Portland City Council hopeful Rene Gonzalez has asked city officials to drop his hefty $77,000 fine for accepting cheap rent from a political supporter.
City election officials slapped him with the penalty last week for paying only $250 a month for over 3,000 square feet of office space downtown. Schnitzer Properties Management, the landlord, is owned by property magnate and Gonzalez supporter Jordan Schnitzer.
Noting that the company had advertised rent for the space at $6,900 a month, city officials have said that the cheap rent counts as in-kind donation — which Gonzalez is barred from accepting as he is taking part in the city’s small donor election program. Under the rules of the city program, which aims to reduce the influence of big money in politics, candidates receive a 9-to-1 match on the first $20 they receive from a donor. In return, participating candidates agree to several restrictions, including not taking in-kind contributions — donations of time, goods, services — from businesses.
Gonzalez has argued that many tenants renting space downtown right now are essentially babysitting property for landlords who can’t find anyone else willing to pay for the space. In exchange for having someone occupy the building, which provides some level of security for the landlord, and paying for unexpected costs, such as repairing a broken window, the tenants get to hold onto the space until someone else steps in willing to pay more.
In a 10-page response sent to the city on Tuesday, Gonzalez’s campaign excoriated donor program director Susan Mottet for issuing the fine without taking into account the bleak state of office space downtown.
“The location, downtown Portland, has unfortunately become a place where few commercial tenants want to be and where pedestrians have become increasingly unwilling to venture,” read the response. “Turning a blind eye to these facts, and without relying on anything more than an advertisement (an ad which has not resulted in a lease in over two years), the Director proposes a gargantuan penalty of more than $77,000 against Rene for Portland.”
The campaign also pointed to other entities based downtown paying next to nothing in rent. According to a lease his campaign sent to reporters, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office is receiving 1,400 square feet of office space plus a parking space at 928 SW Harvey Milk Street for free. The D.A.’s office only pays $476 per month to cover expenses.
Gonzalez is asking Mottet to rescind his fine or reduce it significantly.
“For these and other reasons, including fundamental fairness, due process and the dilapidated and dangerous realities of downtown Portland in 2022, the Director should reconsider imposing any penalty,” the letter reads.
The campaign also noted there had been a weekend break-in of their campaign office. According to a police report submitted by the campaign, someone broke into Gonzalez’s headquarters over the weekend and stole $5,000 worth of electronic equipment, including a camera, microphone, surface tablet, iPad pro and desktop monitor.
Campaign Manager Shah Smith said campaign officials had no reason to think the break-in was politically motivated. The food in the campaign refrigerator had also been cleaned out.