Driving to Ed Garren's manufactured home park on Hayden Island yesterday afternoon, I got stuck in traffic. If only someone would widen the bridge across the Columbia, I thought. D'oh! And so began our candidate Q&A.
Garren's home looks out over the existing Columbia bridge, and he's been active in fighting for environmental justice in a replacement bridge, ever since he moved to Portland in February 2006. Earlier, he spent 22 years in Southern California, mainly in West Hollywood, having lived in Florida for 33 years before that. A family therapist, Garren studied at the University of South Florida ("they call it the Berkeley of the South") for his masters in rehabilitative therapy—"the difference is that in rehabilitation, there's no hierarchic structure," he says. Manufactured home parks are "the last true villages left in our society where people really look out for each other and feel a sense of community," says Garren.
What's been wrong with the CRC's approach to environmental justice?
"Well, of the environmental justice group that I joined four years ago, virtually all the people of color have fallen by the wayside. I think the group was co-opted by the project. Environmental justice, traditionally, was created by an executive order by Bill Clinton. The original impetus was a black professor in Atlanta who noticed that garbage dumps always end up next to poor neighborhoods. The environmental justice order says that any project involving federal money must have an environmental justice component, formed out of the community, to work with the project to assume there aren't any disproportionate impacts either on communities of color or on poor people. Now the CRC thought about people of color, but not about poor people—and literally at the end of this street, there's going to be a staging area for the construction over the fence for some of the poorest elderly people on fixed incomes. They kept creating language to say that the impacts of the bridge would be spread around, and in fact nowhere in the 1200 page document can you see what the impact is going to be on this community here."
So is that greenwashing? Or conscience-washing? What is it?
"It's whitewashing. Our system provides for processes that ensure inclusive and participatory comment from as many stakeholders as possible, and when you circumvent those processes, you lose the trust of the community. They created this environmental justice group but they only talked about 'where are we going to put the MAX line?' and every time we asked about the construction impacts, they said they'd do it later. They just ignored the process."
Do you think there has been an element of ignoring the process in the way the police commissioner has handled the discipline for Officer Christopher Humphreys, recently?
"I come from a mental health perspective, and family therapists are trained to look at the culture. The culture in this region tends to be conflict-avoidant. People don't like conflict, they don't really have a lot of skills to deal with conflict, but the nature of change involves some conflict. You only get change when you confront someone and say this is how your behavior is impacting me, and I need you to change it. Well, if you're in a conflict-avoidant culture, people don't have these conversations."
"I'm from the rural south, and there's a line down there that 'a Southerner will be polite until he is ready to kill you.' What I've observed about Pacific Northwesterners is that many people will be polite while they're killing you. This is the only place ever where an agency will fire someone and then give them a going-away party, for example. I read what Saltzman said about "de-escalating" with the police union, and as a mental health professional, I'm trained to de-escalate. But it seemed to me that he and Chief Sizer had made a decision to have his badge and gun removed while the investigation was going on—I what could have happened is, the union could have declared no confidence, Sizer and Saltzman could have said "well, we're not happy either, but the decision sticks." That way everybody has a sense of being part of the process. And the union bullied him. If you're a conflict-avoidant person you're much more likely to cave to bullying."
So the union bullied Saltzman into submission?
"Yes. In the rural south if a bully says 'do this or else,' we say 'them's fightin words,' and if you don't dig in your heels and fight, no one will ever respect you again. Now everyone's saying, we didn't have a say in this, and now we know who's really running the city—the police union. And I think the city deserves better leadership than that."
You're disappointed in Saltzman?
"Yes. It's very disappointing, because generally he's been a good guy. If anything, it was a little surprising that he didn't feel more secure in standing up to the union."
Where do you stand on the effort to recall Mayor Adams?
"It's time to let it go. To me it just feels counter-productive at this point. In fact, at the [State of Black Oregon] symposium today, they had Avel Gordly [spokesperson for the second recall effort] facilitating one of the panels that Sam was on."
