As an undergraduate student at Pacific University, my political science mentor was Oregon's iconic pundit Russ Dondero. With 25 years as founder/coordinator of the McCall Forum, Professor Dondero has hosted national political figures on all sides of the political spectrum. His career as a teacher and advocate underscores the value of civil discourse as foundational for trust based politics.
If you asked him today, as I have, you'll find that the campaign Jefferson Smith is running for Portland mayor parallels the type of coalition Robert Kennedy built in 1968 in his race for the presidency in that tumultuous and tragic year (Dondero, a Forest Grove resident, has not endorsed in this race). Smith has brought the police together with the protestors, and put together a rainbow coalition that would have made Kennedy (or Jesse Jackson for that matter) proud.
The recent decision by the Portland Police Association (PPA), the police union, to endorse Smith has caught some by surprise. After all, Smith has been on record supporting the goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement and was the only candidate for mayor critical of the effort to remove protestors from downtown Portland last fall. Some, myself included (and a Smith supporter), have been openly critical of the PPA for their efforts to fight reform of the Portland Police Bureau and to protect officers clearly guilty of wrong doing. What makes for this election year marriage?
First, I agree 100% with Smith - and always have - that the majority of those who serve on the force are capable and dedicated people who love this city. In the words of the Occupy movement, the police are the 99%. The PPA finds common cause with Smith's record of fighting for public employees, working to address social issues like human trafficking, his courage in publicly championing the passage of Measures 66/67 (which protected public safety, education and human services) while others hid on the sidelines, and in his ability to bring diverse people together to tackle tough issues. With Smith as mayor, I believe that the changes pushed for by groups like the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, reforms I strongly back, have a better chance of becoming reality.
We do need change in this city as it relates to the Portland Police. No question about it. We also need reconciliation. Too many people have lost faith in the Portland Police and that hinders public safety on so many levels. We've heard too many African-American Portlanders talk about their fears regarding the police and how Portlanders are afraid to call the police because of shootings. But there is another reality. Police are better trained today because of the efforts of advocates and the courage of many officers to push for better educational opportunities that enhance their service. There are countless stories of police going above and beyond the call of duty to help someone facing mental illness, homelessness, or domestic violence.
Smith's relationships will make the work of reconciliation easier because as a candidate he has worked to lay the foundation for a united city that is focused on solving the big problems of inequity, economic opportunity, public safety, and housing. He knows this work cannot be accomplished alone. It will take people of differing views coming together. Teachers, bike advocates, fire fighters, union leaders, and even the Green Party all agree with the PPA that Smith will make the best mayor. That's diversity.
Change won't come easy to the police or the city as a whole but I'm confident, however, that when he assumes the office of mayor Jefferson Smith's core progressive values will drive the debate and set an agenda that moves us forward in substantial ways. He won't be beholden to the downtown business community or a single special interest but committed to making Portland better with the help of a diverse coalition of Portlanders devoted to the common good.
Endorsements made by Rev. Currie are his own and do not represent the views of the United Church of Christ’s national offices in Cleveland or any local UCC congregation.