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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Best City Council Candidate Forum You Didn't Attend

Posted by Amy J. Ruiz on Wed, Oct 8, 2008 at 5:58 PM

In the airy meeting space upstairs at the Carpenter's Union Hall on Lombard, city council candidates Charles Lewis and Amanda Fritz are squaring off in front of a panel of questioners from the Oregon League of Minority Voters.

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It's too bad the crowd is thin: I got a sneak peak at the questions, and they're meaty, dealing with issues of race, socioeconomic class, affordable housing, and employment. You know, the sort of things that Portlanders say they care about.

Sho Dozono asks the first question, about the city's day laborer center. Check after the cut for the answers to that and more.

Lewis famously didn't support the center at first, because of wage issues, he now says. But he's a supporter now, even donating office supplies like desks (I'm not sure if that was through his campaign, or through his non-profit, Ethos). He would like to see them secure stable ongoing funding.

Fritz, as an immigrant, knows "how bizarre and unfair our immigration laws are," and has been a supporter of the day laborer center "since before it was approved by the council," via her work with Jobs with Justice. "We are a nation of immigrants, we need to make sure that our laws respect that, and that we take care of people, and that's what we do in Portland."

Gale Castillo has the next question: What can the city do about health care?

As a nurse, Fritz says she'll address the issue, by working with Multnomah County and the state legislature. She's been working with legislators over the summer to identify "things we can and should do in Oregon," while we await a federal solution to the crisis. She also points out that there's a racial disparity in health and health care, "and that's not fair." She'll also work on the city's proposal to provide health insurance (though I believe she said she didn't think putting money toward insurance, instead of care, was the way to go), and she pushed for a stipulation in the proposal that it won't go into effect if the state provides health insurance for kids.

(UPDATE: Fritz clarified post-debate, saying that she'll also "work with the legislature so the city doesn't have to make good on its proposal to provide health insurance. Putting money towards insurance, instead of care, isn't the way to go." She also notes that she "succeeded in getting a stipulation in the proposal to allow it to cover providers who are less expensive than physicians, like nurse practitioners," and notes "the proposal won't go into effect if the state provides health insurance for kids, and [she] will lobby to help that happen.")

Lewis "absolutely" thinks the city council has a role in providing health care. "There are some community things we can do," he says, and adds that he's not concerned about jurisdictional issues, like weather heath services are the responsibility of the county or the city.

Fritz takes advantage of the one minute rebuttal, so she can keep talking about health care. "The problems with Cascadia were entirely predictable and were predicted," and local governments need to do a better job keeping tabs on such things. She's "been working really hard over the summer to forge the relationship" that she can utilize to address these issues.

Lewis jumps in again: Ethos provides free health insurance to all of the full time staff members. "It is something very important to me and something that I demonstrated with the jobs I created. I don't just talk the talk."

Jim Blackwood asks about the economic climate, and potential city cuts: What programs will these guys fight hardest to protect?

Lewis' passion is lower income people; he's running "to make sure that everyone does receive their fair share of city resources," both on an individual and neighborhood level. He lives on a dirt road, which indicates that his neighborhood isn't getting their share. He also talked about the forthcoming park in the Cully neighborhood.

"Well, first of all, I don't fight," Fritz says. She'll work collaboratively to build partnerships and find out where people agree. The city code currently says contracts can run 25 percent over budget before their reviewed, which is something she'll look at. "In terms of what I'll be working the hardest to promote, equity among all neighborhoods," she says. "We need to be open and transparent, and we need to include all neighborhoods at the table." Are streetcars the priority at this time, or should we be putting in sidewalks near schools?

Lewis says his mother worked two jobs, and made less than she would have on welfare, and they survived on food stamps. He saw a cashier recently look down at someone for using WIC, and says "that's not right... those are absolutely the people I will fight for" on the council.

Fritz adds that she helped plan the park in the Cully neighborhood. "I wanted to give a shout out to that particular neighborhood."

Dozono asks what experiences they've had that help them understand communities of color?

"I'm not a white male," says Fritz. But she hadn't run into obstacles related to being a woman until she ran for City Council two years ago. No one told her she couldn't go to college, or that girls don't do math and science. "But when I first became a nurse, most of the nurses were women and most of the doctors were men, and when the doctors came into the room we were supposed to stand up and give them our chair, and that was only 27 years ago," she says. City Club didn't always admit men. There have only been six women on the city council. So while she doesn't know what it's like to have darker skin, or "an accent that people don't consider cool," she'll always be thinking as a woman and a mother and someone who grew up with those experiences.

Lewis' grandfather was Native American, and his little brothers are "half Apache Indian." He's seen them get into fights over it, and "we went to things like powwows growing up, and really celebrated their culture." Ethos has had "great partnerships" with groups like the Oregon Center for Hispanic Advancement and SEI.

