Chloe Eudaly is about three weeks into her new job. And as career transitions go, hers has been eventful.
“It’s hard to avoid cliches,” Eudaly told OPB, “so I’m just going to say it: It’s been a whirlwind in the middle of a snowstorm.”
Eudaly started work as Portland’s newest commissioner amid a winter weather event that shut down city offices, just as she was getting her bearings.
In a town wracked by tumultuous gentrification, Chloe Eudaly is a single mom and a renter. With no elected experience, she scored a huge upset victory over a one-term incumbent. And as Portland’s weirder side is under the gun, Eudaly comes to City Hall with 22 years experience running her small independent bookstore, Reading Frenzy.
Eudaly’s soft-spoken presence has already defused at least one tense situation. On Wednesday, protestors repeatedly disrupted a city council meeting, speaking out about police force and homelessness. Joe Walsh, a council meeting regular, told Mayor Ted Wheeler in no uncertain terms what he thought of Wheeler’s one-minute limit on each public comment. It was Chloe Eudaly who brought the stunned room back online, even getting some approving call-outs from the audience.
But as Eudaly has been welcomed as a fresh voice on council, she’s navigating tremendous change in her own life.
Eudaly closed her Mississippi Avenue bookstore, Reading Frenzy on Dec. 31, to comply with the city’s conflict of interest laws. Hundreds of customers packing the store on its last day, snagging a few lasts books, zines and art prints.
“I made the joke to one of the people working here, I wouldn’t have voted for her if I’d known Reading Frenzy would have closed,” writer Emilly Prado quipped. Prado said she appreciated how Eudaly went out of her way to stock up-and-coming writers, and titles that reflected city issues.
Customer Gus Kroll does church work with people living on the street, and for years looked to Reading Frenzy to fill his night table.
“There is a small pile of books [at home],” he said, “mostly on gentrification, houselessness, land-based politics — I’ve gotten here from Reading Frenzy,” Kroll said.
Kroll voted for Eudaly. He said he wants to feel better about the city’s future. But while he’s cautiously optimistic about Eudaly’s new role, all politics has him on edge.
“Honestly it’s terrifying,” Kroll said. “I’m not interested in looking for messiahs, but I’m cautiously optimistic about her position in the city council.”
Eudaly said it’s been a shock, transitioning out of job she’s done her entire adult life. But she added it hasn’t been bad.
Q&A with Chloe Eudaly
April Baer: What have the first few weeks been like?
Chloe Eudaly: It’s been quite an introduction. We had to hit the ground running and got some pretty big assignments. We’ve dug right into that as well as putting in this emergency tenant protection ordinance. We’ve had our hands full.
Baer: Officeholders in Portland aren’t allowed to maintain a business. When you decided to run, did the possibility of having to close Reading Frenzy cross your mind?
Eudaly: I think the most challenging thing for me is relentless meetings and demands made on me. It’s really hard to simply check my email or read a document or think deeply about an issue, because I may have meetings booked back to back from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and I’m lucky if I get a lunch break. I think I’ve taken two days off since beginning the job. Saturday I had multiple events and a 17-hour day, which I haven’t done in a while. It was satisfying. I got to connect with people in the community. It feels good. I couldn’t do this job if I didn’t love the work that I’m getting to do because it consumes most of your life.
Baer: Your bureau assignments involve supervising the Office of Neighborhood Involvement and the Bureau of Development Services. Any surprises out of the gate?
Eudaly: I don’t think there have been many surprises. I think my biggest surprise is how many people are here to help us. Because I’m used to doing everything myself. So meeting with the city attorneys or the office of government relations — I was shocked to discover all these people work for us. They support the commissioners and the mayor and help us do our jobs. The bureaus really couldn’t be more different, but they do dovetail in some regards, as well as my assignments to the joint committee on homelessness (A Home For Everyone).
Baer: Are you satisfied with your bureau assignments?
Eudaly: Oh yeah. Starting out, I had firm ideas about what I wanted, but the more I learned about City Hall, the deeper I got into the campaign, I realized there’s important work to be done in any bureau. I’d been saying for months I’d be happy with any bureau I get. BDS was a surprise, because I don’t think it’s an obvious fit for my strengths, necessarily.
Baer: Just to unpack that, BDS is where a lot of permitting gets handled, and architectural and structural minutiae get sorted through. And it’s a place that has interface with a lot of builders and developers. Your background is advocacy. You feel like it’s a good place to do what you want to do?
Eudaly: Yeah, maybe that’s one of the surprises is seeing BDS as this monolithic bureau that does things that I and most of the public do not understand, and realizing, no, BDS is essential to development in the city. We can make it easier or harder for developers to building housing. We can facilitate affordable housing, figure out ways to incentivize affordable housing. We also do rental inspections, Airbnb enforcement, urban canopy enforcement, so it actually is home to a lot of smaller items that are of great concern to me. I am, again, pleasantly surprised in figuring out where I can best connect with this bureau and have the biggest impact. And the big focus right now is making sure we are supporting developers in building affordable housing to the greatest extent we can.
Baer: Your orientation toward the city has been through the lens of Reading Frenzy, talking to writers and artists. Do you think about how you’ll stay in touch with those people?
Eudaly: I’m thinking more about how I’ll stay in touch with my own family, at this point!
Baer: You have a kid who’s school-age?
Eudaly: I do. And in the mornings I give him an extra long hug, because I know I may not see him again until the next morning. That’s been tough, but I know the workflow will ebb and flow, and as I get more accustomed to how things work here I’m going to figure out how to carve personal time out. I just want to dig in and get my bearings and get stuff done right now. As far as staying connected, I brought Pollyanna Birge with me [onto the office staff]. She worked for me at Reading Frenzy many, many years ago. She served as the director of IPRC several years ago, and also worked in Sam Adams’ office as a cultural liaison. Polly and I are excited about how we can open the doors back up to City Hall. I’m excited about that piece of it, but that’s not the priority of our office right now. It’s going to take some time, but we’re going to establish some new traditions here, I think.