PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As Portlanders grapple with record crime and a sprawling homeless crisis, people are wondering who to vote for to serve on Portland City Council.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty is challenged by business owner Rene Gonzalez, and the two have very different ideas about how to address voters’ biggest concerns.
Hardesty, the incumbent, acknowledges there are visible issues on the street. But she directs voters to her accomplishments, such as her flagship program, Portland Street Response, which assists people in mental health emergencies. She also helped begin a pilot program that brings health care to underinsured Oregonians and has led efforts to ban facial recognition in the city.
A resident in Sellwood sent KOIN 6 the following question for Hardesty: Some Portlanders cannot help but look around the city seeing the camps, garbage, harm to wildlife and ask the question: why would I vote for Hardesty to remain in office as this has become worse under her watch?
“Portland’s been through hell and the last three years I would tell that voter, look at my record,” she said. “I’ve done more than anyone has in a first term in office changing systems that hadn’t changed in over 100 years.”
While campaigning and door knocking, Hardesty said people tell her they’re concerned about crime, the lack of investigation, a rising homeless population and garbage. She attributes those issues to income inequality, along with there being no plan to build affordable housing.
She reminds voters that her portfolio within the current form of government includes overseeing PBOT, Portland Fire, and Civic Life.
“I will continue to use my bureaus and ways that actually reduce gun violence and violence in general in the community. I will continue to reduce traffic speeds so that people can safely move around the neighborhoods,” she said. “I’ve been encouraging both the mayor and Commissioner Ryan to actually hire homeless people to pick up the garbage. But we must make sure that we are actually giving people who are houseless some stability and then the ability to make some money, so they can actually get back on their feet.”
Gonzalez, on the other hand, is focused on liveability issues, namely crime and homelessness. To improve safety, he says it will require supporting and staffing PPB.
“We’ve been way too ideological in confronting these really difficult decisions,” Gonzalez said. “There were some good intentions behind the defund police movement, but we cut $15 million from the police budget at the height of the pandemic, the social strife. This is a horrific mistake.”
The concern of over-policing minorities, Gonzalez said, turned into high homicide rates in the city’s black and brown communities. As for petty crime, Gonzelez wants to reinstitute a court in the city to prosecute misdemeanors, without dependency on Multnomah County.
“It could be a really effective way to interrupt some of the cycles of criminality with some particular property crimes in mind: Catalytic converter thefts, car thefts, some of the low-level vandalization that is really having a corrosive and really depressing impact on the city,” he said.
Gonzalez believes this kind of chronic theft is a means for some people to pay for their addiction and that a municipal court can interrupt that cycle and drive people with substance abuse disorders to addiction services.
As major proposals come from the mayor’s office on the homeless crisis, both candidates diverge on their stance on sweeps and unsanctioned camping.
Hardesty said sweeps don’t work because campers return within days. She is intrigued by parts of the mayor’s proposal, namely land banking — but says she won’t publicly oppose or support the plan yet.
Gonzalez says he’ll support the movement within the city council to be more direct and urgent about unsanctioned camping.
Ballots — and this race — are now in voters’ hands.
Full interviews with both candidates can be viewed above.