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No trash talk during mayoral environment debate

PHOTO FOR THE TRIBUNE: ADAM WICKHAM - Oregon State Treasurer makes a point during Thursdays mayoral candidates debate on the environment at Benson Polytechnic High School.Except for a disrupter who jumped on stage to take over the discussion early on, Thursday evening’s mayoral candidates debate on the environment was a virtual lovefest.

The headlining candidates — Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey, Portland State University urban planner Sarah Iannarone and Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler — earned the right to be at the Benson Polytechnic High School debate by raising more than $10,000 in campaign donations by Feb. 25.

That rule was not acceptable to one in the audience. A woman with platinum hair attempted to occupy the debate, at one point struggling over the microphone with moderator Steve Law, Sustainable Life editor at Pamplin Media Group.

“There are six candidates here,” she said from the stage. “We should not be hearing from only three of them.”

The audience shouted her down, however, and she eventually left the stage after urging from mayoral candidate Jessie Sponberg.

Reaching to the east

The candidates mostly agreed with each other on the issues, trying to distinguish themselves by claiming even more green bona fides than their counterparts.

Iannarone, who has never run for office before, tried to cast herself as an outsider who can bring real change to the city.

“The master’s fools will never dismantle the master’s house,” she said. “We don’t need more environmental policy created by a small group of political elites.”

Wheeler came off as the most detailed of the trio, speaking very fast during his allotted 90 seconds to answer and occasionally going over time.

The state treasurer also often name-dropped or offered suggestions from other parts of the world. For example, he wants to bring New York City’s style of participatory budgeting and Copenhagen, Denmark’s riverfront swimming facility to Portland.

“We’re no longer People of the River, we’re people adjacent to the river,” he said.

The three candidates also felt that reaching out to communities of color and the eastern edges of Portland was key to ensuring the entire city was taken care of.

Bailey harkened back to the 1948 Vanport floods that washed away a mostly African-American neighborhood and urged the city to fund upgrades in low-income areas to prepare.

“We’re going to see more natural disasters as climate change takes effect,” Bailey said.

Regional air quality authority

The debate was put together by 13 organizations, including the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club, and panelists from the Audubon Society, the Coalition of Communities of Color and the Oregon Environmental Council.

Iannarone wanted to “make sure that we’re listening to the community. That we are listening to what they want instead of what we think they need.”

Perhaps because of this philosophy, Iannarone offered little in the way of specifics, often posing questions in her responses or offering ideas to consider rather than stating proposals.

For example, in response to a question about the recent air quality concerns beginning in Southeast Portland near where she lives, Iannarone asked: “Do we need a regional airshed monitoring group?” She suggested looking for citizen partnerships and ensuring the collection of data.

Bailey championed his idea of a Portland-wide regional air quality authority in order to alleviate growing concerns over the city’s air quality and the lack of state intervention in diesel and small industrial fumes.

Wheeler was direct. “Oregon DEQ let us down,” he said. “They are good people but when it came to sharing info, being transparent, they absolutely let us down.”

He floated the idea of a penalty structure for local polluters: “It’s very important that we get this right. This is a matter of life or death.”

Bikes, greenways and economics

The three candidates also pledged to decline donations from big polluters and catered to the cyclist community. Wheeler wants to focus on bicycle greenways with microparks to improve the transportation infrastructure across the city.

“Jobs are ending up on one side of the region and affordable housing is ending up on the other side of the region,” he complained.

Bailey said Portland is losing its status as the greenest city in America and needs to get it back.

“We have a system built for cars that bikes have been shoe-horned into,” he said.

But Iannarone called out that the mayor of Portland has little power to do much on his or her own about major transportation solutions. She also said east of 82nd Avenue is an “automobile nightmare.”

During the “lightning round,” the candidates were asked to briefly summarize their primary goal for Portland.

Iannarone initially stated she didn’t know, then followed up later with “suburban retrofit,” claiming Portland could become a world leader if it can figure out a good way to revamp the suburbs to be more sustainable.

Bailey reiterated his plan for a regional air quality authority.

Wheeler? He said six words: “World leader. Green Economy. Hell yeah.”


Shasta Kearns Moore
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