fact, we’ll release the data soon to the public on what it takes, and what the timeline is from all the way to issuance from the first day you apply and we’ve got to increase our efficiency. We have too many builders, whether it’s builders of affordable housing, whether its residents, small businesses or large developers who all say the same thing. They’re frustrated by it. And if we, as we try to come back as an economy, Portland has to get with it. So we’ve been studying systems for permitting in Minneapolis and Phoenix and nearby in Hillsboro and we’re learning a lot and we have the team put together and I’m passing in the budget a transition team to help implement this. So we’re going from vision and planning into planning and implementation and I’m excited to be leading that process.

Miller: AJ McCreary, what do you think is not getting enough attention right now?

McCreary: I’d say climate action is not getting enough action or attention. It’s just not really something that seems to be on the main stage, but in reality, we’ve had multiple deadly weather events just even in the last year here in Portland, and those things are only gonna get worse. We just had snow unexpectedly earlier this week and there were not shelters or anything really opened and so people weathered that night out in the cold. Last summer, we saw that extreme heat wave. I was on the ground doing work during the extreme heat wave, getting folks AC units, getting folks into hotels like grassroots organizing, getting water service to our houseless neighbors across the city. It was a really well orchestrated and really robust last minute planning. Where was our city council folks in these crises? Climate change, like this is something we have to be thinking about in the immediate and planning. We can’t be reactive in this. We have to be proactive and I’m running for folks that want to have proactive change, proactive thought in the way that we are managing our city. And I want to take what I’m doing, what I’ve done in pockets in Portland to a citywide way, like I know that we have thoughtful care that can happen in our city and I am the best candidate to help move that mark.

Miller: Just briefly, AJ McCreary, first, what do you think is working well at the city level right now?

McCreary: That’s a really good question. I think that PCEF is a really great…

Miller: Community Engaged Policing?

McCreary: PCEF?

Miller: Oh, the environment. Okay, sorry.

McCreary: I’m sorry, the Portland Clean Energy Fund. I think that is such an incredible policy that we were able to pass and champion. I think a lot of really great work is going to happen. It is community led, it is focusing on our BIPOC community, it’s the first in the nation. It’s a really exciting opportunity for us to be living in our values of a progressive city, of a forward thinking place that is climate change oriented, that is wanting to be thoughtful about the future of our planet. I’d say that PSEF is beyond impressive and I’m excited to see what happens with that. It’s like really the things that I envisioned our city doing as a young person here, and to now be an adult and seeing that come to life is pretty magical. So hats off to everyone who has worked on that because it is really an incredible program and I really hope that it gets some long term support so we can really see what that, what that can grow into and help shape other cities to implement similar things. I’d also say Street Response is pretty incredible and excited to see that grow.

Miller: Dan Ryan, what’s working right now in Portland?

Ryan: We have a city council that has evolved quite a bit and I would say, I have experienced in my time in office, a focus city council. I actually led the effort to get us to focus on our top three priorities in the budgeting process, which is community safety, homelessness and economic recovery. What you’re seeing increasingly is the five of us, thinking out of the box, leaning into one another, meeting each other on our edges to pass policy. And that really is a very important step to stop the divisiveness that I think was occurring previously to me being on the city council. I’m in the center of that group of five. I’m proud to have both the endorsement of Commissioner Rubio and Commissioner Mapps and I’m really looking forward to having a full term, so we can continue to keep the extreme noise out of party politics or whatever happens in Salem, in Washington and we can stay focused on the services Portlanders deserve. They’ve been observing the intolerable for too long. That’s what jumped me into the race two years ago. And they want us to be steady and focused and get this city out of the ditch that it’s in.

Miller: Dan Ryan and AJ McCreary, thanks very much.

McCreary: Thanks, Dave.

Ryan: Thanks, Dave.

Miller: Dan Ryan is Portland City Commissioner. AJ McCreary is founder and Executive Director of Equitable Giving Circle. I should note that tomorrow we’re going to be having another debate for the other Portland City Council race with incumbent Jo Ann Hardesty and her two most prominent challengers, Vadim Mozyrsky and Rene Gonzalez.

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