With primary elections just one month away, we hear from three candidates vying for a spot on the city council. Jo Ann Hardesty is currently the Portland City Commissioner Position 3 incumbent. Rene Gonzalez is the owner and managing partner of Eastbank Artifex, a technology consulting company. Vadim Mozyrsky is an administrative law judge. They both will be challenging Hardesty for her seat. Hardesty, Gonzalez and Mozyrsky join us to make their case for why Portlanders should vote for them.
The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. We start today with another debate for a seat on the Portland City Council, Jo Anne Hardesty is the incumbent in this race. She’s a former state lawmaker who was elected to the city council in 2018. She joins us now along with her two most prominent opponents. Rene Gonzalez is a technology company owner. Vadim Mozyrsky is an administrative law judge. Welcome to all three of you.
Guests: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Miller: I should say we have about 25 minutes for this conversation. So I’m gonna ask all of you to do your best to keep your answers succinct, so we have a chance to cover more issues. We drew straws here before the show, and Rene Gonzalez, you can go first. What do you want policing in Portland to look like? And what would you do on the City council to make that happen?
Rene Gonzalez: Thanks so much for the question. We need a responsive police department that helps us address really a historic level of crime in terms of property and crime to people. So first and foremost, it needs to be responsive. That’s gonna require adequate staffing. We’re at a historic low in the ratio of police officers to population, that needs to be rectified as soon as possible, but we also have to preserve accountability and community oversight. These are necessary components to a fully trusted police department. So we need to balance both those pieces, with adequate staffing, as well as continuing to assure community oversight.
Miller: When you say adequate staffing, are you saying that filling vacant positions, or adding new positions, putting more money for more positions?
Gonzalez: Both. So the many cuts we made to specialists in recent years, we really devastated the budget for recruiters inside the police department. That created a real challenge in filling the budget of positions in this last cycle. So I’m hearing good news on that front, that that pipeline of police officers is starting to be filled, which is great. It took a while to ramp up. But the bottom line is, we need to restore historic ratios of police officers to population. And we’ve got a long gap to fill that delta right now.
Miller: Vadim Mozyrsky, what do you want the police department to look like? And what would you do on the city council to make that happen?
Vadim Mozyrsky: Thanks Dave. Let me first just say, I’d like to acknowledge that today is the first day of Passover, a Jewish festival that commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. In Europe right now there are Jewish refugees celebrating this holiday while themselves fleeing a tyrannical ruler and military oppression. Like my family, they were refugees 40 years ago from Ukraine in the former Soviet Union. Today’s refugees have left their homes, their families, their friends and just with a suitcase to find peace and comfort in a strange land. My family found a welcoming home in peace here in America, and I pray that all those people escaping tyranny find that piece as well. Thank you for that brief moment. I would like to say that we need to ensure that our police are adequately staffed. When you look at the national trends, we’re about half the national average, 30% per capita less than Seattle, about 70% less per capita than Denver, similarly sized cities. So we need to make sure we’re adequately staffed, but we do need to have good police oversight. Excellent training. I’m on the Citizen Review Committee that hears complaints against the police bureau. There’s a new board that is going to be coming online sometime in the future. The voters passed that overwhelmingly about 16 months ago, that board is still not up. It was promised to be up 18 months after the vote. It looks like it’ll be about two or three more years. So on city council, I want to make sure that board gets erected and staffed and running as quickly as possible. So we have that trust in the police, that community oversight that so many people are asking for. And then we need to have community input on policing. I’ve been on the Portland Committee on community policing. We need to reach out to neighborhoods where people live, to faith-based leaders where people gather, and understand what their needs are and make sure that those areas are adequately addressed from police or otherwise. And so part of that is outreach with the community, part of that is working with the Department of Justice and other oversight entities and auditing, making sure our police are accountable. We need to promote people who are active in their communities and helping in their communities. And if there are bad apples, we need to make sure that they are fired from our police. But also we need to make sure that when people pick up the phone and call 911, they get a quick response which is not happening right now.
