It's that time of year again.

It’s getting harder to miss that there’s an election looming in Oregon in just three weeks—in fact, today is the final day to register to vote if you want to participate and aren’t yet signed up to do so. 

Case in point: The thick voters’ pamphlet that should have arrived in your mail in the last few days, chock-a-block with statements from the candidates themselves. It’s an illuminating read, since each candidate has just about 350 hopefully well-chosen words to make their pitch directly to the most motivated of voters.  

It can also be daunting. Here, we’ve tried to sift through the pamphlet for the most critical Portland-area races, to glean what the candidates would like you to know when it’s time to vote—as well as what they didn’t say in print. 

Multnomah County  

Background: The race to be the next chair of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners is one of the most crowded on your local ballot, with the highest proportion of serious candidates. Three current members of the board—Lori Stegmann, Jessica Vega Pederson, and Sharon Meieran—are all vying for the chair’s seat, vacated by their colleague Deborah Kafoury, who is barred from seeking re-election due to term limits. There’s also an outsider challenger, Sharia Mayfield, an attorney with a formative childhood experience—her father, a converted Muslim, was wrongly detained in connection with a 2004 train bombing in Madrid.  

Endorsement Watch: All three of the current commissioners have dedicated space to listing their key endorsements. Stegmann’s supporters are mostly electeds from her east county base, with notable votes of confidence from public safety interests (the Gresham Professional Firefighters local is on her side.) Vega Pederson has lined up many big labor unions, from the Portland Association of Teachers to the AFL-CIO, as well as progressive-leaning groups like the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and the Mother PAC—she also takes care to note that she is the only candidate in the race endorsed by Pro-Choice Oregon. And Meieran, who is an ER doctor, toplines her endorsement from the Oregon Nurses Association. 

On the Issues: All three of the current incumbents, along with Mayfield, say they will have a laser focus on homelessness if elected–unsurprising, since it is a topic at the forefront of voters’ minds, and also because it is a core responsibility of the county. But they are also light on specifics on the page—you have to dig into their position papers and websites to know that Meieran is more predisposed to a shelter-to-housing continuum model, for example, while Vega Pederson’s focus is more on converting and building affordable housing; Stegmann says the county should better connect nonprofits and those they serve to empty units in current buildings.   

Shade Thrown: Every candidate has a choice of whether to go low or high in the voters’ pamphlet. Generally, perceived front-runners and incumbents try to stay above the fray; others take their potshots. In this case, both Stegmann and Mayfield get in some criticism: “I’m angry and disappointed in what our county has become,” Stegmann declares, while Mayfield dings, “the three county commissioners running against me who’ve been in power for years.” 

Things that Make You Go Hmm: Not much out of the ordinary from the major candidates, but one of the other hopefuls, Portland Disposal & Recycling employee Joe Demers, seems to be most animated by the rising costs of living and government waste, which he pegs as a key reason for the rise in visible encampments. He finishes with a call for reform that any gamer will recognize: Are you ready payer one? 

City of Portland 

Background: There are two marquee races in the city council this season—incumbent Dan Ryan is running for his first full term, after serving out the end of council member Nick Fish’s previous term after Fish died in office. He’s facing a challenge from Equitable Giving Circle executive director AJ McCreary. And councilwoman Jo Ann Hardesty, running for her second term, has drawn two more centrist opponents who’ve been heavily critical of her tenure, administrative law judge Vadim Mozyrsky and technology business owner Rene Gonzalez. 

Endorsement Watch: Ryan’s list of backers include two of his fellow city council members (Carmen Rubio and Mingus Mapps—Mayor Ted Wheeler isn’t getting any voters’ pamphlet shout-outs, that we can see.) He’s also endorsed by the Portland Business Alliance, the Home Builders Association and a handful of local unions. McCreary’s backers skew more activist, including Sunrise Movement PDX, the youth-led climate justice initiative that’s argued against expanding freeways in Portland, though she has at least one big institutional backer in the Portland Association of Teachers. PAT and Sunrise are also backing Hardesty, as is Rubio; Mozyrsky shares many endorsers with Ryan. Gonzalez directs voters to his website for endorsements, where they will find that he has the backing of the Portland Police Association. 

On the Issues: Once again, homelessness, crime and livability take center stage. Ryan says he has been “clearing roadblocks to urgently address homelessness, community and build housing,” though it is worth noting that the six “safe rest” villages he had promised would be open by the end of last year have yet to materialize. Hardesty, meanwhile, highlights her work as an architect of Portland Street Response, a team of mental health professionals and first responders designed to respond to people in crisis, and her work on the Portland Clean Energy Fund, though the massive fund, backed by a 1 percent tax on large retailers has been notably slow to roll out and city auditors have found multiple issues with its implementation. McCreary and Mozyrsky are both light on specifics in their statements, but Gonzalez offers some more nitty-gritty, calling for “enforcement of existing laws on unsanctioned camping and RV parking,” and streamlining the permitting process for new housing.  

Shade Thrown:  Quite a bit, actually. Here’s Mozyrsky: “Our city government is failing Portlanders...I will end four years of bad policy decisions.” Gonzalez swipes at “politics devoted to special interests instead of the city and its residents,” and McCreary takes aim with this: “We’ve heard a lot of promises from the incumbent, but haven’t seen much progress.” 

Things That Make You Go Hmmm: When writing a voters’ pamphlet statement, why not seize the opportunity to quote Cat Stevens (“Where do the children play?”) like Steven B. Cox, who is also a contender for Ryan’s seat? Cox also wins our heart for listing his occupation as “full time candidate,” though he has competition from his fellow position two candidate, Chris Brummer, whose occupation is listed as “member of the working class.”  

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