PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The first black woman to ever serve on the Portland City Council took the oath of office on Wednesday morning.
Jo Ann Hardesty was sworn in at 9 a.m. as her supporters showered her with hugs and kind wishes.
Just 30 minutes afterward, Hardesty jumped right into a full day of work — starting with her first city council meeting.
Hardesty was elected in November, defeating Loretta Smith for the open commissioner seat.
According to her supporters, the most important symbol of her campaign was building the bridge between the community and city government.
“We’re so proud of Jo Ann, but we are so proud of our city and what this election represented,” Richard Gilliam, a volunteer on the campaign, said.
Hardesty has a full day ahead of her, including a swearing in ceremony from 6-8 p.m. at City Hall. It’s free and open to the public.
While Hardesty is the first black woman on the city council, she’s not dwelling on being a history maker. Instead, she’s more focused on getting to work.
“I ran on four key issues: Housing and homelessness, good green jobs, the Portland Clean Energy Initiative and transportation infrastructure,” Hardesty told KOIN 6 News.
The new commissioner has the life experiences and political resume to back up her ambitions.
She served in the U.S. Navy, executive director of Oregon Action and president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP. Hardesty was also elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1994, serving six years.
Hardesty lives in East Portland — an area that is often ignored and neglected. She feels like she knows what people need.
“I had a lot of meetings here talking to small business owners, talking to houseless people, talking to people who are scared they’re going to be priced out of their home,” Hardesty said.
As for her new job as Portland city commissioner, Hardesty questions whether Portland needs more police officers — something Mayor Ted Wheeler says is needed.
“Don’t make a decision based on emotion, but make the decision based on data — what keeps a community safe, what we know is what keeps a community safe is when neighbors know each other, when the small business owners know the homeless people in the community,” she said.
Hardesty will be in charge of the 911 center, fire bureau, bureau of emergency management as well as fire and police disability and retirement.
She thinks she can make a difference on how police respond to calls.
“We have a public safety system and we spent a lot of resources on the police part, but what about the 911 call center? I mean, I want mental health professionals triggering mental health calls. I think police are the wrong first responders for people suffering from a mental health issue,” Hardesty told KOIN 6 News.
While her views may potentially cause some friction with the mayor and other council members, Hardesty said she’s not trying to make anyone look bad.
“I’m still looking for common ground,” she said. “I have no vested interest in making any of my colleagues look bad, but I also ask direct questions. I don’t do the Pacific Northwest where you talk around a question for two hours and never really ask it.”
As Hardesty starts the new year with a new job, she hopes to take Portland in a new direction.
“What I hoped my campaign showed is that regular people who have been consistent over the years can make the case for why we can do things different.”
Watch: Jeff Gianola sits down with Jo Ann Hardesty