On August 11, Portland voters will choose a candidate to fill the vacant seat for Portland City Commissioner Position 2. This Special Election is a run-off between Dan Ryan and Loretta Smith. Smith and Ryan were the first and second place candidates for this seat in the 2020 May Primary Election.
A video of a candidate debate
To help you vote, the League is posting information about the candidates on VOTE411.org and on this page. From July 22 through Election Day, you can view a recorded debate between Ryan and Smith. Click below to watch the video of the debate:
candidates’ written answers to LWV questions
We have also asked Smith and Ryan to write out their answers to six policy questions. Below are the questions and their answers. For even more information about these candidates, see VOTE411.org.
What additional demands might COVID-19 place on the city in the coming months and years? How do you think the city should address them?
Ryan: We should immediately move into an emergency budget with three scenarios–one following the current forecast, and two in progressively more dire circumstances. We have to start saving and trimming now to the extent we can. The public sector is always behind the private sector in terms of revenue streams. The real impact of the economic downturn will hit government bank accounts in the next 6-12 months. We need to prioritize emergency operations to care for vulnerable populations in our city and prepare for belt tightening.One of my supporters was reminding me the other day that in the 1970’s city government was routinely running on a shoestring budget. In order to do things like build Pioneer Courthouse Square we forged public-private partnerships to make good things happen for our city. We need to do that again. My success has always been built on my ability to bring people together and get them to focus on a common outcome.
Smith: I think we’re in for a rude awakening once we have an updated economic forecast in late August. The revenue that the city depends on will be hit hard. We are going to have to focus our efforts on providing core city services while prioritizing the vulnerable communities that were already in poverty and rent-burdened before COVID-19. We also have to ensure that we prioritize protecting and growing small businesses, as they are the heartbeat of our regional economy. This is going to be a slow march back to stability and we shouldn’t aim to return to normal because normal wasn’t working either – we must aim to return to better. Our recovery is going to be dependent on bold and unprecedented investments from the federal government, which will ultimately be dependent on getting Donald Trump out of office this November. We’re going to have to be creative, collaborative, and inclusive as we rebuild a Portland where everyone has the opportunity to thrive – regardless of their zip code.
How would you evaluate the police bureau’s response to recent protest actions? What has PPB done well or poorly in its interactions with protesters?
Ryan: Now that the contract stands for another year, we have to use this year to build power, to amplify the voices of community leaders who are speaking out against injustice, and to prepare to overwhelmingly impact the negotiations so that we bring serious, lasting change to our city. In order to do this, we need a plan. I stand firmly behind the changes called for in Unite Oregon’s Police Reform Network Letter on Portland Police Association Contract. Specifically, there are four changes called for in the letter that must be adopted when the city reviews the contract next year: ▪ -Improve Portland’s Ineffective System of Civilian Oversight (which would be addressed by Commissioner Hardesty’s ballot measure) ▪- -Hold Officers Accountable for Excessive Force or Bias-Based Policing ▪ -Institute Comprehensive Mandatory Drug Testing ▪ -Fix the Public Complaint Process. It is crucial that PPA take accountability for the ways they can improve, and I will be a fierce advocate for these changes when…
Smith: The Portland Police Bureau’s response to recent protests has been an abject failure. From the very first interaction between police and protestors, I have been adamantly opposed to the militarized response and violence utilized by police in a show of brute force against protestors. We should have been grounded in community and justice, with protestors being allowed to freely exercise their constitutional rights to assemble in protest of police brutality against black and brown communities. This should have been a moment of self-examination and introspection for the Portland Police Bureau where they grapple with the historic harm caused by the institution of policing and commit to join with the community in reimagining public safety. Instead we have peaceful protestors being gassed and beat in the streets by the very people they’re demanding do better by the community. That is exactly what opened the door for the current occupation of our streets by the Trump administration.
How do you evaluate our current system of police accountability and citizen oversight of the bureau? What do you think is working well and what changes if any, would you propose?
Ryan: I agree that culture change is most effective when there is a groundswell to promote the culture change from within the institution being reformed. In this case that means PPA. But I don’t believe that we will fail without 100% support from the officers and the union. Almost no significant change in the history of humanity has garnered 100% support at the outset. Let’s be clear, this is going to be an ongoing process that will take years to complete and will require vigilance and patience. As Commissioners, the work that we do in renegotiating contracts needs to be overhauled. Currently the PPA contract is treated like a labor/management negotiation, except the officers of the PPA don’t just work for the Mayor or whomever they assign to be the Police Commissioner. The officers of the PPA work for us, the citizens of Portland, and we need a seat at the negotiating table so that their contract reflects our vision for what true community safety looks like.
