Jo Ann Hardesty, 60, is a consultant and activist. She served in Oregon’s House of Representatives from 1995 until 2001, worked as a policy analyst for Multnomah County and has chaired the Portland chapter of the NAACP. She also carries a copy of the latest audit of the Portland Police Bureau in her purse.
Below are highlights from her conversation with OPB reporter Amelia Templeton. You can listen to the interview by using the audio player at the top of this story.
Amelia Templeton: What sets you apart from the other candidates?
Jo Ann Hardesty: I think the biggest thing that sets me apart from the other candidates is my 28 years of working in this community to make it better.
And whether it was for free — most of what I’m known for, I did for free — or whether it was as a state legislator or as a policy analyst for Multnomah County, it’s always been about the people of Portland for me and not about titles or position.
I’ve been a strong advocate over the years on environmental justice and now climate justice issues, on police accountability, of course. A lot of people know me for that. I have been working on policy at the city of Portland almost since the day I got here.
Templeton: What made you want to run for elected office again?
Hardesty: I didn’t want to. I showed up at City Hall [in] October 2016 for the police contract talk and City Hall was surrounded by riot police. I was appalled … they looked like they were headed to a war zone.
I found out later that the mayor had said that there was credible threat of violence and disruption at the City Council meeting for the police contract that was negotiated in secret and reopened in secret, and was on fast track to pass that day.
Of course, as the NAACP president, I called our lawyer and said, we have to sue. You can’t lock people out of public policy decisions. She called me back a little later, and said if one city council member had objected, the mayor would not have been able to do that.
That was the day I knew we had the wrong people in those seats and we had to change that.
Templeton: Who did you vote for in the 2017 primary, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton? Or someone else?
Hardesty: Because I was an independent, I did not have the choice of being able to vote for anyone. I think we must change that system as more and more voters realize that neither party represents them.
… I knew that whoever showed up on the Democratic ticket in the general would be who I would vote for, but I’m not happy that my voice isn’t heard in the primary process when I’m an independent. I became a Democrat again because it’s easier to use the machinery when you are one of the parties when you are running for office.
Templeton: The state preempts Portland from doing any number of things to regulate the rental market. But Mayor Ted Wheeler has said he wants to push the Legislature to give cities more control over housing policies. What is your position on no cause evictions and on rent control?
Hardesty: I support preventing no-cause evictions, and I absolutely support rent control. I am appalled that we continue to bribe developers to give us a couple of affordable housing units.
I think we have the power to say, “Well, guess what, we will put a moratorium on building luxury units until we catch up with other income level housing.”
We have a responsibility to make sure that people of all income levels can live in a safe affordable place in the city of Portland, and we have failed miserably in that effort.
We have to also be much more creative in how we address our housing crisis today. For example, Ecumenical Ministries has a pilot project where they match empty nesters with big beautiful homes with families who need homes. They do background checks, they develop rental agreements, and what you’re doing is building community.
Templeton: You said you’d be interested in compelling developers to build housing at different income levels. How would you actually do that?
Hardesty: Just because someone applies for a permit doesn’t mean you have to give them one. I was pretty appalled to hear that just this week the City Council passed something to give developers more incentives to build more affordable housing units. How about just doing a moratorium on any units that are not in the median price range or the low price range so we can catch up?
Templeton: What’s the most important thing as a City Council member that you can do to ensure that Portland’s growth benefits communities of color instead of harming them?
Hardesty: What I can do is to make sure those voices are included in public policy deliberation. I want to make sure that we get out of that City Hall echo chamber and we bring City Hall to the community.
There’s no reason City Council meetings can’t happen in the evenings when working people are off work, and they can bring their children who are out of school to participate in those meetings. My biggest skill set is as a convener. I am really really good at listening thoughtfully about where we have commonality, and then working on those areas that we have commonality.
Templeton: If you could do one thing to fix Portland’s transit system …
Hardesty: If I had a magic wand? I’d make it free for everybody. That would be a great first step.