When Amanda Fritz announced last year that she would not be seeking reelection to Portland City Council, she said she hoped her open seat would draw a large field of candidates to run for Commissioner Position 1. She got her wish.
Nine people will appear on the May 19 ballot in the race to replace Fritz. If none gets more than 50% of the vote, the two top contenders will compete in a run-off Nov. 3.
Three candidates — Candace Avalos, Timothy Dubois and Carmen Rubio — recently appeared on "Think Out Loud" to share their views on homelessness, the environment and their support for changes to how city commissioners are elected. They also weighed in on how the coronavirus pandemic has influenced their thoughts.
All three said they support changes to the city charter to elect commissioners by district, which proponents say would increase representation of residents of east Portland. All three oppose the Oregon Department of Transportation’s current effort to widen Interstate 5 near the Rose Quarter.
But those shared values do not translate to identical approaches — especially when it comes to the ongoing COVID-19 response.
Portland’s COVID-19 response
Avalos, an administrator at Portland State University, where she works as advisor to student government, said the city’s coronavirus response highlights shortcomings in its use of 21st century tools to engage with city residents.
“Most people, we are on our phones all the time. It’s how we get our information, our news, it’s how we connect with people,” Avalos said. “I’m not saying, ‘Let’s put everything on Facebook,’ because of course that’s not where everybody is. But why not have some tools there? Why not have some tools where we’re texting people emergency information, especially right now with COVID-19?”
Dubois, a carpenter pursuing a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from Portland State University, said he was not engaged with Facebook before his run for public office.
“Before this campaign, Facebook would not have had any effect on me,” he said. “So how do we overcome that for those who do not use social media?”
He sees nonprofits and business groups as key to reaching people who might otherwise be overlooked by digital outreach — and he said COVID-19 has highlighted the need for Portland’s emergency preparedness efforts to broaden beyond its focus on earthquake response.
“Our local jurisdictions and City Council are working with a leadership vacuum coming from the state, and primarily from the federal government, and that’s a very difficult thing to overcome,” Dubois said. “We need to have an emergency plan that is well established, that is dynamic, and that can change depending on what the crisis is.”
Rubio, executive director of Latino Network, entered the race with the most past experience in local politics. She’s served on the staffs of former Portland Commissioner Nick Fish, former Mayor Tom Potter and former Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz.
The pandemic has heightened the divide between Portland’s most vulnerable residents and everyone else, Rubio said. That includes the digital divide, as some people report to work via Zoom video call, and others are unable to connect their children to classwork. And it highlights the need for access to food, housing and technology for the city’s poorest, she said.
Rubio said the city’s top priorities, as it responds to COVID-19, should be communicating with hard-to-reach populations, collaborating with other jurisdictions, and marshaling resources to meet basic needs.
How their backgrounds prepare them
“Growing up in Oregon as the daughter and granddaughter of farmworkers, it really sparked in me the desire for justice,” Rubio said.
She highlighted her past experience serving politicians in City Hall and with the county, and notes her decade leading Latino Network, which serves immigrants and minorities. “Our nonprofit challenges government to do better by these folks and for working families every single day.”
Avalos also pointed to her roots: “I’m a first-generation Latina. My mom and grandparents came to this country in the 1970s, immigrated from Guatemala. My black family is from the south in Virginia. And these experiences of my multiracial family really instilled a passion for me at a young age in how I’m invested in the decisions that get made in my community,” she said.
She also noted her history representing peers when she served in student government, before becoming a staff advisor to student governments in her current capacity.
Dubois said his professional experience as a lead carpenter at a local company and his career as a woodworker before that have given him personal and professional experiences not represented on Portland’s City Council today.
“I’m also just about to complete a master’s in urban and regional planning, and I think that’s really relevant to city government because planning is really the intersection between human behavior and our build environment,” he said.
Dubois said Portland should learn from the success of Salt Lake City’s housing-first approach.
Assigning a single person to oversee all housing and homelessness issues allowed for faster action than Portland’s system of numerous groups and commissioners, which Dubois said leads to “more talk and less action.”
Finally, he said: “Get a lot of caseworkers out there. We need aggressive case management.”
Avalos said she would like Portland’s government to take a greater leadership role, rather than relying on nonprofits to lead the effort to address homelessness.
“Yes, we are gong to need more shelter beds,” she said. “Yes, we are going to need more nonprofit engagement and entities to support that work. But I think we also need more front-line services that are reaching people directly on the streets, and that needs to be coming from City Hall, not just from nonprofits.”
Rubio said she believes the city’s coordinated efforts with local agencies and nonprofits are already doing the right things: “But the problem is that they’re still outpaced by the need.”
“I believe that we need increased regional collaboration — true collaboration and also true joined investments and strategies by elected leaders in what we know works,” she said. That includes programs that aim to support family stability, energy assistance, and public-private partnerships to get homeless people into permanent homes.
Rubio emphasized her support for the ballot measure championed by the Here Together Coalition, which would raise $250 million for regional government Metro's homeless services.
Other candidates for Position 1
Ike Harris is a pastor and school bus driver with no prior government experience. He supports construction of a new bridge between Oregon and Washington, wishes to boost participation in government by people of color and cites his Christian faith in his campaign materials.
Alicia McCarthy is a naturopathic physician who emphasizes that she does not consider herself a politician or an activist. She would like to restructure local government to create a city manager position, with district-based representatives to the council.
Mary Ann Schwab is a retired high school secretary who said she is concerned about the influence deep-pocketed developers have over land-use decisions.
James Autry is self-employed. His voter pamphlet statement focuses on hardships he has experienced since moving to Portland in 1996, including bankruptcy in 2009, and the deaths of several of his children. As a Royal Rosarian, he is a member of the organization that puts on the Rose Festival
Two other candidates, Philip J. Wolfe and Corinne Patel, will appear on the ballot for Commissioner Position 1, but did not submit statements to be included in the voters’ pamphlet.