For the first time in a decade, there’s an open seat on Portland’s City Council. Longtime Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman announced this week that he won’t seek re-election next year.
Saltzman, 63, has served on the City Council since 1998.
“By presenting an open seat, I’m hoping that other people who’ve always thought they have something to contribute might indeed step up,” he said.
Here’s a shortlist of local politicians who could be contenders for the seat, and what they said when asked if they intend to run.
Jo Ann Hardesty
Jo Ann Hardesty is the only candidate so far who’s filed the paperwork to qualify for the primary ballot in May.
She is the president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP. Hardesty also served three terms in the state Legislature from 1995 to 2000.
Hardesty has said her frustration with the City Council’s renegotiation of the police union contract last year — including a decision to hold the final vote on the contract behind closed doors — led her to run.
“I’ve been an advocate for years now and have felt so many times like I’m just banging my head against the doors of City Hall, hoping that somehow things will change,” she wrote on her website. “I’m running because I want every Portlander to feel like they can be heard at City Hall.”
Hardesty told Willamette Week that she met with Saltzman earlier this year, asked him to resign, and sought his endorsement— a meeting Saltzman confirms.
She’s suggested that he chose not to seek a sixth term because he didn’t want to run against her.
Saltzman attributes his change of heart to seeing other city leaders develop health problems after years in public service, as well as his desire to work more directly on children’s issues.
Hardesty’s campaign has reported raising about $24,000 so far, and received $19,000 in donated services, primarily web design.
Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith announced her plans to run for the council seat on Facebook just hours after Saltzman stepped out of the race.
“The opportunity to continue to fight for the most vulnerable on the Portland City Council would be an honor and a privilege,” she wrote.
Smith was elected Multnomah County Commissioner representing North and Northeast Portland in 2010, and is finishing her second term.
Smith faces a dilemma. The Multnomah County charter bars commissioners from running for most other elected positions until the final year of their term, meaning Smith will have to delay filing as a primary candidate until January 2018 or resign her seat on the county commission.
Before winning office, Smith spent 21 years working for Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, most recently as his Multnomah County field representative.
This year, the county hired a labor and employment law firm to investigate allegations of unprofessional and unethical conduct by Smith after a staffer and a former staffer filed complaints.
Investigators concluded that Smith made demeaning and negative comments to female staffers, and likely required staffers to use their paid time off to work on her campaign events.
Smith has denied any wrongdoing in the matter. Prominent leaders in Portland’s African-American community accused county chair Deborah Kafoury of conducting a racially motivated investigation, an allegation Kafoury has denied.
Smith did not immediately respond to a phone call to her county office.
Metro Councilor Sam Chase has said he’s interested in the seat.
“I certainly will consider running for the position,” Chase said. “It will require me to sit down with my family and assess what makes sense for all of us.”
Chase was elected to the Metro Council in 2013. Metro is a regional government agency that manages land use planning and a number of facilities in the Portland area including landfills, the Convention Center and the Oregon Zoo.
Prior to joining Metro, Chase was chief of staff to Commissioner Nick Fish.
Chase said if he runs, his focus will be on pushing Portland to work more closely with its suburbs on solutions to the region’s affordable housing crisis.
“Portland is about a third of the region’s population, but is putting by far the most resources into affordable housing,” he said.
“Portland is not going to solve the affordable housing crisis on its own.”
City Hall insiders suggest Marissa Madrigal would also be a strong candidate.
Madrigal is the chief operating officer for Multnomah County. In 2013, she served as interim Multnomah County chair for 10 months after Jeff Cogen resigned over revelations he’d had an affair.
She grew up in Los Angeles, Mexico City and Ridgefield, Washington, and was the county’s first Latino chair.
Madrigal did not respond to calls inquiring about her plans.
Some people have speculated that former Multnomah County commissioner and former state lawmaker Jules Bailey might run for the seat.
Bailey came in second to Ted Wheeler in the race for Portland mayor last May. This week, he ruled out the possibility of a run for City Council.
“I appreciate you asking,” he said. “I am definitely not running for that position.”
Bailey now works as chief stewardship officer for the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, the group that carries out Oregon’s bottle deposit program.
“I love my job that I’m in now,” Bailey said. “And I am focused right now on being a dad and being a husband.”