We all can see with our own eyes that Portland’s motto, “The City That Works,” rings hollow. Our current dysfunction is rooted in an outdated government structure—the “commission” form wherein each member of city council directly oversees different bureaus and services—that has not been changed in over 100 years. Our population has tripled in size since then, yet we still only have 5 members of city council and the overwhelming majority have been white men from a small handful of inner neighborhoods.
We are now, in 2022, on the precipice of finally doing away with our outdated and broken city government. Portlanders have voted 7 times in the past hundred years on measures to change our city government — and all of those measures have failed. Luckily, the all-volunteer Charter Review Commission appointed by our city council in 2020 referred Measure 26-228 to voters this Fall. Measure 26-228 is the comprehensive change that our communities need – not just a long-overdue scrapping of our commission form of government, but an elections system that promises to give every community a fair shot.
Portland’s leading Black organizations and entrepreneurs have all declared their support for Measure 26-228. From the Urban League of Portland to the NAACP Portland Branch and Imagine Black, we know that ranked choice voting, city council districts, and professional city management means more of us will have a voice in shaping the future of our city. Black small-business owners have given a full-throated endorsement of Measure 26-228 because our current tangle of city bureaus is unworkable and therefore unsupportive of BIPOC entrepreneurs.
Those who are opposing Measure 26-228 are a much smaller and far less representative group than the coalition of more than 100 civic organizations, labor unions, neighborhood groups, political science professors, and small business owners who support it. Most of the opposition are those who have run and benefitted from our current form of government, and stand to benefit from the status quo. The same players who are famously full of promises yet slow to deliver any real change are telling voters to wait and continue to suffer our present dysfunction.
We are closer than ever before to achieving the vision of a more just, equitable, representative local government.
The 25% of our city’s population who are a part of a growing community of color need consistent, meaningful representation in the decisions our leaders make. As Biden inaugural poet Amanda Gorman said, “the norms and notions of what ‘just is’ isn't always justice.” It’s time to leave the status quo behind, come together, and vote “yes” on Measure 26-228 to build the just future we all deserve.
Sharon Gary-Smith, President, NAACP Portland Branch 1120; Stephen Green, entrepreneur; Marcus C. Mundy, Executive Director, the Coalition of Communities of Color