Mary Volm: Why I'm Running

By Mary Volm of Portland, Oregon. Mary is a candidate for Portland City Council. Learn more at

For me, there is no more honorable calling than public service.

I know this because it has been my honor to work for both the City of Portland and the State of Oregon for the last 24 years. It has never been about feathering my own nest or pulling down the "big bucks"; it has always meant that I can go to my job every day and work to make a difference in the quality of people's lives and the character and functionality of our great city and state.

Over the past 24 years, I have been public servant, first for the State of Oregon in the offices of transportation and economic development and then for the City of Portland in several departments - Parks, Transportation, Planning, Finance and Administration, and Emergency Management, and on a variety of city-wide initiatives and projects. I have worked hard to create a sense of place here in Portland for myself, my family, friends, neighbors, and for all Portlanders.

Like many of you, Portland is my home. I was born right here in Portland to working class, hard-core democratic parents. As a high school student, I had the pleasure of meeting Tom McCall just after Senate Bill 100 was passed, creating Oregon's open beaches and protecting farm and forest land from development. Since then, I’ve continued to learn what sets Oregon apart, and that knowledge forged the passion and desire to help others recognize the same.

I have learned that by honoring the beliefs of others, the solutions become much better and serve a larger percentage of any given constituency. As a commissioner it is not always about being the smartest or most charismatic person in a room, but rather the position often requires the humility and patience needed to yield the floor to others and sit back and listen. Leadership, in my experience, is not solely about directing others, but encouraging them to step up and lead themselves.

Serving as a crisis manager, like I did during the flood of 1996, requires quick decision making, prompt delivery of public safety messages, and a calm demeanor. Conversely, when it comes to spending the public’s money, due diligence is demanded. Fiscal accountability and results-driven efforts are the benchmarks the citizens of Portland deserve.

Over the last several years, I have witnessed some our city leaders making terribly wasteful decisions with scarce tax dollars. I’ve also watched 1000’s of small businesses close their doors or move outside the City. Portland, and the whole state of Oregon, public and private sectors alike, must work together to develop a more equitable fee and tax structure and bring entrepreneurs and working people together to harness the natural and intellectual bounties within our state.

I’ve watched our city officials give lip service to the importance of maintaining the public’s multi-billion dollar investment in city’s infrastructure, without making any effort to maintain it. In fact, money earmarked for maintenance has been repeatedly raided to fund the pet projects of individual Commissioners. Attention to maintenance saves the taxpayer five times the cost to rebuild a deteriorated street or facility. As a responsible adult, you would not put a new addition on a house when the roof is leaking and the foundation is crumbling.

As someone who considered City Hall my home away from home for decades, I kept my ear to the streets, waiting and hoping for positive change and dedicated leadership. We’ve had many great leaders here in Portland who focused on important issues like the delivery of basic municipal and educational services that have an immediate impact on our way of life. I am running so that I can bring that same vision and fiscal management back to the table.

This and more is why I’m running for City Council. I am a proven leader with an exceptional track record for this city and state. I am in this race to get Portland back on track. I simply can’t bear to think my son, your kids, or even you, being saddled with the costs of our current course. The thought of having to leave our Portland home -- because there are no jobs, because it has become too expensive to live here, or because Portland has become unrecognizable to those of us who live here – these are not viable options. Join me in making Portland a better place.

Please learn more about my vision for Portland at

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    Editor's note: We're running "Why I'm Running" columns for the candidates in this city council race. Here's the one for Jesse Cornett, previously.

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    Mary, I'm an advocate for more Mandarin and study abroad programs for Oregon (especially, Portland) students. I think that in a global economy where eighty percent of economic growth will be outside the US, Portland needs to improve significantly our ability to sell our goods and services abroad. One way we can do this is to strengthen dramatically our foreign language programs and create a high school study abroad program to pay for sending students abroad. It cost no more to send a high school student abroad for an academic year than to have them in classes in Portland. PPS, or our other school districts, just needs to shift funding. I've tried to get members of the current city council to support such efforts, both with funding for summer study abroad in China programs and with resolutions to the school districts, with little success. What would you do if elected?

  • Mary Volm (unverified)

    Hi Dave,

    I have discussed this with so many others - you are right on the mark. I have also spoke with local business who are are having difficulties recruiting a locally educated work force.

    I would like to talk with you about two of my primary focuses economic recovery and cultural competency.

    During my tenure with the state of Oregon in Economic Development, we recognized the importance of the Pacific Rim in both trade and business development. I developed a video that was translated into four Asian languages to attract new business to this state. I also had a significant hand in attracting a Japanese TV Show "From Oregon With Love" that resulted in new business for this region from Japan.

    Portland is in a perfect position, but we must increase our language skills (particularly Mandarin, our cultural competency and our higher education system to be able to truly compete in the international market.