And how did that go?
"Well, Avel's always a lady and Sam's always a gentleman, so of course it was fine. Conflict is never pleasant, it's continually unnerving, and you have to pick your battles. Whatever else you can say about Sam, he's doing a good job as mayor. He's brought in a good budget, he's stuck to his values, I mean, look at Tiger Woods! It's just a part of being human. A nation is supposed to elect its leaders from our own. And most of us aren't perfect."
Is it possible to run too many times for city commissioner?
So how many times are you going to run?
"I have no interest in being a perennial candidate. In fact, I promised myself if I couldn't get the qualifying contributions and signatures, that I'd withdraw from the race."
And how is that effort going?
"Well, a veteran's group has signed on to help me, and I've got the endorsement of the Green Party of Oregon, which I'm very pleased about."
So it seems like you're serious about this race.
"You know, initially, the question was, has Dan Saltzman declared? Is this another Erik Sten/Jim Middaugh situation? Why wait until January if he's interested in the seat? And this police stuff—I have very specific experience working with the LAPD and Long Peach Police Departments regarding diversity. If law enforcement agencies are paramilitary, more than any other organization, they resist change. But once leadership embraces change, the turnover is almost instantaneous. I think people working in law enforcement are some of the hardest-working people in the community, and I hate seeing them demonized. It's about involving the community in these discussions."
But the last mayor tried to involve the community in discussions around racial profiling, and they were very disappointing. Council ended up having to fight the police chief over whether officers should have to give out business cards—after three years of talking. What would you do differently?
"I don't know, in terms of specifics. But what I do know is I've spent most of my career dealing with offender rehabilitation, and people who don't want to change. It's about saying change is needed, while at the same time, preserving the dignity of the person who has to change. If you tell someone they need to change because they're a terrible person, they won't change. But if you tell them you've got to change because the world has changed and you've got to catch up, then it's different."
And if they still don't want to change?
"If they want to dig their heels in and play hard ball, then I can play hard ball with the best of them."
What kind of experience do you have of managing budgets and the day to day kind of grunt work of being a city commissioner?
"I was treasurer of the Coconut Grove Arts Festival in Miami. Our budget was $300,000, and I've worked in non-profits my whole life. If you want to talk about eeking a lot out of a little, that's probably the best preparation of all."
So what's your platform for the campaign?
"I'm interested in housing, transportation, bike safety, and human relations, in particular. Because the demographic of the city has changed dramatically in the last ten years—the city now has more people living in it who've moved here from elsewhere than who were born here. And I have a very visceral understanding of this because I'm from Florida, and that was overrun by outsiders. But we realized that there was a lot we could learn."
So Portland is in transition?
"I see Portland as at that apex—we have a certain way which we've always done things, which is to sit on things and avoid conflict and not address them, and which is kind of embodied by Mr.Saltzman and the way he handled the Police Bureau, to keep a lid on things, and we've got a whole lot of people who've moved here who see that kind of behavior as racist, as homophobic, and as un-American. I don't know if racial profiling is an American value, and yet we have a police union that has resisted doing anything about it."
Do you have a favorite city commissioner?
"Amanda Fritz—like myself, she comes from a mental health background, and offers a perspective which is more inclusive of the heart—more inclusive of the human quality of life—not just buildings and transportation, but how people feel. Are they safe? Are they feeling engaged with the community? And Amanda has been very good at speaking her mind—very pragmatic. I like Randy, too. In spite of all his problems, Randy is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy. He says 'this is who I am, this is what I believe in, and you can take it or leave it.'"
And you were at the state of Black Oregon symposium conference today. How did that go?
"Well, one of the first lies that people assimilate is that only white people know how to do things well, and the only way that changes is when you have really significant relationships with people who are different. It's very liberating when you can let go of that, when you realize you don't know everything and you're not perfect. Those are two of the things that I have always said—that I don't know everything, and that I don't claim perfection."
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