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Support building for new form of government as Portland City Council adds diversity

With the addition of Mingus Mapps, commissioners could be poised to reform the city's archaic form of government.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The historically stable and mostly unchanged Portland City Council will look quite different in January 2021, as the most diverse set of commissioners ever will enter City Hall.

Mayor Ted Wheeler is set to remain at the helm of city council, winning a decisive reelection this week. He'll be alongside a couple of current commissioners: Jo Ann Hardesty, who was elected in 2018, and Dan Ryan, who was elected following a runoff in August.

They'll be joined by a couple of newcomers, including Carmen Rubio who won Amanda Fritz's seat in a May 2020 primary handily and didn't have to go to a runoff. Fritz is retiring after 12 years in council.

Mingus Mapps will also join the group after a decisive victory against incumbent Chloe Eudaly.

The new makeup of the council would make Wheeler the only straight white man among his colleagues; Ryan is openly gay, Hardesty and Mapps are black and Rubio is Latinx.

Though it's unknown what the newcomers will bring to the table or how exactly they'll vote, both Mapps and Ryan have voiced their support to change Portland's commission form of government, featuring a "weak mayor" system. Portland is the last major American city with that form of government, one that has been hotly debated for years. 

It's unknown what the city's new form of government could become, but the City Club of Portland has suggested appointing a non-political city manager, and doubling the number of city commissioners based off geographical districts.

Mapps and Ryan have voiced their support for a new form of government, as has Hardesty, who in 2018 campaigned on reforming it. And during her campaign, Rubio strongly advocated for a change in Portland's form of government.

"As this pandemic hits, we are feeling the impacts differently. We will be stronger, and we will have deeper understanding if our residents know exactly what commissioner they can go to for that focused attention," she said. 

Mayor Wheeler has said in the past he would like to see Portlanders vote for a new style of governance, rather than the council voting on it.

“The reality is Portland is the only large city in the country that still uses this form of government,” he said. “I almost feel at times like we’re overcoming the form of government rather than being advanced by the form of government.”

Beyond the new format of city government, it's unknown what bureaus will be assigned to the new commissioners, or what their priorities will be once they're in office.

Rubio's campaign focused on housing affordability, making sure every person has a place to call home and taking care of working families struggling during the pandemic.

Meanwhile Mapps, who received an endorsement from the Portland Police Association alongside a $15,000 donation, said the endorsement would not keep him from pushing for reform within the Portland police. 

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