Hundreds of people in Portland’s Montavilla neighborhood waited more than an hour Monday evening to cast their votes.
They formed a line that snaked down the sidewalk in front of the Montavilla United Methodist Church and wrapped around the block.
It was election night for the Montavilla Neighborhood Association board, one of 95 volunteer groups that provide community input to Portland's city council.
Such elections often draw just a handful of people, but disagreements over homelessness and the role of political activism in the neighborhood group sparked intense interest in Monday's vote.
The Montavilla neighborhood is in East Portland, between Mount Tabor and I-205. Its boundaries are I-84 to the north, and Division Street to the south.
"I've never seen so many people come out to a neighborhood association meeting," said Marshall Runkell, chief of staff to Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees the city's Office of Neighborhood Involvement. "It's clearly touched a nerve in the city."
Chris Soland was among the Montavilla residents waiting in line to vote Monday night. She said she'd owned a home in the area for 40 years. It was her first time voting in a neighborhood association election.
"How the neighborhood deals with homelessness is an issue for my husband and I," she said. "We're here in order to make sure that the representation of the neighborhood reflects the neighborhood."
Soland said she has compassion for homeless people but is concerned their camping is creating health and safety problems in Montavilla.
“I walk every day, and on my walks, I have picked up needles. I have been picking up human waste,” she said. "It hurts my heart," she said, "to see the deterioration."
Ron Thrasher was also waiting in line to vote. He said he’s concerned about the view of homeless people in Montavilla.
“Too many people are identifying all homeless as dirtbag tweakers, which is not true. Because I understand there are a number of reasons for people to be homeless,” he said.
Thrasher said he'd lived in the neighborhood since 1976, and spent many years serving in the military and the National Guard.
"I have friends that have the PTSD. Some of those have fallen through the cracks, some of them have gotten help," he said.
In the end, five new candidates won seats on the neighborhood association board, and three board members were re-elected, according to preliminary results posted online. The newly-elected board members include Micah Fletcher, who survived a stabbing attack on a TriMet MAX light-rail train this year that killed two people.
In a candidate statement, Fletcher said he will advocate for an anti-racist neighborhood watch group, work on "humane" solutions to homelessness, and work for better outreach to all residents in Montavilla.
Taking A Position On Homeless Sweeps
The controversy started this summer when the Montavilla Neighborhood Association passed a resolution that urged the Portland City Council to stop clearing homeless camps, and noted that the sweeps might be unconstitutional.
The city didn't change its policy of responding to complaints about camps in the neighborhood.
But the backlash to the resolution was swift.
Some neighbors said the board had failed to follow public meeting protocols and had been taken over by far-left activists. They formed a group online, the Montavilla Initiative, and put together a slate of candidates for the association's October board election.
Then, according to the Portland Tribune, someone circulated an email, revealing that Montavilla Neighborhood Association board member Jonathan Ogden had in March authored a proposal, as part of his work with an activist group, titled "Silent Neighborhood Association Takeover."
In a blog post, Odgen confirmed that he'd written the document, but characterized it as "overzealous," and said he never tried to implement the plan.
Interest in the vote intensified further after Fletcher announced he was a candidate for the board.
Then, in a video posted online, Patriot Prayer group leader Joey Gibson said he planned to attend the neighborhood meeting, though he later posted on Facebook that he'd decided against it.
At the door of the church, volunteers passed out popcorn to the voters and confirmed the addresses of potential voters in Montavilla. The election was open to all who lived in the neighborhood — including renters, homeowners, and homeless people — who were asked to confirm the area where they reside.
"We're well aware that not everyone has a fixed address these days, unfortunately," said Yonna Carroll, who was part of the election committee.
Voting was also open to people who own businesses or property in Montavilla.
Inside the church, people sat in tightly packed rows and spilled into an overflow room to listen to stump speeches from the 22 candidates.
The hopefuls included an anarchist, a city planner, a pastor, a phone triage nurse, and a person wearing only a bikini.
Many avoided directly stating their position on how the city should handle complaints about homeless camping.
But divides were clear nonetheless.
Several candidates backed by the "Montavilla Initiative" group made the case that the neighborhood group had become too overtly political.
"I want to take politics out of the neighborhood association," said candidate and Montavilla homeowner Joan Joanes. "We have politicians that make policy. We make friends. That's the way we build our community."
By contrast, many of the younger candidates argued that neighborhood associations had a history of taking on political issues like development and equity.
"I'm really interested in the transformative history of neighborhood organizing here in Portland, Oregon," said candidate Olivia Alsept-Ellis. "Maybe we can actually develop the same people power we saw in the `60s and `70s."
Five new candidates won seats, and three board members won re-election, according to preliminary results posted online.
None of the eight people elected to the board were candidates from the Montavilla Initiative, the group that formed in opposition to the resolution condemning the city's sweeps of homeless people.
New board members include Amanda Rhoads, Olivia Alsept-Ellis, David Linn, Antigonus Jarrett, and Micah Fletcher. Returning board members are Jonathan Ogden, Briar Rose Schreiber and Jonnie Shaver.
The results are preliminary and subject to a routine recount by the city's Southeast Uplift neighborhood coalition.