The amount was $400,000. In four months. That’s what I had to raise to run for Portland City Council.
Running to be the third person of color and the eighth woman ever to serve the city I love was an incredible experience. And it taught me that there must be a better way. That’s why I’m supporting the Open and Accountable Elections reform that Portland City Council will consider on Nov. 3.
As a candidate, I spent hours each day on the phone or in meetings, trying to raise an obscene amount of money. I’m guessing my opponent had to do the same.
Don’t get me wrong; dialing for dollars taught me a lot of important skills. I became expert in giving a brief but meaningful pitch. I enjoyed talking to people about why I was running and how I wanted to make a difference. I got to hear their ideas and thoughts on what could make Portland work better. All of this made me a better candidate.
But if I’m honest, most of the people I raised money from didn’t look like plenty of Portlanders. They were, more often than not, men, white and with a vested interest in the business of the city. And many stood to lose or gain depending on decisions Portland City Council could make in the future.
And while I got to meet many Portlanders in town halls, candidate forums and house parties, I didn’t have as much time for connecting with voters face-to-face as I wanted nor, I felt, any voter deserved.
I don’t necessarily think that taking big donations from people means you listen to them more, but what I like about the Open and Accountable Elections reform is that it treats everyone like a big donor, so even small donations have a big impact.
When every donation counts, then so does every perspective. Candidates are freer to think about a broader set of issues, and hear from more of Portland – in particular those underrepresented in City Council: women, people of color, LGBT people and east Portlanders.
There are barriers to running for office, as my experience can attest. And those barriers don’t end at our city boundaries.
But we can start removing some of them right here in Portland, giving future candidates a different path to local democracy. So I urge Portland City Council, please support Open and Accountable Elections.
Serena Cruz is a former Multnomah County commissioner and former candidate for Portland City Council.