In the Portland mayoral primary, no candidate received a majority of the votes. Here we are now, reaching the end of a mayoral runoff election. There are two names on the ballot, Sarah Iannarone and the incumbent Ted Wheeler. A group of volunteers is also running a write-in campaign for Teressa Raiford, who ran in the primary but did not qualify for the runoff.
Ted Wheeler has been the mayor of Portland for the past four years and is pushing for another four. If elected he’d be the first Portland mayor to have a second term since Vera Katz in 1996. Wheeler has a lot he still wants to do and sees being mayor as more of a calling than a job. Wheeler originally got into politics after working nights in a homeless shelter and seeing the tension between the people who worked there and the local government. He has served as both Chair of the Multnomah County Commission and as Treasurer of Oregon. Wheeler’s the only candidate who has been in any political office and sees that as an advantage.
While Portland is full of many issues he wants to work on, his two main focuses are homelessness and climate change. He thinks it’s important to constantly ask, “How are we going to be an inclusive and welcoming community?” One part of this is changing our city’s government so that we have a modern system to fit modern politics. Portland has five seats on the city council, and they are all elected by a city-wide vote. Wheeler would like to see there be more commissioners, each elected by district so that they are more representative of the people in our city. He sees this as one way to address the need for more diversity in our city government. Wheeler believes that he can offer continuity and stability while guiding Portland through an important transition in the commissioner system.
Fellow candidate Sarah Iannarone is an urban policy expert. She ran against Wheeler in the 2016 mayoral election and is running again because she feels like she didn’t see the change she wants to see in Portland. In her own words, “Failure is just a step towards a success you haven’t had yet.” Her top three focuses if elected would be climate change, housing affordability, and racial justice. Iannarone didn’t see herself with a future in politics, but starting with her work as a sous-chef she saw divide and inequality. To her, the COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted some of the longstanding issues in our city. She wants to use the pandemic recovery to emphasize community, and as the first step towards addressing the issues it has daylighted. She also plans to build infrastructure in preparation for possible future pandemics. Iannarone sees community building, an understanding of cities, and her plans for change as her strengths. She knows that the mayoral position is one with a powerful voice and wants to use it as a platform for change.
Teressa Raiford ran in the primary but isn’t participating in her write-in campaign in the runoff because she’s busy running her nonprofit, Don’t Shoot Portland. Raiford declined to comment for this article and deferred to her campaign representatives. According to their website, “Don’t Shoot Portland is a Black-led human rights nonprofit that advocates for accountability.” While she continues her nonprofit work, her campaign is completely volunteer run, with both teen and adult leaders. She chooses representatives for events such as town halls. While they don’t believe in hierarchy, one of the main volunteer leaders is Jacinda Padilla. Padilla explained how Raiford’s nonprofit work, doing things such as delivering water to the Warm Springs Reservation, has proven that she cares about the people. “All of her work is rooted in justice,” they said when explaining why Raiford would be the best choice for mayor. Raiford isn’t exactly a traditional candidate and lots of people see this as a benefit, an alternative to the sometimes empty promises of traditional politicians. Padilla went on to say, “we have the chance to disrupt the system.”
All of the candidates have ways they plan to promote youth voices and engagement. When he was in high school, Wheeler was very introverted and now wishes that he had forced himself to do more things out of his comfort zone. It was his dream to be an airline pilot, but his drive to make a change and speak up led him down a different path. “If I looked back I’d say take more risks and take them earlier, fight for what you believe in,” he said when asked what he’d change about his life in high school. Now he tries to leave room for youth to do what he wishes he had done earlier with the Multnomah County Youth Commission, choosing youth leaders on certain initiatives, and trying to leave space for youth voices.
Iannarone had already started a career as a sous chef in high school but there are still things she would do differently. She wants high schoolers to know that they should maximize their internships and real world learning experiences. One thing she encourages youth to ask themselves as they progress through life is, “can you carve out opportunity wherever you are?” She thinks that one key element to success, high school and otherwise, is to not stop when things don’t go in your favor the first time around. She’s reinforcing this message she’d give to high schoolers by also not giving up and running for a second time. If elected, she plans to promote and advocate for the youth in Portland. Her mayoral campaign is powered by youth; she even had Portland youth work with her to write her gun policy. She also wants to provide education and mentorship programs for the next generation.
Local youth activist and youth director on the Raiford campaign, Danny Cage, said that “Teressa has empowered youth in many ways. Whether that’s promoting their expression through art, having them participate in civic engagement, and just giving them a voice.” He thinks that Raiford is the best option for the youth of Portland because she backs them, and sees her large youth support base as proof that they know this and stand with her. Cage sees Raiford as the candidate who will make the right choices for the future generations. “It’s incredible, I have never seen youth push for a candidate like they have for Teressa.”
November third is rapidly approaching and we’ll soon see which of these three candidates will be Portland’s next mayor.