Portland City Council candidate Vadim Mozyrsky answers OPB’s questions

By OPB staff (OPB)
May 9, 2022 9 a.m.

OPB asked all the candidates seeking a seat on Portland City Council to answer some questions about the issues. Below are answers from Vadim Mozyrsky, a candidate for position 3, currently held by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. These answers have not been edited.

Brief biography:


My family and I came to America as refugees from Ukraine in the former Soviet Union. My family arrived destitute, but willing to work hard. I am a product of public schools, public university, and a public law school. In my professional career, I’ve worked at a litigation law firm, as a senior attorney and senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and now as an administrative law judge of the Social Security Administration.

Like many immigrants, I moved around a lot. When I came to Portland, I fell in love with the city’s vibrancy, unique culture, civic activism, arts, restaurants, music scene, pristine nature trails, and kind people. When not in the woods or on the mountain, I have spent my time in Portland putting down deep roots in community organizations, civic organizations, and local government. I’m running for City Council to fight to improve the city that has opened its arms to me and so many other wanderers that call Portland home.

Why are you running for City Council? What relevant experience do you have?

The answer is evident in conversations I’ve had with hundreds of Portlanders across a broad swath of the city: our city government is failing to maintain basic services and mismanaging the response to the larger crises impacting the city. Our municipal services are unable to clean trash from public spaces or remove graffiti from our streets. Schools are failing to prepare our children for college and a competitive workforce. We have set staggering records in crime. In the meantime, certain politicians continue to practice divisive politics rather than working together to solve these problems.

I have worked as a lawyer in the private and government sectors. My federal government career reflects broad experience managing large organizations. I served as a senior policy advisor to the head of an agency. I managed two federal offices supervising 40-50 employees responsible for yearly benefit expenditures in excess of $300 million.

I was appointed to serve on the Citizen Review Committee, the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing, and the Police Budget Advisory Committee. That unique experience will be instrumental as Portland reforms and rebuilds its police bureau. I served on the Portland Commission on Disability. Now I serve on the Charter Commission to improve our form of government.

I am a member of a federal union’s national executive board and have the experience to work with the city’s public and private sector unions to advance the needs of working families.

What bureaus do you want to run? Why do you think you’re the person to oversee them?

I’ve heard the frustration from many Portlanders that their voices are not being heard in City Hall. The Office of Community and Civic Life is the natural conduit for bringing diverse voices to the table and to build the large coalitions we will need to overcome the current challenges facing Portland. Civic Life houses neighborhood, immigrant & refugee, disability, and community safety programs. These are all areas I have built extensive experience in, as a neighborhood association board member, as a Ukrainian refugee and advocate, with a disability law background, and having worked on community safety issues as president of the Public Safety Action Coalition. Civic Life’s programs are one of the few avenues for immigrants to connect with City Hall and have their voices heard.

I would welcome PBOT to my portfolio with the goal of advancing clean energy and environmental justice by bolstering green initiatives such as greater use of public transportation and biking. I would also work with PBOT to provide economic opportunities for small businesses by activating street life in commercial corridors. Lastly, I would help ensure that Portlanders’ livability concerns are equitably addressed. As past president and current board member of the Public Safety Action Coalition, I have worked with Portland residents, neighborhood associations, and small businesses to find shared solutions to address livability concerns.

Are there any bureaus you do not want?

Portland Police Bureau

What is one concrete action you would take immediately upon entering office to reduce the number of people living on the street?

In places like New York City, the vast majority of homeless individuals live in shelters. In Portland the opposite is true. The vast majority of our homeless community live – and sadly too often die – in inhumane conditions on our streets and green spaces. In 2020, 126 people died on our streets, half from drug overdoses. Suffering, crime and victimization are all too evident in encampments scattered throughout the city. Yet there is no cognizable plan for how to comprehensively and quickly address the needs of unhoused individuals and their housed neighbors.

I have spoken to many Portlanders who individually help the homeless with basic daily needs, neighborhood associations that bring clothing and nourishment, service providers eager to share their expertise, and developers with land and resources wanting to help. It is encouraging to hear how many people want to be part of the solution to this humanitarian crisis, but also disheartening to hear from the same individuals that they don’t see coordination or a workable, immediate plan from our officials.

In my first 60 days in office I will convene a summit of private and public-sector leaders from businesses, neighborhood associations, nonprofit organizations, service providers, and city and county officials to provide a clear plan for short- and mid-term shelter spaces. Concurrently, representatives from service providers will convene to outline how to best triage people to shelter options appropriate to their needs.

If the city were to increase shelter supply, would you support requiring people living outside to move into shelters?

People living in our streets are in desperate need of mental health, drug addiction, and housing services. Yet a recent Oregonian survey revealed that the vast majority of the people living outside never received outreach for housing services. We can do better by providing more shelter options which become a gateway for stability and services that can help people turn their lives around. Having people live in shelters is not ideal, but it is better than the current alternative where people are dying on the streets, and suffering from brutality, hunger, heat and cold. Additional shelters will save lives, and while I agree that shelters are not the ideal long-term solution, I also cannot argue that the current solutions leave too many people literally out in the cold

Part of that is accountability. Holding people accountable without providing them an opportunity to change their lives is punitive. But if you give people an opportunity to change their lives without holding people accountable, that won’t work in the long-term. Thanks to ongoing funding, the new Metro homeless services tax, and federal economic relief funding, we are well on our way to providing needed services. Consequently, I am a proponent of incentivizing people to move to shelters as a means to receiving needed services.

