I’m paying close attention to the Portland Mayor’s race, and I hope you will, too. The election is in May. I’m voting for Jefferson Smith.
Jefferson was endorsed by the Portland Association of Teachers last week.
It’s great news for Jefferson, his campaign team, and the more than 1000 volunteers working to get him elected Mayor.
To me, this endorsement is especially gratifying coming from teachers. I know a lot of public school teachers. They are especially bright people, who could have chosen any number of career paths. They chose to teach, because they want to make a difference in the lives of others. It is tough work, a test of endurance for the spirit, and the rewards we give teachers don’t begin to compensate for what they do for us.
I imagine, when evaluating candidates, teachers look for and recognize a similar level of dedication to making a positive difference in our community. You can’t fake this kind of dedication, and you can’t buy it. I think it’s deserved and great that Jefferson is recognized for his track record, his principles and his heart. (By the way, you can see the evidence of Jefferson’s commitment to the public interest in detail by reviewing the candidates’ answers to questionnaires from a large number of organizations, courtesy of the Willamette Week).
We are stronger together than we are divided, and I appreciate Jefferson’s understanding of the role that organized labor has played in elevating the standard of living for everyone. Labor gave us the 40 hour work week and the weekend, and they are the most active force today fighting for health care for everyone. Our society is strong enough and wealthy enough to insist upon a decent social safety net for everyone—education, health care, housing, clean water, heat. We can make progress on these basic but vital standards if we are able to renew the bond of trust between government and the people that it must serve.
Of course, renewing this trust will not be easy, but it is possible, and it should be the goal of our work in politics and in civic life. As Jefferson points out on the campaign trail, “A Mayor can’t do it alone, but a Mayor can help.”
A Mayor can help by being a skilled leader who can get things done. To earn endorsements from organizations like PAT and AFSCME—sophisticated stakeholders in a complex political environment—it’s not enough that a candidate is dedicated and their heart is in the right place. Of course, groups like these also evaluate candidates on their ability to deliver results.
In looking at Jefferson’s record as a state legislator representing East Portland, they found a record of accomplishment. In a tough climate, with unions under attack around the country by wealthy arch-conservatives, Jefferson worked with his colleagues in the legislature to find ways to avoid laying off thousands of teachers, eliminating services to seniors, and cutting off thousands of Oregonians from basic access to health care.
He did this by being part of the team that worked to pass Measures 66 & 67—this was a hard fight and a tough campaign, and Jefferson put in the work as part of that team. Those measures—which ask the wealthy and large corporations to pay a little more—solved about a third of Oregon’s huge budget gap at the time.
Cuts also had to be made. Jefferson worked to find a better way to make cuts, by ensuring that the State of Oregon prioritizes preserving direct services to the public. He did this by working with labor, and they got good results: a bill that focused on span of control in state agencies—the ratio of managers to front line workers—and established benchmarks in line with prevailing views of organizational efficiency and productivity. Jefferson has also called for the review of large consulting contracts, to make sure that we spend the limited revenues that we have as effectively as possible.
This is the essence of good leadership and good management: the courage to take public stands in the public interest, and the follow-through to honor and exceed your commitments; the understanding of organizational dynamics, managerial skill, and fundamental respect for the people who do the work. The City of Portland is an organization of over 5,000 employees, serving a population approaching 600,000 people. The race for Mayor should not be a marketing contest, an auction, or an exercise in taking pot shots at the organization and the employees that you say you want to lead. Jefferson not only understands that leadership is a tougher, better path, he knows that path well, and has developed real expertise as a leader who can motivate large groups of people and large organizations to be effective, efficient, and enthusiastic.
Jefferson knows how to build talented and agile organizations that do what they set out to do. Jefferson brings out the best in people. He’s comfortable in a range of roles, from a three person team working on a complex and nuanced public policy challenge, to 3,000 people committed to tackling the biggest problems facing our city.
As Jefferson often says, how we campaign sets the stage of for how we govern. The work of thousands of people that constitutes Jefferson’s campaign can transition into a style of leadership and governance at City Hall that helps us renew bonds of trust between Portland citizens and its city government—or establishes them for the first time where they have never existed before. You can be a part of making this happen.
I hope you will join me and thousands of other dedicated citizen volunteers, teachers and city employees in supporting Jefferson Smith as the next Mayor of Portland.