OPB asked all the candidates seeking a seat on Portland City Council to answer some questions about the issues. Below are answers from AJ McCreary, a candidate for position 2, currently held by Commissioner Dan Ryan. These answers have not been edited.
My name is Alanna Joy McCreary, but I go by AJ.
I am a single parent, a light-skinned Black woman, a community organizer, artist, renter, non- driver, and a problem solver. I was born and raised in North Portland. I went to Benson High School. I remember a Portland where my mom could time me to the minute if I was taking the bus because transit here was that reliable.
I had my kid when I was in college and I am the only parent he has. I have relied on social service programs, community based organizations, and the kindness of those in my community to get by. That is why you can always find me in community, because it is in this community where I feel most at home.
I’m an organizer for racial and economic justice, a business leader, educator and political consultant. I’m a guest lecturer at the University of Oregon, and a part of the Community Engagement Cohort for the Portland Charter Review.
I co-founded and now serve as the Executive Director of Equitable Giving Circle, a nonprofit focused around food justice. I’m also a co founder and team leader of the mutual aid group Mxm Bloc. With both of these roles, I’ve seen firsthand that it’s possible to make rapid change in a sustainable way.
Most of my activism centers around cannabis equity. I also serve as a Board Member of RACE TALKS and Steps PDX.
Why are you running for City Council? What relevant experience do you have?
We’ve seen a lot of promises from the incumbent in Position 2, but we’re not seeing much in the way of results. And the stakes could not be higher: rising rents and costs of living alongside dried up pandemic relief dollars and no more expanded unemployment benefits mean that more and more families are in crisis and becoming homeless, or are on the brink of it.
Portland is in a state of compounding crises.
I’m running to bring collaborative leadership for the change we need. I believe in democracy and community-based leadership. Too often I see Portlanders striving to make a difference for those most impacted by the crisis we face, only to get blocked or slowed down by local policy. We need Commissioners who will act with the resourcefulness that comes with being deeply rooted in this community. I’m answering the call from my community to be an agent for transparency, and to bring Portland communities with me into City Hall.
At Equitable Giving Circle, I helped raise $4 million in two years for emergency rent and mortgage relief, and coordinated rapid relief work during the deadly 2021 heat wave. I’m also a co-founder of the mutual aid group Mxm Bloc. My work involves moving resources to the community, rapidly and efficiently. I know how to bring large groups of people together from all kinds of backgrounds to care for our community during a crisis. That’s the energy we need in City Hall right now, and I’m the best person for the job.
What bureaus do you want to run? Why do you think you’re the person to oversee them?
Ultimately we shouldn’t have a commission form of government where City Council members are assigned bureaus that they may have no relevant experience running. In that vein, I’m thrilled to see that the Portland Charter Commission is moving in the direction of referring an end to the commission form of government to voters this Fall. In the meantime, while voters hopefully approve that change and it gets implemented, I will be operating under the Commission form and that’s something I can live with for the time being. I would like to oversee the Housing Bureau so that community members who are most impacted by the housing crisis can join me in ensuring that we work towards the solutions that work. We cannot focus on just getting enough shelter beds so that it becomes legal to enforce a camping ban – criminalizing homelessness will make the housing crisis worse, despite the wishes of those who wish to remove homeless people from public spaces.
Are there any bureaus you do not want?
I have great respect for the ways that Commissioner Rubio is overseeing Parks and Planning & Sustainability, and how Commissioner Hardesty is overseeing Transportation and Fire & Rescue. I’m willing to serve as the Commissioner for whichever bureaus land on my plate, but I think it serves Portlanders better to keep steady consistency with bureau leadership that is working well at the moment.
What is one concrete action you would take immediately upon entering office to reduce the number of people living on the street?
I will lead from City Hall to stop the People for Portland ballot measure that would yank 75% of vital funds from the voter-approved Metro Supportive Services & Housing Bond. People for Portland is using this moment of unrest following a deadly pandemic with devastating economic consequences to undermine what little good progress we have made on homelessness to serve the interests of those who don’t want to have to look at people who are living on the street. Pulling the rug out now will reduce the mental health and substance abuse resources that people need to get back on their feet. This ballot measure would effectively evict those folks who have been able to successfully get into permanent housing from the May 2020 measure’s funds.
Also, I’d help mobilize the resources of the City, state and federal governments to fulfill the goals of the #3000Challenge put forth by Street Roots and a long list of organizations and leaders who know that the answer to homelessness is housing. By using proven models for housing and services, we can make use of empty apartment units and hotels to immediately provide stable housing with wraparound supports for people who are living outdoors. This approach is far more dignified and effective than mass sheltering – think to yourself, which would you prefer: having a room and a bathroom that’s all yours with a door that locks, or sleeping in a room of 50 or more people where you can’t come and go as you please or bring your pets and belongings?
If the city were to increase shelter supply, would you support requiring people living outside to move into shelters?
