Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling (right). Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

Phil: After 72 percent of Portland voters voted to open up the charter, you said Portland “needs a James Madison” to shepherd it through the next Charter Commission. The election of charter commissioners is 10 days away, what do you see ahead?

Ethan: I would now say James Madison is looking more diverse than ever. I’ve never been so excited about the possibility of fundamental change in an election. 

Phil: Opening your charter is similar to a constitutional convention, an opportunity for either mess or transformative change. We all saw what happened last time when Portland tried to cut the baby in half by having both a city manager and a mayor.

Ethan: The big difference between then and now, is that this election is not sleepy. Last time, people wanted an elected mayor, but because commission candidates were not as clear with voters as they should have been on how strong that mayor should be, we got the mess you mentioned. This time, voters are demanding that candidates make clear where they stand.

Phil: I don’t think I have ever seen so many groups engaged in something as esoteric as a charter commission election. At last count, I saw “scorecards” and “candidate surveys” from Fair Elections Portland, Equity in Portland Schools, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, Portland Democrats, Portland Housing Coalition and your group, People First Charter.

Ethan: As I said, this election is not sleepy. Of those groups you mention, as I see it, the chamber is basically on one side and the rest are on the other. 

Phil: So how do you see the election playing out on June 8?

Ethan: The magic number is six. Those who want to protect the status quo and those who want a strong mayor are fighting hard for the six votes needed to get a majority on the commission.

Phil: Why has this become so ideological? Good government seems like it should be more nonpartisan.

Ethan: I agree, however this election is not about Republican versus Democrat. It’s about change versus status quo. There is a small, vocal and powerful force fighting to keep the city manager in charge. 

Phil: From my view, Portland needs a strong elected mayor, accountable to voters. Not a hybrid model in which voters think one person is in charge, and the council thinks it’s someone else.

Ethan: For once in my life, I wish you were a Portland voter.

Phil: You said the magic number was winning six seats. Give us your best analysis of who stands where.

Ethan: Full transparency, I volunteer with People First Charter, which supports a slate of candidates and I personally made a contribution to Marcques Houston. However, the close-to-consensus among progressives seems to be Zack Barowitz over Brian Batson in District 3, Houston over Cheryl Leeman in District 4, Ryan Lizanecz over Mony Hang in District 5 (Lizanecz was endorsed by 2 groups the others by 3 groups) and Shay Stewart-Bouley over all comers in District 1 (endorsed by three). District two only has one candidate running.

Phil: You said each side needs six. It’s going to be hard to achieve with only the five races you mention.

Ethan: So observant and correct. There are four at-large races, too, with 10 people running: William Bailey, Marpheen Chan, Steve DiMillo and Ian Housel can be seen as status quo candidates as they got the highest scores from the Chamber of Commerce. Pat Washburn, Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef, Anthony Emerson and Catherine Buxton can be viewed as change agents, with Ben Grant and Lawson Condry more inclined to the latter camp.

Phil: For the record, my previous charter commission election analysis has proven impeccable, predicting last spring that the charter would be reopened.

Ethan: Yes, and mine was less than stellar in that election. Although I did hand you a considerable defeat on the referendums in the fall.

Phil: Even I was surprised by the liberal outcome of that election. I predict that DiMillo wins one at-large seat (his family is so well respected), with Grant, Washburn and Sheikh-Yousef winning the others. Progressives take District 1 and District 3 (Stewart-Bouley and Barowitz), but Hang wins District 5. That brings it down to Leeman versus Houston in determining the outcome: manager or mayor, respectively.

Ethan: I hope the choice is clear for voters. Portland needs change.