District 3 Candidates Forum

photo of the D3 candidates posing after the panel

On Tuesday night, eight candidates for the new Portland City Council District 3 visited Roseway for an informational panel. I came away from this panel with a pretty good idea of who will and won't be on my ranked choice ballot come November. Thanks so much to RNA for organizing it.

The New District 3 and SE Uplift Coalition

The panel was hosted by the Roseway Neighborhood Association and by the SE Uplift Coalition, at held at the "Recovery Cafe" of Calvary Presbyterian Church. That second organization may be new to you; they certainly were to me. Lemme explain how this relates to D3.

The city charter reform divided Portland into four nearly-equal-population districts: D1 is far East, D2 is North and inner NE, D3 is mid-NE and SE, and D4 is the West side. Each district is getting one designated non-profit which will assist the city in administering and (more importantly) distributing funds from the Office of Civic Life and other bureaus.

The designated NPO for D3 is SE Uplift, a social services and advocacy nonprofit that originated with the (successful) campaign to block the Mt. Hood Freeway in 1972. SE Uplift has grown into a general-purpose organization supporting much of SE Portland, including fiscal sponsorship of 37 smaller groups.

Ash Hester of the RNA ran the panel.

The Candidates, In General

Eight of the ten candidates who have filed so far attended the panel (the filing deadline isn't until June). If I could describe one overall feeling from the panel, it was idealism. With lots of new seats open, and a new voting system, folks are running who have never held city office before -- and those folks have big ideas, with a couple of notable exceptions.

The panel involved a few questions that all panelists answered, and then moved on to questions submitted either in advance or asked out loud by the audience. The latter questions were only answered by two candidates each, so we didn't get the views of all candidates on a variety of issues. Also, since the candidates were allowed to choose what to answer, they mostly answered the questions that were their particular issues.

The majority of the discussion onstage was, unsurprisingly, about homelessness and housing issues. While nobody had revolutionary ideas, there was a refreshing unwillingness to accept Portland's current housing crisis as unfixable.

The other thing the candidates were united on -- at least, during a panel hosted by the RNA -- was the need for greater communication between city hall and the neighborhoods. Most agreed that neighborhoods outside the inner core had been largely ignored and left to fend for themselves. All candidate promised to be accessible to the voters, two of them dramatically so (one shouted out his phone number).

One thing that was very lacking among this pool of candidates was any background in small business. Two of the questions were specifically focused on small business needs, and I'd say that all four of the canidates who fielded them completely flubbed. So regardless of who gets elected, they are going to need a lot of education on small business issues.

Diversity in this candidate pool was gratifyingly broad. We had four people of color, two women, one non-binary person, and one disabled candidate.

The Candidates, In Particular

I'm ordering the candidates below by the order they first introduced themselves in. Aside from Novick, I never heard of any of these candidates before the panel, so my entire impression of them was formed based on what they said there.

Matthew Anderson

A very friendly, and very experienced, gentleman who wanted to talk to everyone. "Whatever problem you have with the city, contact me." Anderson is the candidate you want to hang out and have a beer with.

But ... maybe not vote for. Despite being the only candidate with small business experience, he completely ignored one of the business questions to instead talk about going to church and supporting law enforcement. Also harped on how "schools should serve parents," which makes me suspect that his main reason to run is to try to force the Teacher's Union into a no-strike contract or something similar.

Dr. Sandeep Bali

A pharmacist, Bali is mostly focused on livability issues and declining conditions in Portland. He strongly supports building more housing. But more than anything, he was concerned about drug addiction issues, and talked about this at some length. This gave the impression that he sees homelessness in the city entirely through the lens of substance abuse treatment.

Jesse Krant

A former Bernie Sanders aide, Krant has spent his career in public service already, including work at PSU, on campaign finance, and public health. This is not his first time running for office.

Krant's focus is the social safety net. He believes that poverty is the main driver of homelessness, drugs, crime, and mental health problems. He is also opposed to police-based solutions for social problems.

Daniel DeMello

Daniel is a vocal and determined one-issue candidate, and that issue is homelessness. As a former committeeperson for the county office on homeless service, he ranted about the tremendous waste an ineffectiveness of our homeless programs, which are "bled dry by a dark web of nonprofit funds that prevent us from sheltering our neighbors". He blew the whistle on the county's failure to tap its homelessness war chest, and wants to go to city hall so that he can do something more effective about it.

While I'd be nervous about electing a 26-year-old to anything, DeMello has some serious energy. And if I was going to vote on a single-issue candidate, Portland's housing crisis is the issue I'd pick.

Chris Flanary

A union organizer from Montevilla, Chris upheld the true Portland nature of this election as the non-binary candidate. Chris has worked for the housing bureau, and is a proponent of home ownership for all. They also focused on the issue of homelessness, particularly the economic side, pointing out that people constantly losing their housing was the big driver of the crisis.

Chris also very deftly deflected a question from the token right-wing partisan in the audience, successfully turning it into a chance to promote Portland Street Response. They are a big fan of things that make Portland funky. "We have two volcanos; that excites me."

Flanary used their last minute on stage to explain the upcoming ranked choice voting to the audience.

Tiffany Koyama

"Teacher Tiffany" is a PPS instructor in Sunnyside. As a teacher, she sees a lot of deprived kids. She's running to "find solutions for everyone in class" and wants to help people while preserving their dignity.

As well as teaching, Koyama is a union organizer and self-described activist. She said that being a leader means doing a lot of listening.

Angelita Morillo

Morillo, the second-youngest candidate in this race (she's 27), immigrated from Paraguay to get a PoliSci degree at PSU. During her student days, she was briefly homeless, and that drives her politics. She works for Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon.

Despite her general political emphasis, she spent most of the panel talking about how local government needed to be more accessible to citizens. She depicted the current city bureaucracy as opaque and out of touch. As an example of what they should be doing instead, she created a tiktok for Portland policy.

Despite her youth, Morillo came across as very, very organized and focused. She was the only candidate who already had buttons and a fully developed website.

Steve Novick

Novick, the one experienced politician on the panel, spent almost the entire evening talking about crime and avoiding other topics. He only remembered to say something about the housing crisis at the very end. While I do appreciate some of his proposed reforms -- like actually enforcing Oregon's "red flag" laws on gun buyers -- he came across as rather calculated and cynical. In a different group, it might have been unexceptional, but next to several outspoken idealists it was glaring.

That's a problem for Novick, because lots of folks remember voting him off of the City Council in 2016. That vote was partly motivated by the perception that Novick has become too much of a career poltician, willing to trade away his values for favors and points (e.g. the Terminal 1 fiasco). If Novick wants to do better in this race, he needs to make us believe that he's actually changed.

Voting Thoughts

The panel was very informative, and again I thank the RNA for organizing it. I went in knowing nothing about 7 of the 8 candidates, and I came out with a good feel for who they are and what they care about. I only wish that Robin Ye and Rex Burkholder had been able to make it as well.

If the election were held today, with only the eight candidates, here would be my ranked-choice ballot:

  1. Angelita Morillo
  2. Jesse Krant
  3. Damiel DeMello
  4. Chris Flanary
  5. Tiffany Koyama

Of course, you should pick your rankings based on what you care about. And doubtless, we'll learn much more about these candidates over the next 8 months.