Smith: We’ve had a lot of different groups charged with accountability, citizen oversight and transparency – all of them have fallen short. These bodies, frustrated by the lack of political will and an emboldened police union, have accomplished little more than the appearance of civilian oversight and police accountability. The only thing that works well with the current systems we have is that we have talented, passionate, committed citizens who fully dedicate themselves to attempting to hold our police department accountable. In early June, I wrote to Portland City Council asking them to craft a ballot measure for the November 2020 ballot that would enshrine citizen oversight of the police bureau into the city’s charter and create a national model for community control and direction of local police departments. Thanks to Commissioner Hardesty, City Council is slated to refer a measure to the ballot next week to accomplish just that.
What lessons, if any, have you learned from the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that began in Portland in late May and how will they inform your approach to the position?
Ryan: It’s time to move from equity being a noun and a proclamation, to a verb and a standard operation. When the camera stops running we have to make sure the work keeps happening–culture change work is really difficult and the work will take a long time, but it is necessary. Institutional racism, Portland’s racist past, is real. If you’re reading this and that doesn’t ring true to you, dig deeper. I have been privileged to be able to work on equity issues for decades and I am inspired to keep creating spaces and dismantling broken systems.
Smith: I come to this role having lived the Black Lives Matter movement in my everyday life. As a single Black mother who raised a Black son in this city, I am intimately aware of the fear and anguish our community feels because of police brutality and the systemic racism and bias of the criminal justice system. I don’t need a blueprint for what this movement calls for because I carry it in my veins with me every day, everywhere I go. What this moment requires of us is an examination of all of the institutions that support and benefit from systemic racism and bias, not just the police department. From gentrification to city contracting to unfair employment practices, we must operationalize equity throughout all systems in a way that begins to repair the harm done to the Black community over the course of the history of this nation, state, and city. I am the clear choice in this race to ensure that Black Lives Matter is more than a catchy slogan on a yard sign or trendy social media hashtag.
Our Parks Bureau suffers from chronic budget shortfalls. What solutions would you support?
Ryan: The Parks Bureau plays an astounding role in our community and is a necessity for public health. The current funding structure is not conducive to serving the wide breadth of neighborhoods and communities in our city and I am interested in reviewing the current funding structure to determine if the current Parks Bureau is the appropriator and most successful model for Portland or if considering a parks and recreation district for Portland is a more sustainable model. There are a number of projects that are taking place where the parks who’ll be playing a larger role in them to better serve parks one both the east and west side of the city.
Smith: I’m going to be looking at the city’s debt services portfolio to see which projects will be falling off soon, subsequently freeing up resources that can be utilized to support parks. We have competing interests between the long overdue need to address deferred maintenance and infrastructure investments in parks, and the growing operational investments needed to make our parks fully functional and available. We have to achieve significant gains in both areas. We have to not only protect our parks and recreation centers, but also expand them in a way that prioritizes options and access for low-income families and communities of color that have been historically disenfranchised when it comes to parks. Secondly, I want to look at how we work with our regional partners – from local school districts to the private sector – to examine how Portland Parks could possibly be used to address growing needs they have during the pandemic that would also create needed new revenue streams.
The city has taken a number of important actions to reduce the number of people experiencing housing instability, yet throughout Portland there are too many people without a safe and stable place to call home. What more can the city do to address the problem?
Ryan: During COVID the City has stopped it’s regular sweeps, which move homeless camp sites on a daily basis, so now we are really seeing the scope of this human crisis. This issue is very personal to me. My brother died on the streets of Portland because, despite being triple diagnosed, he could not get the treatment he needed. Creating the support systems and pathways to housing and jobs has to be a top priority for the city moving forward. First, as we build forward we have to shelter those who are homeless now, and we have to prepare to shelter a lot more folks in case the economic downturn we face worsens. We can find radical new ways to provide shelter and food delivery systems; we did it for thousands as the pandemic unfolded. As we do this we also need to be prepared to find transitional spaces, like we’ve done during COVID, that provide basic needs. Leaving folks living on our streets without services or basic sanitation is cruel and inhuman.
Smith: My father struggled with addiction in the streets of Portland for most of his adult life. By the time he got the help he needed, it was too late. We have to utilize a housing first strategy that doesn’t create barriers to getting housing for people who often need it the most urgently – people struggling with mental health and addiction issues. In not requiring a housing first strategy for the deployment of city resources, we are creating an environment where the hardest to house people are left to die on our streets. I also want to make sure we’re building housing that is actually affordable for Portlanders struggling to make ends meet. We’re making historic investments in housing, yet the housing we’re building is still out of reach for so many people and families across Portland. As we approach the largest eviction and mortgage crisis our country has ever seen, we must do better at ensuring safe, affordable housing is a human right.
Voting in this special Election
To vote in this election, you must be a registered Portland voter. The registration deadline was Tuesday, July 21. However, if you have changed your address, you still can update your registration at oregon votes.gov.
Voters began receiving their ballots on July 22. Mail back your ballot on or before Thursday August 6. Postage is free: you don’t need a stamp. You may also drop off your ballot at an official Drop Site by 8 pm on Election Day, August 11. Soon after the election results are certified in late August, the winner of this Special Election will be Portland’s newest City Commissioner.