Castillo asks about "unprecedented change in neighborhoods traditionally home to communities of color," which impacts people's ability "to participate in the civic fiber of our community" by having to move, and commute further.

Lewis says it's critically important to him, because "if you can't afford to live in Portland, nothing else really matters." He wants to encourage more homeownership, as "studies have found that if people own their own homes, they take better care of it," and of their neighborhoods, and are more involved in schools. "If you own your own home, no one can force you out," he says. "It's an American dream and everyone should have that opportunity." He says 11,000 kids have left Portland Public Schools as people move.

Fritz is on the board of the Coalition for a Livable Future, which produced the "Equity Atlas," which tracked this issue, and they're also working on the "Equity Action Plan" to determine "what are we going to do about it." She wants to find "bridges to communities of color," and support leaders in communities of color. "We need to be showing the general community that the people who are most equipped to speak for themselves should" be supported. She clarifies the 11,000 number: Only have left PPS when the families moved; the rest live here but chose other schools.

Blackwood says poverty is being pushed to East Portland; what will the city do to be sure the support services are there?

Fritz talks about Gateway, and example of the flag lots and lack of business development that epitomize how underserved the area is. She's been out in those neighborhoods, and she will continue to be there as a city commissioner.

Lewis says "I see it every day, I live there." They don't get the same city services as everyone else.

"You don't have to live in an area to care about it," Fritz says. "There's a whole lot of issues that if you care about it," you can do a lot about it. "We need to recognize that every neighborhood is special, we have 95 neighborhoods and 35 business districts," and all decisions need to be looked at in that light.

Dozono asks which city bureau they'll seek, and how will they manage that bureau "related to poverty and communities of color."

Fritz says it doesn't matter which bureaus she gets, because she'll be looking at serving the whole city, and working on "seamless delivery" of services between bureaus. But she'd like the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, and see that the city funds previous recommendations to improve that bureau and boost community involvement. "I know what's in those, I know that we need to do that," she says. She's also interested in having the Bureau of Environmental Services. "I would really like to be involved in the Superfund cleanup, which is the next challenge that the city is facing" now that the Big Pipe project is almost finished.

Lewis is really interested in the Bureau of Housing and Community Development, though Commissioner Nick Fish has it now. "That's my passion, so that's the one I'm hoping to get," he says. He's also "really excited about the Portland Plan," and would be interested in the Planning Bureau (which mayor-elect Sam Adams says he'll take).

Fritz says she's very excited about the Portland Plan "and very nervous about the Portland Plan," because she's seen the city embark on projects before "seeking input from the neighborhoods up." The kickoff was all day on a Friday, "which was a terrible start," as people are working. "There has to be more options for how people can participate," and there has to be "implementation strategies, and they have to be funded."

Lewis did attend that Portland Plan kickoff "even though I work a full time job... I made it a priority." He's excited to plan "20 minute walkable communities," which we've seen revitalize areas like Mississippi and Alberta and Hawthorne.

Castillo asks what the appropriate role of city government in closing the achievement gap in schools.

Lewis says it's "extremely important," noting that some may say it's not the role of city government. "In the past the city has stepped up when the schools were really struggling," he says. "I think we should do what we can to help." And if the city's giving money like that, they should work with the schools to make improvement and attach some strings. He also says he's a big supporter of the Children's Levy.

Fritz has been involved in Portland Public Schools, and every year her kids were in school, except the last year her daughter was in PPS, they had to make cuts. "Time and again both the city and the business community has saved our schools, and they will not go down the tubes on my watch," she says. But PPS has failed to make adequate annual progress for minority children, she says. Twenty minute walkable neighborhoods mean neighborhood schools and sidewalks to get to them.

Lewis adds that Ethos supported the Children's Levy from day one, and he's supported it from day one, and "Amanda has been against it since the last election," he says (while she says "that's not true."). He's glad she's said she'll vote for it this time, but says that in the Oregonian endorsement interview, she said she'll vote against it next time.

Fritz clears that up: She wants everyone to vote for the Levy on November 4. But students throughout the state should have arts education. "Every child deserves art education," not just the ones served in programs via the Children's Levy. Headstart is funded by the Children's Levy. But what about kids in other counties, who also need the program? Time's out. "Don't get me started!" she says. "It's not that I don't support funding the programs, but we need a statewide solution."

"You were against it previously," Lewis sneaks in one last time.

Blackwood: The rising cost of housing is threatening the ability of seniors to stay in their communities. How can we help seniors age in place and be part of their communities?

