Mayor Kate Snyder called Portland a “polarized” and “divided” city in her State of the City address Monday night, referring to a political schism created by a potential overhaul of the city’s governance model emerging from the voter-approved Charter Commission.
Snyder, who will not seek a second term next year, decried “political standoffs” in the city, framing it as a “community at a crossroads.” The mayor said that the city’s political climate has become “increasingly challenging,” citing it as a reason several municipal elected officials did not seek reelection since last year.
“I guess all is fair in politics, but I’m distressed to see what is commonplace here in Portland,” Snyder said. “There’s no need for us vs. them [framing] that overrides our ability to come together as a community and allow for a wide range of viewpoints.”
While nearly all elected officials in Portland identify as Democrats, Portland has seen a progressive wave in recent elections. In 2020, voters approved four of five ballot measures supported by labor activists. Last November’s municipal elections tilted the balance of the City Council toward progressives.
Snyder has made similar overtures on the tone of Portland’s politics in the past, dating back to her 2019 campaign for office. For example, she chastised how former Mayor Ethan Strimling and the City Council at the time routinely clashed over various issues, and took issue with what she called “activism replacing diplomacy,” according to a letter published by the Portland Press Herald during her mayoral campaign in September 2019.
On Monday, Snyder explained that the effects of the Charter Commission’s Question 2 — a proposed shift in governance structure from a council-mayor to executive mayor system — could not be put into effect until after the election of 2023. That could leave City Hall in a precarious position, as many department head positions are interim appointees, including interim city manager Danielle West.
Knowing that significant changes could be coming has meant the city had to “put a hold on our ability to hire,” Snyder said. She added that if voters approved the other referendum questions, staff would work to implement them within 30 days if possible.
Snyder gave examples of how factions might deploy her Monday night speech for political gain. If she were to say “the state of the city was strong,” opponents might say that she and the Council were out of touch, and therefore sweeping governance changes were necessary. But if she were to say “the city was not doing great,” opponents would point to it and say she and the Council had run Portland “into the ground” and therefore sweeping governance changes were necessary.
The mayor concluded by urging citizens to vote.
“Please prioritize your voice so the path forward for this great city has been chosen by as many registered voters as possible.”