Eric Zimmerman is running for Multnomah County commissioner in District 1. Here are his responses to Street Roots' 2016 general-election questionnaire. (Read other candidate responses.)
1. By nearly every metric, people of color are overrepresented throughout the criminal justice system. What are you going to do to correct that?
I am deeply concerned about the disparate treatment that people of color receive in our criminal justice system, both in terms of arrests and prosecutions, as well as treatment while incarcerated. The recent audits showing how African-Americans in county jails are disproportionately subject to use of force by staff should be a wake-up call to this community. I support the recent decision by county prosecutors to move away from pursuing felony drug charges, a crime that has been used to target and incarcerate people of color in this community, particularly African-American males. We need to do more. We must work with county staff – both our criminal justice workers and those across county programs – to offer more training in cultural competency. We need to move forward with full implementation of Ban the Box to give those who have been through the justice system a better chance to get their life back on track. We need to do a better job adding diversity to the county’s workforce to better reflect the community we serve, and that includes our criminal justice employees. And we need to pull out a seat and invite communities of color to the table when it comes to county decision making. I am committed to running a transparent, accountable county commission and addressing racial inequities is a cornerstone of that commitment to the community.
FURTHER READING: Eric Zimmerman takes Street Roots' pop quiz
2. Across the county, there is a massive imbalance of resources for people in need, with services concentrated in Portland. How do you see the county’s role in getting its various municipalities to step up with dedicated resources to what is a regional need?
Multnomah County faces the challenge of balancing the needs of a major modern city with the abilities of East County’s smaller municipalities to serve local needs. The truth is we need to effectively serve people regardless of what part of the county they live in. There are clear unmet needs in East county. It will be vital for us on the County Commission to work with local leaders to identify how we can expand services and cover gaps in the system. I am proud to be supported by Multnomah County Commissioner Diane McKeel and other leaders from East County. I’ve worked with them on county issues, and I want to use that experience to take on the challenge of better helping people in need.
3. According to county statistics, ambulances responded to more than a dozen opiate overdoses each week in 2014, prompting steps to limit dosing. But one OHSU doctor even said, “We cannot emphasize enough the importance of expanding addiction treatment as well. We cannot decrease the access to opioids without having effective treatments available to patients.” What are you going to do to curb opiate deaths and addiction?
I’ve seen firsthand in my family that dosing policies alone aren’t enough. Addictions treatment capacity must grow in our community, and I support funding that places programs in the community, in community organizations, with specific models for different populations. No one-size-fits-all model works. I find the work of CODA and others to be promising, and they are in the trenches on critical work. I envision addictions treatment access in nearly every level of county health and human services. The earlier we provide intervention, I believe the more lives we can save.
4. In addition to the issues addressed above, what do you want to fix in the county?
I am deeply concerned about the needs of people living on our streets and the impact that is having on our community. I support the efforts to provide permanent housing opportunities to get people into care, treatment and employment opportunities. But I also cannot accept the current policy that does not also provide a shelter bed available for every person living outside tonight. We need to look at all unused county properties to determine how we can better meet this need. We must also expand access to mental health and addiction treatment, whether it is through shelters, street teams or permanent housing.
Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to our future. The county has a critical role to play in this work, helping push land use decisions that make it easier for people to travel for work, commerce and recreation with a smaller carbon footprint. We also must educate the public about energy conservation improvements to homes and buildings in the community and efficiency practices that can be incorporated into our daily lives. Protecting farm and forestland, as well as our green spaces, serves a critical role in reducing our region’s carbon footprint. These areas act as critical carbon capture and storage opportunities in our urban environment, as well as reducing energy consumption through better shade, wind reduction, and extending the life of our transportation infrastructure by reducing maintenance costs.
5. Why should people vote for you and not the other guy?
I am the best candidate to begin addressing the challenges we face on my first day in office. Through my time at the county and in the community, I understand the work we are doing and what we are not doing. We need to open up the way our commission does business and be more willing to explore new ideas. In addition, I also believe I have the ability to bring together the diverse parts of this community to make lasting change. There is a reason I have the endorsement of the county workers, AFSCME Local 88. I also have the support of Gov. Barbara Roberts, Commissioner Loretta Smith, and many other community leaders. Visit my website, ericzimmerman.org, to learn more.