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Four more years of Fritz


City commissioner vows to care for and connect with her constituents

While for many Portlanders January may mark a new beginning, for Amanda Fritz, it’s the start of more of the same. by: DREW DAKESSIAN - Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

Having defeated state Rep. Mary Nolan in a runoff Nov. 6, this month Fritz is starting her second term as city commissioner.

The trajectory of Fritz’s life was set in motion at age 12, when she stumbled upon her mother’s copy of the American Red Cross First Aid Handbook and was inspired to pursue a career in nursing. As a teenager, Fritz won admission to Cambridge University, an impressive feat in view of the fact that at the time only 15 percent of students were women from neighborhood high schools.

Fritz met her husband, Steve, in 1977 while they were working at a New Jersey Salvation Army children’s summer camp. Two years later, after leaving Cambridge with her bachelor’s and master’s degrees under her belt, Fritz emigrated from England to Pittsburgh. While living there, she put her husband through medical school as she attended nursing school at the now-defunct St. Francis Medical Center.

The Fritzes moved across the country to Oregon in 1986 while Amanda was seven months pregnant with their first son, Luke. Over the years, the family put down permanent roots in West Portland Park, and their brood grew to include son Maxwell and daughter Alessandra.

Fritz spent two decades as a registered nurse in inpatient psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University. While at OHSU, Fritz served as a union steward for the Oregon Nurses Association. She also was a member of the Portland Planning Commission from 1996 to 2003 and survived a two-month nurses strike in 2001 and 2002. It was this experience that reaffirmed her commitment to politics for the benefit of the working class, and of working mothers in particular.

Fritz first sought election to the Portland City Council in 2006, becoming the first candidate to qualify for Portland’s Public Campaign Finance Fund.

Despite considerable public support for her groundbreaking campaign, Fritz lost her primary race to incumbent Dan Saltzman.

In 2008, Fritz once again ran for city commissioner. This time she won, filling the seat vacated by then mayoral candidate Sam Adams: Commissioner of Utilities, District Number 1 and working on the Office of Equity and Human Rights, Bureau of Emergency Communications, Office of Healthy Working Rivers and Office of Neighborhood Involvement.

Now, she begins her second — and last — term.

“I will not be running for re-election,” Fritz says. “That will make sure that I focus on what we can get done in four years.”

Her to-do list includes implementing a 3-1-1 customer service call center that would centralize citizen requests and responses.

“In four years, we should be able to have a single number for anything other than emergencies that needs taken care of,” she says. “So, 3-1-1, if you wanted to pay your water bill, you don’t get transferred to the water bureau; you could actually do that right then and there.”

Other ongoing projects deal with an issue close to Fritz’s heart: health care.

“In the city, we do a lot of supportive care, in the city we provide housing, we do police, we do welfare checks, we have firefighters who respond to medical emergencies. So even though people don’t necessarily think of the city as being part of the health care system, we provide a lot of health care services.”

However, in Fritz’s opinion, there is still room there for reform.

“We’re spending too much to not provide enough care. … If we can make the system work better, it will work not only so that people who need services can get them, but for all taxpayers so that we’re not wasting as much money,” she says. “If people don’t have (insurance) coverage, then they’re paying out of pocket, becoming homeless and then that is challenging for the city system. So it really is all connected. … It’s become very clear how the city, the county, the health care system interface and how we can be much more collaborative in how we provide our jobs, how we provide services.”

Fritz hearkens back to her time as a psychiatric nurse when she says with pride that the city is currently in the process of approving a Department of Justice settlement that will revise how Portland’s police “take care of mental illness in the community.”

In many ways, Fritz’s past as a nurse is still very much her present.

“Part of my job, actually just like being a nurse, is to give injections and to do things that sometimes hurt, and yet for the long term, for the good of the patient and of the city, sometimes you have to do things that are unpopular," she says. “Nurses think about the whole system rather than just the identified patient, and we think about the long-term good, and we do a lot of planning and evaluating. You give the medication and you don’t just assume it’s worked; you go back and say, is your headache better? And if it isn’t, you do something in addition. That’s what I have pushed for over these four years and will continue to do so. Let’s do something, but then let’s make sure we get the report back to council.”