Hardesty Focused on the Issues
Frontrunner has boots-on-the-ground campaign
Danny Peterson | 8/21/2018, 5:31 p.m.
There wasn’t a minute to waste as Portland City Council Candidate Jo Ann Hardesty greeted supporters and reached out to voters. The frontrunner to become the first African American female city commissioner was fully engaged in her signatory boots-on-the-ground activist mode.
Meeting at the Bipartisan Café, just down from her campaign headquarters in southeast Portland, Hardesty had the phone to her ear. She thanked a union representative who had just given her their endorsement. Another endorsement is delivered in person when a woman running for the State Legislature canvassing in the same neighborhood stops in to greet her. Hardesty then finds a moment to turn to an elderly man who was sitting next to her at the cafe, making sure he got the sandwich he ordered.
“You come in here an awful lot,” the man told her. “You must be the governor by now.”
“Not yet,” Hardesty quipped. “I’m just running for a little small post like Portland City Council.”
The man listens intently as Hardesty answers my reporter questions while also keeping the potential voter in her orbit.
As the decisive May Primary winner for a position currently occupied by retiring City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, Hardesty is running confidently. Her optimism shows just as it had the night before at a Race Talks Forum which also featured Hardesty’s opponent, Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith.
Hardesty, 60, a former state representative from Portland from 1995 to 2000, and a longtime grassroots political activist and former president of the Portland NAACP, has centered her campaign on four main platforms: Housing and homelessness, green jobs, police accountability, and access to local government.
On her point to make entering politics more accessible, she backs a campaign finance proposal that will make it easier for working class people to raise funds for public office. The measure will be on the same November General Election ballot as her City Council race.
Hardesty likes how the proposal would work, allowing a $50 donation from an individual to be matched six times by a City of Portland election fund, raising the total to $300, and giving small campaign contributions from individuals more impact so that regular people running for public office can have a better shot at winning.
“I believe that will be a game changer,” she said, adding that she understands how high-cost campaigns steer people away from running for office, and explaining how she was even told she would need to raise at least $250,000 to even compete in her election.
“For most people, that is an enormous hurdle to overcome. I personally don't know anybody that has $250,000, so that was going to be a huge hurdle,” Hardesty recalled.
Other ways Hardesty wants to make local government more accessible is to hold meetings in different parts of the city, and during the times when people are getting off work, rather than the usual 9 a.m. city council meeting at City Hall on Wednesdays, downtown, which Hardesty said must be an inconvenience to many.
The Navy veteran who is originally from Baltimore, Maryland, is also pushing for free transportation during rush hour, two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. She hopes this will not only bolster citizens’ ability to attend local government meetings, but also reduce greenhouse gases and alleviate mounting traffic congestion from the some 45,000 people who move to Portland each year, Hardesty said.
“I think once we realize how much more convenient that's going to be for people that work traditional shifts, then we'll be able to make the case for why having free public transportation will have an impact on climate change and reducing fossil fuels in the air.”
In addition, Hardesty backs a Clean Energy Fund, also on the ballot in November. The initiative would require big businesses to pay a surcharge of one percent of their gross revenues from retail sales in Portland, if they make one billion dollars in annual revenue and more than $500 million within the city limits each year (basic groceries, medicine, and health care services would be exempt from the surcharge). The revenue would be used to encourage and promote eco-friendly measures like retro-proofing old houses to make them more energy efficient and to train and create jobs in the green energy field for low income people. Hardesty backed a steering committee made up of non-profits representing communities of color that supports the measure.
The expected $30 million of revenue generated from the Energy Fund each year would be managed by a community oversight committee, similar to what is in place for the Portland Children’s Levy, Hardesty said. She also asked Mayor Ted Wheeler to assign management of the fund to her portfolio to supervise and implement, presuming it passes and she is elected.
On the issue of housing and homelessness, Hardesty advocates for hiring homeless people at minimum wage to clean up garbage in the city and provide hot meals and showers to other homeless people through “mobile units.” The cost would be just 10 percent of what the city currently spends on their handling of homeless people using police, Hardesty said, and was inspired by similar programs that have taken place in other cities.
“If we allowed people to self-manage themselves, we'd have a whole lot less trash, and we'd have a whole lot less complaints from other community members. Everybody needs a safe, affordable place to lay their head at night,” Hardesty said.