No. We need to remember that these are human beings that we’re talking about: people living outside are our neighbors, our colleagues, our siblings, our relatives. Every human being deserves their own individual freedom of movement and autonomy, and I’m a born and raised Portlander who knows how cold and wet it can get here, as well as how hot and smoky it now regularly gets thanks to climate change. It is ridiculous to assert that people living outside would choose to live in highly dangerous circumstances over a home of their own. If those of us who are housed are tired of witnessing people experiencing homelessness, then we need to be all-hands-on-deck working together to make sure that everyone has a safe, stable home to call their own. Furthermore, it is a terrible use of taxpayer resources to throw someone in jail just because they refused to sleep in a crowded shelter with a bunch of strangers.
The charter commission is currently in the process of reviewing and making recommendations to Portland’s charter. Do you support changing the form of government? Why or why not? What specific changes would you support or recommend?
I do support changing our form of government. As I have said before, it doesn’t make sense for City Council to oversee city bureaus and services that we may have no issue area expertise on. We need to be able to focus on setting policies and leaving the administrative oversight of city services to, for example, a city manager hired and fired by a majority of City Councilors. I don’t have strong personal preferences for exactly how this reorganization is structured so long as our Charter Commission has been able to hear from a wide, diverse spread of Portlanders on which method makes the most sense for our city. In addition to the form of government, I agree with the Charter Commission that the City Council ought to be larger and representative of geographic districts. Voters should also be able to rank local candidates in order of preference.
Name a policy the council adopted in the last four years that you disagreed with. Why did you feel that way? What would you have done differently?
There is no such thing as a humane or gentle sweep of campsites. Sweeps are inherently violent and disruptive. Policies and measures that create the kind of loopholes that allow sweeps will never get a yes vote from me.
There was concern from community members that the Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program would lead to more sweeps, and we’ve seen it happen. There needs to be a strict, clear set of criteria that protects houseless folks and affirms their humanity, and there should be language around ways we can do trash removal that is not traumatic and invasive but thoughtful and intentional.
Racial justice protesters and advocates have called for years to dramatically reform the Portland police bureau. Do you believe changes need to be made to the police? If so, what are they?
I don’t believe in reforming a bureau that has failed us far more times than we can count. We go through this cycle decade after decade: police commit appalling violence, either individually or en masse through so-called “non-lethal” crowd control weapons, people call for reform, trainings and new technology are funded, and we keep on seeing more police violence and brutalization. We need to remember that this is an institution that is rooted in “slave patrols”. Following the Civil War, during Reconstruction, slave patrols were replaced by militia-style groups who were empowered to control and deny access to equal rights to freed slaves. By the 1900′s, police departments were brutally enforcing Jim Crow laws. Now, the United States has the world’s largest prison population fueled by a racist “war on drugs” meant to lock up Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. We have enormous wealth in Portland, in Oregon, and in the United States, but a huge portion is locked up in police departments with entrenched police union contracts that protect cops from the tiniest shreds of accountability for brutalizing or killing people. We know that homeless folks and Black, Brown, and Indigenous Portlanders are vastly overrepresented in police arrests and shootings. We’ve tried reform. What we need is fully funded education, social services, public health, community gun violence reduction programs, and economic development. We especially need this in poor communities and communities of color.
Poll after polls shows the electorate is furious with city leaders for a wide variety of issues - trash, homelessness, rising crime. Which of the many problems Portland faces do you see as a priority for your first term in office?
Portlanders are rightly disappointed in our leaders for not acting faster and with more creativity to solve the most urgent problems facing us. We saw Commissioner Dan Ryan drop the ball on a safe rest village prospect at the Expo Center and we keep seeing Mayor Ted Wheeler sweep homeless camps that just move homeless folks around to different parts of the city and make it even harder for them to get back on their feet (sweeps are destabilizing and traumatic and often people’s belongings are thrown away despite police promises to the contrary). When I’m elected to Portland City Council I plan to throw the door open wide behind me to bring communities into city hall to set our priorities together, and make sure that those most impacted, and the experts who are closest to the problems are the ones naming the solutions. For example, the #3000Challenge represents the vision of some of the best and brightest minds on housing for Portland – fulfilling that vision will be one of my priorities during my first term in office.
What do you think the city could do to speed up the construction of affordable housing?
At bare minimum, city leaders must stand united in opposition to the ridiculous People for Portland ballot measure that would yank funding from Metro’s affordable housing bond. That’s our best pot of resources right now and we need to keep it focused on its task of expanding our affordable housing stock. I’ll keep pushing for more resources from the state and federal governments to leverage these funds and continue to expand the pool of available housing for low- and middle-income earners in Portland. We also need to see some permitting reform happen so that good projects don’t get bogged down by bureaucracy.
What can be done to make Portland’s roads safer?
More reasonable speed limits, traffic barrels and infrastructure that dissuades fast neighborhood driving, and vast improvements to public transit, such as bringing back fareless square downtown and eventually fareless transit for all, so that not driving becomes a more practical option for more people. It also all comes back to housing: people sometimes camp near high-speed corridors because it feels safer than being out of the public eye. That’s not an excuse to force people into shelters, but it is a reminder that with safe, stable housing for all, there is no need to camp near highways and roads.