Democratize City Hall

We desperately need electoral districts for City Council. Currently, City Council positions govern and are elected at-large (citywide), which is an innately inequitable practice designed to dilute the voting power of communities of color and workers. Expensive at-large elections favor wealthy incumbents and make it hard for young, working-class, women, black, indigenous, or people of color to run for office.

What is the result? In Portland’s 169 year history, we have elected only 9 women and 3 black people to the City Council. This means that, throughout our city’s history, significant populations of Portlanders have lacked an elected Commissioner in City Hall who shares their culture or lived experiences, along with the associated challenges and issues. As a resident who lives east of 82nd Avenue, I see the impacts of this ineffective electoral system every day of my life in the form of inferior services, unpaved roads, and a lack of sidewalks.

“It’s time to leave our city’s at-large electoral system behind and create City Council districts so Portlanders can have actual representation in City Hall.”

The outdated and insular Commission system compounds this undemocratic status quo because Commissioners are more beholden to their assigned bureaus than to the voters who elected them to office. City Commissioners spend the vast majority of their time running bureaus the Mayor assigns to them––leaving little time for long-term planning, policy-making, and constituency services.

It’s time for us to shift to a larger Council (so more than just 5 people run a city of over 700,000 residents) elected by geographic districts––where the elected City Councilors would focus more on policy-making and serving their constituents than on running city bureaus.

With the once-a-decade Charter Review Commission coming up in 2021, I am poised to work together with Portland’s communities, particularly those marginalized by the status quo, to guide the transition to a new form of government that better serves and represents the people of this city.

Check out my op-ed in the Portland Tribune, where I make the case for City Council districts. For more information on what’s wrong with the Commission form of Government, check out the City Club of Portland’s Report.


Priorities:

reform our at-large elections & create city council districts
Replace the citywide at-large election system with City Council districts that represent the diversity of our city—freeing up elected officials to focus on policy-making and constituency services.

restructure the outdated commission system
Our elected officials should be fighting on behalf of the people, not their personal bureau assignments. Day-to-day management of the City should be more professionalized, transparent, and accountable.

make city council accessible to all
Make City Council accessible to all Portlanders by holding meetings throughout the city and during evenings. We must solicit and incorporate the feedback of residents with disabilities who often face significant barriers to democratic participation. We need to engage impacted communities from the beginning of decision-making processes to ensure outcomes that better serve the people of this city and result in fewer unintended consequences.

embrace real participatory budgeting
Embrace real participatory budgeting––not only to increase transparency, but also to create real people power through one of the most potent democracy tools that currently exists.

support workers rights
City Hall should prioritize working with minority- and women-owned contractors and small businesses that embrace a triple bottom-line of social, environmental, and financial responsibility. The City should focus on hiring locally and building up a local workforce. This means requiring strong Project Labor Agreements and Community Benefits Agreements on publicly-funded projects. We also need a local Green New Deal to create a prosperous and sustainable economy.