Hardesty also supports rent control, tenant protections, resident relocation assistance, and working with realtors to create housing options at all income levels. In addition, she wants to nix monthly pet rental fees for housing.
She called the current state of Portland’s law enforcement record involving homeless people “inhumane,” citing a recent report that stated over half of all arrests by city police last year were of homeless people.
Hardesty is calling for sweeping changes in Portland’s law enforcement policies in light of officer-involved fatal shootings of people with mental illnesses in recent years, including using firefighters as responders to those experiencing a mental health emergency.
“The police are way out of their lane,” she said. “'I don't know about you, but when I see firefighters running up the step, help is on its way. And they have never killed one person because they didn't do what they told them to do.”
She also criticized police’s profiling of African Americans through the guise of gang enforcement, as was recently revealed to have occurred in an independent police review by the disproportionate number of traffic stops they performed, which resulted in few gang-members being apprehended, Hardesty said.
“I think it's the community's responsibility to decide how they want to be policed and it is the police department's job to be responsive to communities' needs. And I look forward to working with Chief Outlaw to fundamentally change how we do policing in the city of Portland,” she added.
Hardesty also derided police crowd control tactics used earlier this month during a right-wing and counter left-wing counter-demonstration, downtown, in which flash-bang grenades were used to subdue counter-demonstrators and injured some of them. She suggested removing “war weapons,” from police such as the offending flash-bang grenades, which were temporarily suspended by police from their arsenal, after the recent protest.
A top-to-bottom audit of the police department, pulling out of a federal law enforcement partnership, and providing more funding for 9-11 responders are also on her agenda. She said she also wants to re-train 9-11 responders so that they can differentiate between “a real crime in progress and houseless people who are an inconvenience in [the caller’s] neighborhood.”
On the matter of preventative mental health care, Hardesty said she’d like to work with state and county agencies to increase the number of mental health providers “so that people have choices available in their local community.”
Hardesty said she was inspired to run for the City Council back in 2016 during a public protest over police union contract negotiations under then-Mayor Charlie Hales. She and the other demonstrators were barricaded from City Hall by riot police. Hardesty eventually made her way inside, but said she discovered later that if just one city council member had opposed the barricade, it could have been dissolved. That’s when she knew she had to run, she said.
“I went to Dan [Saltzman] and looked him in his eye and said 'Dan, you've been here too long and I'm going to run against you.'”
Two weeks later, Saltzman retired, she said.
Building coalitions of people to back a cause is the basis of Hardesty’s political experience and foundation to her current campaign. Besides leading the Portland NAACP, she was executive director of the nonprofit Oregon Action and currently serves on the executive committee of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, and as a board member of the NARAL Pro-Choice Political Action Committee and the housing non-profit Human Solutions, among several other advocate organizations.
Though she did not raise the most money of all the candidates in a crowded primary, she did have the largest number of individual donors, over 1,200, who contributed “from $5 to $5,000” with the largest being from her ex-mother-in-law, Hardesty said. She scored a dramatic 20-point victory over Smith, her closest opponent.
When asked how she would toe the line between being a public official and an activist, Hardesty responded that her activism background helped inform her time as a state legislator, and expects the same this time around, too.
“I don't think an activist and policymaker are mutually exclusive. I think you can be both.”
When asked whether anything about her campaign or herself could’ve been improved, she responded: “Sometimes I probably don't take time to not provide an answer that doesn't sound flip. For example, I got in trouble earlier on because I called some people idiots because they thought that using a jail for houseless people was a good approach,” Hardesty said, referencing her disagreement with her opponent, Loretta Smith, who said she supported re-purposing the unused Wapato Jail in north Portland as a homeless shelter.
In the historic election that will seat Portland’s first black female city council member, I asked Hardesty her thoughts on being a role model for others.
“I hope somebody sees a working class person could have a campaign that was people-focused and have people give them money and support them, not because they were rich, connected, special in any way, just someone who did the hard work of doing the things that the community needed done. And so if I'm going to be a role model, I hope that's the role model. But I don't want anybody to think that I think I'm perfect, 'cause I am very flawed.”
Editors note: this article was updated to more accurately describe the Portland Clean Energy Fund ballot initiative.