Like most of us, Sarah Iannarone thinks Portland is underachieving. But unlike most people, Iannarone has decided to something about it. Something big. She’s running for mayor.
“I think we need to un-congest downtown and do it quickly.”
— Sarah Iannarone, candidate for Portland mayor
Today in City Hall Iannarone, the first woman candidate to enter the race, made her candidacy official and then gave her first campaign speech. The speech hit many of the notes we always hear at candidacy announcements. As you might expect, Iannarone loves Portland (would anyone who doesn’t love Portland ever run for office?) and wants to seek “home-grown solutions” and “build partnerships” with “innovation” and “collaboration” to make it even better. But in her four-minute speech and in a brief conversation I had with her afterward, she shared the outlines of an approach that could be decidedly different than business as usual — especially on the transportation reform front.
Iannarone spoke about several problems she plans to tackle as mayor: Homelessness, affordable housing, transportation, a divided populace, and our form of government. The fact that transportation made it onto that short list could have something to do with the fact that Iannarone is nearing completion of her doctorate degree from the Nohad A. Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University.
“Thousands of people are moving to Portland every month,” she said. “Right in the middle of an affordable housing crisis… Traffic is snarled. And that plan to fix all the potholes in town? That got run off the road east of 82nd Avenue.”
Iannarone said she wants to solve these problems “The Portland way,” but then hinted that that “way” might need an update. “I believe Portland is a city on the brink of global greatness,” she said, “but we’re hog-tied in many ways by outdated local practices and business as usual. Our commissioner form of government is the only one in the United States for a reason. Within it, it’s tough to be effective and efficient.”
Iannarone didn’t say she wanted to abolish our “weak-mayor” system. Instead she promised to make Portland a “smarter city from day one.” “We are going to have the same culture inside city hall that drives our start-ups: open-mindedness, optimism, and experimentation. Because being a smart city means more than using technology. It means re-learning how to work together to get things done.”
After her prepared remarks I asked Iannarone a few questions.
I’m curious about her connection to current Mayor Charlie Hales — both in terms of her approach to the job and how it might impact her chances. Iannarone works with Nancy Hales at First Stop Portland and it had been reported that Hales encouraged her to run. (Also of note: Iannarone’s campaign manager Sara Bott was Hales’ re-election campaign manager before he dropped out.) Iannarone said she told Hales she wanted to run and he was supportive and didn’t discourage her. One thing she wanted to make clear: “He did not recruit me.”
I then asked: Will you look to continue Mayor Charlie Hales’ legacy or differentiate yourself from him? Here’s her response:
“I’m about good ideas. If there is a policy or initiative that Hales started that I think is good for the city, why would I stop them just to differentiate myself from him? That’s not reasonable or good stewardship of our time and resources. If there are things that need to happen that haven’t, then of course I’ll do them. If there are things that he did that are wrong, then I will try and reverse them.. based on the mandate from city hall and what we can pull together as a city.”
Many transportation reformers don’t think Hales has gone far enough. I asked Iannarone about his record on that and about her views on the issue in general:
“One of the biggest problems we face right now is a lack of belief that government can do what people want it to do. I don’t think people didn’t support the street fee because they don’t want good streets. It was a matter of how the issue was framed and how consensus was built around the city. My background is in understanding how transportation systems contribute to both vitality and economic health of the region. I’m going to focus, on Vision Zero of course, but also… how do make the changes we need to make fast; but also work incrementally so we continue to grow our non-carbon future? I think that alternative transportation, electric vehicles, stopping all these idling internal combustion engines downtown at all times throughout the day… I think we need to un-congest downtown and do it quickly.”
As to how we might “un-congest,” Iannarone said “fine tools” exist, especially in regards to parking policy, and that she’d be happy to share more details later.
For a woman whose job it is to showcase Portland’s urban planning successes, Iannarone (thankfully) didn’t spend time patting Portland on the back. She seems to have a good balance of appreciation and respect for what Portland is and an urgency to see it become what it needs to become. “This is no time for complacency or resting on laurels,” she said. “The problems we face are not for the faint of heart. We must step up, think big, and get excited, again, about making Portland the extraordinary place we know it can be.”
More coverage: Sarah Iannarone enters Portland mayoral race ‘to win it’ (The Oregonian); Sarah Iannarone, Portland’s Latest Mayoral Contender, Says She’ll Have the Resources To Win (The Portland Mercury)
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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