Miller: I was struggling there to hear a major policy difference between what you just said, Vadim Mozyrsky, and what we heard from Rene Gonzalez. You both talked about more police officers and the importance of community oversight. So just briefly, before we go to Jo Anne Hardesty, is there a difference in your mind, in your view of policing and from what we heard from Rene Gonzalez?
Mozyrsky: Oh yeah, there’s a wide difference, and part of that is experience. I’ve been working in these areas for several years now, including on the budget committee for the police. For instance, I recommended that the body-worn cameras be implemented in the recent budget, which it was. I recommended that public safety support specialists which are unarmed members of the police who are out there – they don’t wear police uniforms, they don’t have guns, they’re driving a van – they’re out there actually helping people and walking around the neighborhoods and making sure that low level crimes are addressed, if there’s a report or something like that that needs to be taken. So you don’t have armed police arriving at things where you don’t need that sort of assistance. And so it’s that holistic view of making sure we have a response to people’s needs, that we have community intervention. It’s not just about the police, it’s about having listened to people that were protesting in the streets and what they were asking. It’s about listening to what people are out there are saying, especially during the last budget cycle when 200 people testified about the need for additional police, because of them being victimized or their family members being victimized or their businesses being victimized. We need to address those things. And I have that experience of years of speaking with these individuals, listening to them and being able to formulate the policies that Portland needs in order to move forward.
Miller: Joanne Hardesty, what do you want policing in Portland to look like, and what do you plan to do in the city council to make that happen?
Jo Anne Hardesty: Thank you so much for that question, and thank you for the opportunity to be here this afternoon. I want a police force that is constitutionally protecting and serving all Portlanders. I want a police force that is diverse, that is homegrown, that respects the constitution and that’s why I’m working to make sure we hire the civilian training dean, that the Department of Justice requires us to do. But I’m making sure that the training dean is a trainer that understands how adults learn and that they will partner with the community to create the best community police force in the nation. I also want to make sure that we continue to move forward with the rethink commission, which has met, they are in their third month of meeting. Once they have completed their work, we will have the first in the nation, totally independent police oversight board with a budget, with subpoena power, and with the ability to fire officers. I want a police force that respects all community members, regardless of their socioeconomic standing, regardless of their race or where they were born. I also want a police force that understands that they are public servants, that we don’t work for them. But in fact they work for us. It is critical that we have police understand that they cannot continue to tell the public that they’ve been defunded, because the reality is when we cut five million from their budget, there were 40 FTE available for patrol. Police bureaus across the nation are having difficulties hiring. Because what was exposed in the summer of 2020 is the inequity of how policing happens, both in the city of Portland and across the country.
Miller: I want to make sure that we’re clear about the staff in question, because we got clarity from Vadym Mazeroski and Rene Gonzalez, that they would like to see more police officers on Portland’s streets. Do you want to see more or the same number or fewer?
Hardesty: Well, here’s what we don’t know yet. We don’t have the staffing study to determine how the 600-plus Portland police officers today are utilizing their time. The other thing that we don’t know is that . . . oh, one thing you should know is the police paper just gave back some money to the general fund, millions of dollars, because they were unable to hire retirees or new officers. There are already 100 funded positions within Portland’s police bureau’s budget right now, and there are 30 more in a lockbox that I directed council to do in the last budget process. I think we should hire for those 130 positions, before we add one more FTE.
Gonzalez: Would it be okay if I chime in here? Miller: Please go ahead. This is Renee, right? I can’t see. Gonzalez: Okay, so our coalition that are my supporters is the largest grassroots small donor campaign in the city or county right now, made up of K through 12 parents, families of all lifestyles, and seniors, are very much focused on out-of-control crime in the city, and they are impatient with the political establishment, and they are tired of extremists that have dominated the rhetoric on policing in the city of Portland in recent years. Part of that is not just budget, but it’s the defund police culture that permeates so much of the rhetoric around this issue. If we are going to retain and recruit good police officers, we cannot start with the presumption of guilt when we’re looking at difficult situations with the police. And that is what has come from the extremist wing of our party. And the real weakness of the political establishment to balance the competing policy needs of our city. What that’s translating into is a fundamental loss of confidence and trust that police will respond when they’re called. And so I’m looking at my alternatives here, very much political establishment and training, and the loud wing of our party, and that’s why I’m running, that’s the coalition behind me that is rejecting the path we are on.