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 support changing Portland’s form of city government. As a member of the Charter Commission, I heard loud and clear from hundreds of Portlanders, the bureau directors, and most of our elected officials that our commissioner form of government is not working.

We elect our city council members to bring a sustainable, long-term vision for Portland and to respond to peoples’ needs. We don’t elect our city council based on their ability to be CEOs of large corporations, which is the product of our commissioner form of government. We need to bring back transparency and accountability by hiring a professional to manage the bureaus while our elected officials focus on policy development and hopefully actually replying to emails.

I am in favor of a city manager, whether hired by the mayor or city council, expanding the size of city council to increase participation and representation, and moving to district-based elections so that people are better represented by people actually living in their neighborhoods.

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?

City Council should have improved, rather than disbanded, the Gun Violence Reduction Team. In the midst of a skyrocketing homicide rate, City Council took away one of the main tools for dealing with gun violence, only to turn around 18 months later and reestablish a similar Focused Intervention Team. In the meantime, 2021 saw a record number of homicides, far exceeding the previous record. These teams are not only uniquely qualified to investigate homicides, but they proactively address crime by knowing the community and keeping illegal guns off the streets before they are used in shootings.

I would’ve worked with city council and the police commissioner to address community needs by making sure the team’s methods were data-driven and not susceptible to bias. I would’ve also advocated for community oversight so that people with knowledge about the methods used and actions taken can ensure that the police team acted with impartiality, in accordance with set policies, and used proper tactics.

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?

Having been a member of the Citizen Review Committee, which hears complaints against the police, as well as the Portland Committee on Community Engaged Policing, I have heard the call for reform and believe that we can continue to improve the police bureau.

First, we need adequate community oversight of the police. In November 2020 Portlanders passed city charter amendment establishing a new police oversight board. It’s been eighteen months, and that board is still years away from being implemented. We need to hear the 82% of voters approving the measure by acting quicker in establishing the oversight board and staffing it with people with relevant expertise. We need to fund body worn cameras for every officer so that there is objective evidence for the oversight board to evaluate.

Second, we need to recruit the best and the brightest officers and train them to serve and protect, in the real sense of those words. We must invest in local training based on national best practices leading to fair and impartial policing. Portland should lead the way in changing law enforcement training from a warrior to a guardian mentality.

Third, we need to implement President Obama’s fourth pillar of 21st century policing: community policing by working with neighborhood residents to co-produce public safety.

Fourth, we need to increase the transparency of data, policies and procedures.

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?

Trash, homelessness, and rising crime are all priorities, but to address them we need to end the ideological divisiveness in City Hall that has prevented pragmatic solutions to our shared problems. My priority is to build coalitions to address these and other issues based on tried and proven methods.

For trash and graffiti, we need to break down the siloing between different bureaus sharing livability responsibilities, work with the county and state to streamline services, and importantly work with partners in neighborhood associations and the private sector to triage the needs and quickly address them.

For homelessness, we again need better coordination between county, city, neighborhoods, nonprofit and the private-sector to coordinate and fund initiatives to reduce homelessness. As things stand, there is a lack of coordination leading to individual groups working on individual plans.

For public safety, the answer is not only additional police, but also crisis management teams, community intervention, faith-based institutions, youth groups, and educators. We need to have a plan on what to do right now, as well as what steps we need to take for the next decade to ensure that Portlanders have a safe and prosperous future.

At the root is the ability to listen to all sides and formulate a pragmatic rather than dogmatic solutions to Portlanders’ needs.

What do you think the city could do to speed up the construction of affordable housing?

The pandemic has exacerbated underlying trends: housing prices have dramatically increased while half of all renters are cost burdened. This trend is most severe for marginalized communities. Additionally, Oregon has the worst housing shortage in the nation as a percentage of existing stock. We need to increase affordability by increasing housing supply and building a greater mix of housing types.

To ensure that we create housing policies that meet the needs of new home buyers without concomitantly creating unintended consequences that negatively impact housing and rental availability, I will ensure that policy development is inclusive of all stakeholders. To that end, I would support efforts to have representative voices on the Planning and Sustainability Commission, the Urban Forestry Commission, and Portland Housing Advisory Commission.

I would promote policies to increase density zoning in the Portland region. If and when practicable, I would seek tax exemption incentives to increase housing. To get desired outcomes, we need to bring together housing advocates, neighborhood associations, realtor organizations, developers, home builders, property managers, and rental owner associations. Finding common ground and pragmatic solutions to our housing needs is paramount to ensuring that our city government incentivize adequate inventory and affordable homeownership while not creating disincentives that increase scarcity and drive up prices.

What can be done to make Portland’s roads safer?

Last year we had the most traffic fatalities in 30 years. No matter the good intentions and planning of Portland’s Vision Zero initiative, the vision is obscured by the high number of deaths on our streets. Several additional initiatives can help make Portland’s roads safer. First, we need additional lighting along high-traffic corridors. Second, we need to bring back the police traffic division in order to increase enforcement of drunk driving laws and monitor streets at nighttime when there is increased risk to pedestrians and bikers. Third, we need to make cross-walks more visible with signage and lights. Fourth, we need to expand protected bike lanes.