By Jerome Brooks of Houston, Texas. Jerome calls himself "a forward thinking policy wonk with a body across the country and a mind and heart still in Portland."
Growing up in rural Mississippi and Alabama, I've always been cognizant of the ideology that politicians can only be trusted as far as your campaign contribution carries them. Add to that, a molding of sorts, in the belly of the the DC political system and it's safe to assume that politics has always left me jaded. Now don't get me wrong, politics has always been something I've been interested in as a necessary means to a public service end. However, it was something that I always felt I had to be abrasive in negotiation, distrusting of people in general, and willing to do "whatever was necessary" to get my way. Needless to say, it didn't make for a very pleasant outlook on society in general.
Fast forward four years to April 2010 and I found myself debating where I would spend my summer. I had offers all across the country, ranging from spending the summer working on the Immigration Law Project with the ACLU in San Francisco, to working for the world renowned Greenberg Quinlan Rosner in Washington, DC. All of the options on the table had the potential to catapult my career to where I'd always wanted it to be, but there was one that stood out for all of the wrong reasons. When I say all of the wrong reasons, I speak from the perspective that if there is not a clear end goal, then it's not worth your time. I was offered a spot as a Summer Fellow with the Oregon Bus Project. While I had never heard of the organization, nor had I ever thought about working in the Pacific NW, something about it called out to me. I'm a person who operates a lot based on gut feeling and discernment. I thought about it for all of a day and made the decision that I would turn down financial and career perks for an unknown that I had a great feeling about.
Fast forward to the middle of my summer with PolitiCorps. Having never been in the Pacific NW almost everything proved to be an absolute culture shock. I enjoyed myself from day one, but my viewpoints, comfort zone, and way of operating had all been continuously challenged from day one too.
Enter Jefferson Smith.
I'd seen Jefferson here and there, but hadn't really had a chance to connect with him because he was in the middle of a million and one things. However a random experience in Hillsboro turned negative brought us together. I was having somewhat of a hard time adjusting and really needed someone to hash things out with. I was passing Jeff on the stairs one day and he asked me a simple question "Hey, are you alright?". My response was a meager "I'm fine", fully knowing that I really wasn't; I just knew he was an extremely busy, extremely important person. Jeff saw right through that and directed me to set up a meeting for the next morning so we could sit down and talk. Over a very delicious breakfast at the Cadillac Cafe, I laid it all on the table - hopes, insecurities, fears, judgement, etc. In the most bare form of myself, I made one statement - "I just don't get it". In turn Jeff did the same, but also did a lot more. He met me where I was at and walked with me through a lot of different things providing insight and advice at every step. At the end of our morning journey, which felt like a lifetime of processing, I was alright. I was grounded and focused, ready to both give everything I had and benefit from the opportunity before me.
Since then I've been all across the country, from working for Rahm Emanuel in Chicago to working for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in Houston, TX. I've had years of experience in the political/government affairs arena that provides me with a wealth of knowledge on how to get things done. Yet, out of all of the things I've experienced, Jeff has taught me the most. When he says "Not left, not right, but forward", I see an ideology that will ensure that regular people needing representatives to be servant leaders rather than political actors will get the resources needed to be successful. When he says "The definition of priceless is 'worth a lot, not for sale'", I see a statesman whose only reason for serving in an elected capacity is because he knows that he has something to bring to the table that will benefit his constituency. I see a humble leader who is willing to admit that he doesn't know the answer, but will also put in the time to find out what that answer should be. He is a leader that has inspired hundreds of young politicos to not only serve, but serve in a way that bucks the traditional system of governance. We no longer have to bend or bow to the politics of service because we know that the most powerful special interest group is the people we wish to serve.
I'm proud to consider Jefferson Smith a friend and mentor. I am also proud of the way he has decided to run this race to be the next Mayor of Portland. You can tell a person anything, but your actions are the true testament of your heart. Jeff is the perfect mayoral candidate at the perfect time for Portland. We must not play trial and error with the values and future of Portland, because Portland deserves more. When the next Mayor of Portland acts, he must act with the integrity and deliberate intent that many of the issues in Portland require. When he acts, he must not only act in response to the issues at hand, but also in response to the need long past due.