Miller: Let me give you a chance to respond to the implicit, or almost explicit description of you as the loud voice of your party and an extremist voice pushing for the defunding ideology. What’s your response?
Hardesty: I don’t know what party Mr. Gonzales is talking about, but here’s what I have done. I created Portland’s street response because people were suffering on our streets and sometimes when an armed response happened, people lost their lives. That’s why Portland’s street response was built from the ground up. What do people need when a first responder comes? I want police officers that respect the constitution of everyone. And so I don’t know what Mr. Gonzales is referring to. What I know is, I also created a program in Mount Scott/Arleta working with community directly, because they had seen a severe increase in gun violence. And in that program we’ve actually reduced gun balance over 64%. The police were a partner, but the police always are only a partner in solving crime. The community was in the lead. My office in PBOT invested time and energy working directly with community. And that community is thrilled that they were heard at City Hall, and that we worked with them with their solution, not coming in with a solution that we thought was the appropriate solution. That’s how I work. I’m a grassroots organizer and that’s why I have over 1600 donors, was the first to qualify for the small donor campaign, the first to max out, and people are on the doorsteps every single weekend, because they know that I know how to get things done and I have a record of success.
Miller: I do want to actually move to the next topic because there’s a lot to get to. And we’ve only so far talked about policing. Vadim Mozyrsky, I want to turn to homelessness. Starting with your diagnosis of what’s causing homeless – not that it’s only one thing in Portland right now – and how you would approach solutions as a member of the city council?
Mozyrsky: Okay. Here’s where I think policies are very important. Policies matter. because there’s a failure in our leadership and city council to actually address the pragmatic needs in order to get us where we need to be. So, Commissioner Hardesty mentioned earlier about not doing a study about the police time. Well, you know, there was a defunding in June of 2020, July 2020 of $21 million. And then she proposed in November, another defunding of $18 million of the police budget. How can you do that without having a study about how that time is being used? Likewise for the homeless community. There are people living and dying in our streets. 120 people died last year on the streets, half of them from drug overdoses. But we have separate policies for the city, separate policies for the county. Separate policies for the metro here together, which is working out a lot of these issues and putting in a lot of effort. They have their own policies about how to get things accomplished. We’re not seeing leadership and bringing people together and that’s what we need in city hall. We need to find places for people to have warm beds, warm showers, warm food where they can go, so they can get services. We’re lacking right now in the ability to provide drug addiction services, mental health services, housing services to people that are scattered throughout Portland, and we’re seeing the suffering in the streets because of that. The latest poll from The Oregonian showed that 66% of our homeless community did not have outreach at all, and of those that did, 75% did not have follow up. That is not a path to success. That’s not a path to helping people out and saving lives. We need to create the policies and put in goals and metrics and how we get there. Right now, we’re just giving out money and we have no idea where it’s going, and we have no idea what the results are. Let’s have some accountability in city hall so that we’re saving people that are living in the streets.
Miller: Joanne Hardesty, how what’s happening right now in terms of homelessness, what’s causing it and what are your solutions?
Hardesty: As you know, we are under the third mayor [now] that declared a housing emergency. When I first got to city hall and had the opportunity to meet with the joint office, I was a bit surprised to learn that the intergovernmental agreement between the city and the county authorized us to give the county $45 million dollars annually to help to jointly fund the joint office. But the county was really the decision maker for how those dollars were spent. And I found it a little perplexing to find out that we basically get 200 shelter beds and 100 extra and bad weather. I am pleased to say that Commissioner Dan Ryan has really worked very hard to re-shift that relationship. Because of my leadership, we did not extend that contract three years prior to Commissioner Ryan arriving, but here’s what we need to do. We need to landbank land the city already owns, rather than selling it to private developers and begging for a public benefit. We need to allow houseless people to camp on properties, and have them self-managed until we’re able to have housing people can afford to live in. With the median family income at $96,900 for a family of four in the metro area, there’s really no way for someone to actually pay first-last security deposit, pet deposit and pet rent. Income inequality, the severe overpriced housing market in Portland, are all major contributors to people living on our streets and [in] their automobiles and in RVs.
