Portland City Council candidates Jo Ann Hardesty and Loretta Smith participate in a community forum at Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018.

Portland City Council candidates Jo Ann Hardesty and Loretta Smith participate in a community forum at Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018.

Erica Morrison/OPB

Portland City Council candidates Jo Ann Hardesty and Loretta Smith met Tuesday night at the Crystal Ballroom, as part of McMenamins’ Race Talks series.

But what made this first public meeting post-primary election between Hardesty and Smith so interesting was that the conversation centered on race. It’s a topic that is usually the elephant in the room — and it was front and center.

The candidates fielded questions from the audience, and it wasn’t a debate-style conversation.

“I want you to know as your city council member, people rarely ask white men if they can represent people of color. So I find it kind of ironic that when two African-American women run, people want to know, but can you represent all the people?” asked Hardesty. Both candidates agreed they could.

“No one says anything about when two white men run,” responded Smith.

“What they say is, let’s find out about their experience. Let’s find out about their education, let’s find out about their track record. And let’s find out about their effectiveness, not affectiveness and that’s what we do and that’s what you all need to do when you’re judging us two.”

Both candidates made the point that black people are not a monolith and they cannot speak on behalf of all black Portlanders.

The upcoming election will have a historic outcome regardless of the winner. Both candidates are African American women and one of them will be the first elected to Portland’s City Council.

“OPB Morning Edition” host Geoff Norcross spoke to OPB reporter Erica Morrison about the event. You can hear their conversation by clicking on the audio player above.


Sharing America: A Public Radio Collaboration

Erica Morrison is part of the public radio collaborative “Sharing America,” covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in the Northwest and Hartford, Connecticut, St. Louis and Kansas City. You can find more “Sharing America” coverage here.