Incoming City Commissioner Carmen Rubio on Her New Gig, Latinx COVID-19 Rates, and More

"I think you are hearing the community loud and clear tell us what they prioritize.... community justice ... public safety ... addressing root causes of systemic racism."

By Denise Castañon August 1, 2020 Published in the August 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

Portland’s first Latinx city commissioner, Carmen Rubio, opens up about her new gig, COVID-19 rates among people of color, and her favorite takeout joint.

With years of experience working behind the scenes for city and county officials, and an executive director tenure that grew the annual budget at the nonprofit Latino Network from $500,000 to $10 million, Carmen Rubio handily blew past her opponents in the May primary. She’ll be the first Latinx member of the Portland City Council when she takes office in January. We checked in with Rubio after her victory to talk about how those other commissioner runoff races could lead to a groundbreaking moment, the future of the city’s police bureau, and more.

If Loretta Smith and Mingus Mapps win the runoffs in August and November, Portland’s commissioners will all be people of color, except for the mayor. How are you feeling about that?

I’m very aware that that’s one of the outcomes that could happen. I am excited about any combination that happens, but if that happens, that would really reflect how far our community has come.

With the COVID crisis, Ted Wheeler’s budget is a lot smaller [$75 million] than it would have been. What programs would you have prioritized or cut had it been up to you?

I think you are hearing the community loud and clear tell us what they prioritize. So I am really looking toward my future colleagues with curiosity and a lot of hope that they will be responsive to what the community is saying they want in terms of community justice ... public safety ... addressing root causes of systemic racism.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, about a third of COVID-19 cases are in the Latinx community,  though they are only 13 percent of the state’s population. What should the city and state should do to address this?

We need more bilingual, bicultural health workers. We need more folks that have the trust of their communities to be contact tracers. We need more communications around COVID that are organically developed, so that there is cultural resonance. We also need testing! In partnership with trusted organizations. For example, [Latino Network is] pursuing becoming a testing location at our Rockwood site because folks are coming to us and we want to be able to refer them to somewhere where they feel safe. There’s a lot of fear around ICE immigration right now.

Portland’s unique among major US cities for having a commission form of government, which shares power among the mayor and council members. Do we need to look at moving to a strong mayor or council-manager government? 

I have been very supportive publicly for the council–city manager form of government. There are benefits to having focus, there are benefits to knowing who is accountable, and also to electing a more diverse and representative city council.

What’s been your go-to takeout spot while restaurants had limited service?

We have been eating a lot of takeout! My favorite go-to is La Bonita on Killingsworth. Also Ya Hala [in Montavilla].

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