Miller: Rene Gonzalez. Your thoughts on the causes of homelessness in Portland right now and the solutions you would push for.
Gonzalez: Well, first and foremost, we homogenize a highly segmented population. And you do the deep dive on the segmentation within that population. Addiction is the number one cause of mental illness. Number two, a substantial number of our unsheltered are suffering from both, and I’m focusing on the population of our homeless we actually see on our streets, often referred to as the unsheltered. So we have to drive at those underlying causes to directly address addiction. We need to ensure that Measure 110 dollars are deployed as quickly and as effectively as possible. We were all promised prompt addiction services when we voted for measure 110. That’s been delayed at the state level. It’s catastrophic at the local level. Second, we need, with law enforcement, to go hard after those who are pushing meth on our addicts. It’s the cruelest type of reality in the city of Portland, where you can have really no ramifications, the behaviors for addicts and at the same time ready access to some of these awful, awful drugs. With respect to mental illness, it’s largely a state-funded county supported activity. But we’re near dead last and adult mental illness services. The city needs to be a strong advocate for assuring both state and county funding and support of mental illness. Last, but certainly not least, we absolutely have to prioritize the building of emergency shelters and safe sleeping spaces. It has to be at the top of the list. And across the continuum of high and low barrier, and kind of get into the details of why the different offering models is important. But that’s one, to give a more humane sleeping arrangement than is offered today on the streets of Portland. And two, it allows us to enforce our existing laws and unsanctioned camping, illegally parked cars and RVs in the city. Our city is suffering with the externalities created by out of control unsanctioned camping in our parks and our sidewalks, in our right of ways. And to kind of restore the social contract, we need to offer alternative shelter and then enforce existing laws.
Miller: I want to move on to experience. Until and unless voters change our unique system, you’re all vying for a really unusual kind of city government job, part lawmaker and part executive. Rene Gonzalez, first to stick with you, what experience do you have to do both of these things: to get at least two other commissioners on board to vote for your various priorities, AND to manage at least one complex bureau?
Gonzalez: Well, in terms of managing a complex bureau, I’ve been in executive and leadership positions in both: the largest privately owned company in the city of Portland, the largest youth soccer club. So both the for-profit and nonprofit world, managed teams, managed strategy, managed objectives towards common goals.
So [I’m] likely the strongest of these three candidates here before you in terms of true executive and management experience. With respect to getting to three, and legislating, anytime you’re in the nonprofit board world, it’s about finding consensus and putting teams together. Our youth club we built through mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures: that’s finding common ground. Last but not least, our school reopening efforts that led to successfully petitioning the governor to mandate schools reopened statewide. That was a 40,000 member coalition statewide: urban Democrats, rural Republicans, suburban everything in between. And we did it by staying focused on a common goal: get our kids back in school, get them back on the field, focusing on data and pushing aside the things that divided us, staying focused on the common good. So I think I’ve got a bunch of experience on both fronts there.
Miller: Vadim Mozyrsky, what experience can you point to that would help you be an effective lawmaker and executive?