    Thank you for your concern about Portland's future.

    Mary Volm

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    I'm curious about what people mean exactly, when they say, "adding Mandarin to the curriculum". Does that mean adding Mandarin as a language option, like the others, or does it mean also reforming language education so that it's practical, not like you would teach future UN translators? Also, shouldn't we have criteria for making new language skills training available? How important is Spanish relative to Mandarin? How important is French anymore? Hindi? Ebonics?

    My stock question for council candidates is about Parks. I'll leave it open ended. Do you have any major thoughts about changes to Parks and Recreation? New visions? Pet peeves?

  • ElGordo (unverified)

    Mary - I've heard rumors that you favor implementing a bicycle tax to help cover the cost of bicycle infrastructure.

    1) Is it true that you would support such a tax?

    2) If so, what method do you propose to collect the tax?

  • A Blue Oregon Regular (unverified)

    I'm tired of candidate statements that consist almost entirely of sentences that start with the word "I."

    What do the candidates think of their constituents' circumstances and concerns? What policies do they find reasonable, and why?

    This too-frequent use of martyr resumes and name-dropping ("I once stood next to so-and-so") is a big turn-off for me.

    Nothing personal, Mary Volm; a lot of candidates do it. But gees. Someone talk to these people before they publish another "me me me" bio, okay?

  • Mary Volm (unverified)

    Dear Blue Oregon Regular:

    There are many candidates and electeds that talk about what they will do. Without real experience, I believe it is truly wishful thinking.

    Yes, I have done quite a bit in my 55 years of life, 24 of which have been in public service. If you want to hear what you want to hear, please vote for someone else.

    If you want someone who has fought on the inside to make things better, then talk with me. I have have the grand opportunity through my various positions of trying to get those elected to public office to listen to what the people want. That's what my job has been for the last 24 years.

    Let's bring people back into the process.

    Mary Volm

  • rw (unverified)

    Hey Zara, when you gonna name some truly relevant languages like Lakota/Dakota/Nakoda, Dine, Cherokee? Those are some big Nations, there, with languages alive and thriving. And relevant! Add some indigenous national in there for zest, willya?

  • rw (unverified)

    Cherokee shoulda be Tsalagi.

  • Mary Volm (unverified)

    Two other questions have been posed. Happy to address both.

    Bikes and Taxes

    I believe it would buy so much trust, support and actually reduce Driver vs. Bicyclist anger and road rage if bicyclists registered for a very nominal fee. The fee would provide the bicyclist with a headlight and tail reflector every two years. Also, it would automatically register the bike frame's serial number to lower bike theft.

    The system I envision would also allow the city to directly communicate with cyclists about changes in the law or city code, provide updated information directly into the hands of cyclists and, most importantly, cyclists could beat back the argument that they do not pay anything for the striping, improvements and other auxiliary costs PBOT spends to encourage more cycling.

    In 1993, we I worked for transportation, I created BikeFest, which drew 10,000 people a year to the Burnside Bridge to look at bikes, rain gear and anything else they may need to actually consider using the bicycle as a mode of transportation. One trip a week is what I spoke about - dust off your bicycle and use it to get a quart of milk or visit a friend, or even go to work.

    We needed to reduce air pollution to get Federal funds to improve our roads. We are finally in compliance and have our Federal share of transportation dollars. It has worked and now, with limited resources, PBOT spends much more on bike infrastructure than it did in 1993.

    Parks and Recreation

    I - (sorry to the person that doesn't want anything to start with I) believe our Parks system is in dire need of maintenance resources. Third largest desecration dollars, behind Police and Fire, for general fund support, our parks, or lack thereof in various parts of the city, are in desperate need of our collective attention. A new Park levy, as well as maintenance support is very much needed. Otherwise, to bring our parks back to what we once enjoyed, will be a very expensive legacy we leave our children.

    Recreation is far behind the times. They have exactly the same offerings they did 20 years ago, with the exception of a few new offerings-- a hip-hop class here or there. We must modernize our recreational system to keep pace with today and tomorrow. Let's take a fresh look and make sure our youth, seniors, families and individuals are being served.

    Thanks for the Questions,

    Mary Volm

  • rw (unverified)

    be should be been. ugh. to bed. without delay.

    g'night. but: kinda serious in the question tho characteristically irrelevant -- what causes a language to be considered worth the effort?

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Thanks, Mary!

    good points, rw. Your last question was what I was getting at. Rather than a warm fuzzy feel that a language is important, it would be nice to create a kind of calculus for rating the potential worth of learning a particular one.

    That said, I'm totally with Wittgenstein, that to imagine a language is to imagine a form of life. The more language learning the more it cannot help but make the world a more civil place.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)

    Okay, where do you stand on sports corporate welfare?

    Bob Tiernan Portland

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