With just a month left before the election, two candidates for Portland City Council met for a debate at the City Club.
The sharpest differences between Jo Ann Hardesty and Loretta Smith were over funding and policy for the Portland Police Bureau.
Hardesty said her first act in office would be pulling Portland out of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, a partnership between local officers and the FBI on matters related to terrorism.
“I will do that because we cannot pretend to be a sanctuary city while we have people being targeted by our federal government,” Hardesty said.
Smith didn’t take a position on the issue.
Hardesty, who held a more than 20-point lead in the primary, could be in a position to deliver on that campaign promise if she wins office. She’s been endorsed by two sitting members of the City Council, Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Chloe Eudaly, who have each signaled a willingness to reconsider the city’s role in the JTTF.
Asked by the debate’s moderator which of the city’s core services — parks, police or fire — the candidates would cut, Smith delivered a full-throated defense of the Portland Police Bureau and Chief Danielle Outlaw’s recent push to increase staffing.
“We have more people who live in the city of Portland than we did 10 years ago. The last three years, we’ve had 45,000 people move here, three years in a row,” she said. “We do need to make sure that everybody in every part of the city is protected.”
By contrast, Hardesty said hiring more officers hasn’t made Portlanders feel safer and she’d rather fund parks.
“We will not police our way out of some of the critical problems that we have,” Hardesty said. “We have to think about what are good community solutions.”
Mayor Ted Wheeler has said the seat for which Smith and Hardesty are competing will oversee the city’s Fire Bureau, the Bureau of Emergency Communications and the Bureau of Emergency Management.
But when asked about the portfolio of critical public safety bureaus, both Smith and Hardesty gave answers that misstated facts.
Hardesty described herself as “giddy” at the prospect of managing those public safety services.
She said one of her key goals would be to embed mental health professionals in the city’s 911 call center, to triage calls and ensure the most qualified first responder is sent to a person in crisis.
“We spend a lot of time and resources — 54 percent of the budget in fact — on policing, but what we don’t do is invest in our 911 call center,” she said.
It was the first of two occasions Hardesty used that budget statistic — a percentage that isn’t correct, according to the city budget office.
CBO staff say Portland spends about 35 percent of its general fund or discretionary budget on the Police Bureau. The total spending on all public safety services — including police, fire and emergency communications and management — is about 57 percent of the budget.
Smith also misspoke while responding to the question about how she would manage the bureaus in her portfolio.
She said her top priority would be encouraging Portlanders to prepare for a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.
“I know that 94 percent of the emergencies that will happen in an earthquake, the neighbors next to you will save you. So we need to make sure that everybody has the appropriate information and kits,” Smith said.
But Smith appeared to struggle to accurately describe the risk posed by the quake.
“We are on a 150-year-old earthquake line and we should be prepared,” she said.
The Cascadia fault has produced 41 major earthquakes over the past 10,000 years, according to the Oregon Department of Emergency Management. Geologists estimate there is a 40 percent chance of a megathrust quake on the fault in the next 50 years.