Mozyrsky: You know, Dave, I said policies matter, experience matters as well. This is not a job you want to learn as you go along. And I have that experience to be able to enter city hall and effectively get things done. In the federal government, I’ve been a private sector attorney, but I’ve also worked for the U. S. Government as an attorney and as a judge. And I’ve managed two government offices in that time with over 40 people working in those offices and benefit expenditures over $300 million. I’ve worked for the head of a federal agency, on labor and employment law, on ethics laws, on all sorts of things that cross the desk of the head of an agency. I have worked with Portlanders over time in various capacities as the president and board member of the Public Safety Action Coalition. I’ve worked with people living in Portland with neighborhood association board members, with small businesses, and some business associations as well, to get things done at City Hall. I have been involved in various committees, including the charter commission that you’ve alluded to, trying to improve our city governments. So that is actually is responsive to people, rather than having the siloing effect that we hear so much about. I’ve worked on the disability commission here in Portland, which I think impacts quite a bit of what we’re seeing on our streets right now in the homeless community. A lot of them are suffering from disabilities, and certainly my background in disability law would help as well. And lastly, as you also asked, how do we get things done in office? In those capacities, I’ve worked with the people that are in office right now. I fully support Mingus Mapps and a lot of his initiatives. I think it’s a very pragmatic approach to getting Portland back on its feet. I’ve worked with Ted Wheeler on the police issues, especially in the roles that I’ve worked on in the city, on the committees and commissions. I’ve worked with Dan Ryan. I fully believe that when in office, we’ll be able to work together to actually get things done, rather than the divisiveness that you’re seeing right now in city hall.
Miller: Joanne Hardesty, the experience you have for this job is obvious, given that you’ve had it for most of the last four years. What can you point to as evidence of your legislative and executive success?
Hardesty: Well, 82% of voters supported the ReThink ballot measure to create the first of this kind police oversight board. We passed the first in the nation ban on facial recognition technology, with my leadership. We’ve also passed a ban on fireworks. You have to take political courage in this job and you have to do what is right, rather than what is popular. In addition, Portland Street Response is now a national model of how you actually create a compassionate approach to people suffering from mental health issues. I am the only U. S. Navy vet. I have served three terms in the Oregon State Legislature. I served for a decade at Multnomah County. And I am the only one in this race that has real legislative experience. I figured out how to get to 31 and 16 in Salem. Getting the three is work, but it is necessary work.
Miller: I want to go to the three because we’re almost out of time, but I’d love to hear and Jo Anne Hardesty I’ll stick with you first. I’m curious what you think is going well in Portland right now, what’s working?
Hardesty: I think what is working in Portland right now, is working people understand the severe challenges that we face. I think what’s working now is Portlanders looking out for Portlanders. I think that I have a strong council that doesn’t agree on everything, thank goodness. But we are investing, and everyone coming back from COVID, just not a small group of special interests that want to spend $700,000 to influence the outcome of this election. At 1,600 donors . . .
Miller: Okay, we’ve got to move on to other things that are working. Rene Gonzalez, what’s working in Portland right now?
Gonzalez: You know, you’ve seen a strong centrist movement emerge on everything from schools, to livability issues, on crime and homeless, emerge that no longer defers to the loudest extremists in the ineffective political establishment that has so dominated recent years in Portland. So people who are unwilling to speak up in really direct ways, are now speaking up, that we have a lot that we’ve inherited here, and we need to fight and come together and protect it.
Miller: Vadim Mozyrsky, what do you think is working right now?
Mozyrsky: You know, people are working, that’s what’s working. I talked to so many people all the time who are out there rolling up their sleeves and helping. This is an amazing place, with so many people trying to contribute. Over at Sunnyside United Methodist Church last night, they were giving showers to homeless individuals. Downtown Homeless Association is out there providing water and clothing for homeless people. Old Town got together, they proposed solutions to the problems that are having right now. Held a press conference. No one from City Hall attended that press conference. Black leaders met at Dawson Park proposed solutions to the crime that they’re seeing, and black men dying due to gun violence, and nobody from City Hall showed up to that. The people are doing the work that our City Hall should be doing.
Miller: Vadim Mozyrsky, Rene Gonzalez and Joanne Hardesty, thanks very much for joining us. I appreciate it.
Guests: Thank you. It was a pleasure.
Miller: Vladimir Gorsky is an administrative law judge, Rene Gonzalez is a technology company owner, and Joanne Hardesty is a city commissioner.
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