Fritz says that unless the federal government figures out the problems with insurance, it will be harder to provide community health care. "There's other strategies that we're going to have to look to," but there are programs via Elders in Action and the Urban League that have cost-effective programs.

Lewis notes Ride Connection as a "great opportunity" for elders and disabled people to get around Portland and have mobility. Community health care opportunities need to be "encouraged more," he says.

Fritz says we need to go beyond just taking care of people. "We need to encourage elders to be a part of our community," by helping in the schools to assist with reading programs, for example. There are lots of opportunities, she says, where "if seniors were invited and respected" they'd pitch in.

Dozono asks what they'd do about communities of color's relationship with the police bureau.

Lewis says it comes down to training, and "holding people more accountable." If there's racial profiling, "we need to hold people accountable and not let it continue." The "vast majority" of officers are good, but we need to root out the "bad apples."

The "problems are pervasive throughout are society," says Fritz. The city council should probably have cultural sensitivity training from someone in the community (she notes that she finds it interesting when there's a guy teaching about gender diversity or a white person talking about racial diversity). She also notes last year's "renaming debacle," and is concerned that the council is embarking on another renaming when the issues that were unearthed the last time around haven't been addressed. She was "struck by the level of hostility and the lack of civility" around that rename.

Lewis says there are other things we can do to "encourage more diversity in the workforce, particularly in the police department," where it takes too long to hire people. He also thinks officers should live where they work, with incentives if necessary.

Fritz retells a story, the point of which is that "this country was set up for white wealthy male land owners." But she'll be committed this issue, including putting funding toward groups like Oregon Action that are trying to solve these issues.

Castillo asks what they'll do to ensure that their bureaus are mindful of workforce discrimination.

Fritz says the simple answer is "I will ask, and I will care." If the council asked, they'd be getting reports on how things are going in the bureaus. (Note to Fritz: The council did get such a report two or three Wednesdays ago, about affirmative action. There were stats on the gains in the past year, at least on a citywide employment basis.)

Lewis says "you can tell what I will do because of what I have done at Ethos." The second in charge has dual citizenship with Mexico, and "we have African American staff members, Pacific Islanders, the whole broad array... for me, you know I will do it when I'm on the Portland city council because it's important to me."

Fritz says you can look at what she's done, too, giving a shout out to her campaign manager Ellen Klaastad, who's Asian American.

Blackwood has the last question. Chronic underemployment is related to poverty. Many of our citizen's talents are not utilized. How can the city craft a plan that respects the professional aspirations of communities of color?

Lewis says the city should be supporting small businesses, by doing things like helping small business access capital. A current micro loan program has a default rate of .17 percent, Lewis says. Then people in communities of color can start their own businesses and really be a part of the community's economy.

Fritz points to apprenticeship programs with unions, many of which currently go unfilled. Supporting PCC and PSU and OHSU and U of O, "we've got amazing talent in the higher education system here," and we need to "make sure there is access to those programs." PCC gives out more high school diplomas than any other institution in Portland, she points out.

Lewis points out that he's created jobs in his own businesses, "it's something I have expertise in." He points out that commissioners only legislate "one or two days a week," and spend the rest of the time managing bureaus, and his business experience primes him for that. It sets him apart from council members who "may have never had a job outside of government."

Fritz points out that the council's third job is to work on land use decisions, which is akin to being a judge on them. City commissioners are supposed to set the policy and make sure the bureau staff understands that policy and the bureau director implements it--not micromanage bureaus. "Instead of fixing the system, they look at the micropiece... let's fix the system and make sure everyone is happy."

Closing statements...

Lewis points again to his "background both in public policy and job creation," has a masters in public policy, worked in the mayor's office and the state legislature, and founded Ethos. "I bring both the public policy perspective and the management perspective," he says, pointing to the water billing "fiasco" as something that was the fault of a commissioner who'd never had a job outside of government (Erik Sten). He's created jobs, supported schools and neighborhoods, and has been for the Children's Levy "since day one." He reiterates the 20 minute walkable communities concept, and would appreciate your vote.

Fritz says that in her nursing career, she "rapidly rose to a management role." She cares about people. "We have a beautiful city," but people are underrepresented. She wants to represent those people and open up city hall "so everyone's at the table" as we make hard choices over the next few years. We can promote jobs by using strategies that have already been identified. "I know I don't know all the answers on all the issues," but she knows who to call to find the answers. "I have a track record of having worked with the city council members" she'd be working alongside in January. She points out that mayor-elect Sam Adams has a thousand ideas a day for ways to make Portland better, and it'll be her role to say "those are all great ideas," but which can we do and what should be the priority.

Dozono thanks the audience, and notes that it's almost the one year anniversary of the Oregon League of Minority Voters. "I do hope that you follow our League... and you'll be hearing a lot more from us."

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