Candidate Spotlight: Philip Wolfe

Photo courtesy of Philip Wolfe

Candidate Spotlight: Philip Wolfe

Running for Portland City Commissioner, Position No. 1

Thank you to Philip Wolfe for attending our March 5th Candidate Conversation for Candidates for Portland City Commissioner.  Don’t miss candidates for Portland City Mayor on March 31st, 2020! This event has been cancelled due to health concerns. We are working on a virtual solution to connect you with your candidates for Portland City Mayor.

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Answers to Neighborhood Questions:

1. Homelessness is a crisis in all of Portland, but has disproportionately negative effects in SE and East Portland. Explain how you will address this situation in a compassionate and expedient manner, balancing the needs of both the housed and houseless.

Candidate Answer: First, the houselessness crisis impacts everyone in Portland socially and economically and it’s a critical issue for our Public Health. These problems have continued to fester and worsen during Mayor Wheeler’s inept and openly cruel administration. Ted Wheeler and City Hall overtly refuse to listen to and engage with people across Portland actually doing the work for civil rights and social justice. Instead, politicians like Wheeler bestow political solutions that are half-baked, ill-informed and doomed to failure before they begin implementation. They’re wasting our time and money in the process – so much of it, that we can immediately do better.

Their failure to view our community crisis of houselessness as a permanent structural issue is damning. We’re a City that’s part of a nation in need of real and sustainable solutions. Implementing anti-houseless ordinances, wasting money upon vile “hostile architecture” like boulders and benches on which humans can’t sit or lie down, sending the police and city-contractors to perpetrate murderous and cruel sweeps and criminalize houseless people is a tragically unnecessary, ineffective and inhumane strategy. It’s also simply a public health risk that could turn into a full blown state of public emergency. We must get people off the street and into safe, sanitary housing at any and all costs. There is no alternative. Even the Supreme Court found the way we’re harassing and molesting our houseless community members as inhumane, cruel and unconstitutional, yet that doesn’t stop the City from continuing to prey upon this vulnerable population.

52% of all Portland Police arrests in 2017 were from the houseless population estimated at 3% of our population. Targeting houseless people because they are vulnerable only makes their problems more severe and their houslessness perpetuated. Five victims were murdered by the Portland Police last year – a new high since 2010, yet Mayor Wheeler defends their brutality and crimes against humanity without fail – every time, no matter how vile, anti-constitutional, racist or shocking. All five 2019 victims of Portland Police murder were suffering in mental health crisis – a long term PPB failure that deservingly recieved a federal court order and oversight board to guide the process. Medical experts must be used as first responders instead of police who are systematically and historically proven incapable of nonviolent, safe and rational engagement. We must expand mental health services city-wide with top priority. Lives are literally at stake every day.

Chief Outlaw left for Philadelphia claiming she somehow helped Portland Police evolve – and Ted says he’s continuing that legacy and the path he’s chosen in his dual role as Portland Police Commissioner. I say they’ve been an abject failure – as a person that attended Oregon’s police academy and knows how cops work, train and think. Such utter contempt for accountability deeply concerns me – and the federal oversight of Portland Police is again being reviewed in court. What progress have we made? I answered that question in my court testimony – none at all. The oversight board and efforts are meaningless and toothless public relations. These charades must stop.

We must address the core causes of houselessness – high rents and low wages. Rent control solutions must be improved in meaningful ways – not with half-measures and contingencies that will never happen in the real world. Thus far, efforts have failed miserably and sewn city-wide dissent between renters and landlords and bureaucrats. Fair process and open discussion is needed to get all stakeholders who do the work involved in crafting better solutions. The City of Portland doesn’t listen to or respect the general public and I will change that culture on day one – I promise you that.

Investing millions and millions of dollars in a failed Wapato Jail is another waste of private and public money needed in existing programs, with an impact too small to justify the efforts. We have many better opportunities to help more people than chasing the sunk costs of a notoriously-failed and wasteful public project. 

We need to invest in humanity and public health through the “Housing First” concept. Housing First is an approach that offers permanent, affordable housing to individuals and families experiencing homelessness, and then provides the supportive services and connections to the community-based supports that people need to keep their housing and avoid returning to the streets. These solutions are proven effective – where current programs have historically failed in total. Housing first is also critically humane – because we’re community – we’re family, Portlanders, Oregonians visitors, tourists, friends and neighbors. We can and must do better. I won’t settle for the inhuman treatment of anyone – anywhere, at any time. The core of our campaign is civil rights and equal protection under the law for all people in Portland.

2. With the implementation of the Residential Infill Project, there will be a lot of new development in areas with larger lots like SE and East Portland. How will you create opportunities for and encourage the development of affordable and accessible housing, while also guarding against displacement and gentrification?

Candidate Answer: RHI and planning for development are both major issues that actually contribute to the displacement and gentrification of economically vulnerable communities. We must recognize that capitalism is impacting the ability of many of our fellow community members to survive safely and stay housed. There’s no more critical issue to our public health and well-being than getting people off the streets and into areas with proper sanitation, shelter, food and care. Anything less is beneath us and doesn’t deserve our time. Half-measures are not for humanitarian crises. This is a humanitarian crisis of historic proportions and we can only survive it together – with fair process and the full engagement of all parties involved – especially and specifically houseless people speaking to their own needs, wants and plans. 

Finally, we must invest in city owned wifi as a public utility for all people in Portland providing equal access for all. Economic justice requires online access today in order to participate fully in our economy and social system. Such free public internet access will also encourage the end of Verizon/T-Mobile/Sprints monopolizing behavior in Portland and provide access to critical life-saving services for both residents and visitors. This is simply one of many examples indicating why must find every way possible to better support the broad spectrum of economically diverse Portland community members. Portland International Airport has had free wifi for many years now – so such precedent is readily available – though mostly dedicated to the privileged air-traveler thus far. There are countless cities where free wifi initiatives have proven successful – and it’s also critical infrastructure for public emergencies and community crisis. We must prepare for known risks of natural disasters and public health emergencies – city wifi infrastructure could be life-saving in such circumstances.

3. SE and East Portland have by far the greatest number of unimproved roads in all of Portland. Brentwood-Darlington alone has over 4 miles. How will you rectify this infrastructure imbalance without cost-burdening an already historically underserved area?

Candidate Answer: I strongly agree that SE and East Portland have been ignored for too long. Infrastructure and programs for our East Portland neighborhoods have too long fallen victim to the downtown business community interests so exclusively cultivated by the Wheeler administration and city council members. It’s time for leadership that looks across all of Portland and at broad, long ignored constituencies and neighborhoods. We should be investing a billion of dollars on remodeling Portland’s infrastructure imbalance instead of investing a billion of dollars on expanding freeways – a proven-ineffective strategy that will increase air-pollution and is prohibitively expensive given other urgent priorities. Downtown should not be a playground for the rich, while the rest of Portland lives in austerity. Every neighborhood of Portland deserves the same attention and resources for both residents and visitors.

4. Portland Bureau of Transportation has been installing many traffic calming measures and lowering speed limits all over SE and East Portland. How will you provide the means to enforce these new measures, despite staffing level challenges?

Candidate Answer: Expanding public transportation, signage, bike lanes, cross-walks, lights, removing barriers and increasing public education through public relations will all be critical tactics for saving lives. We lose too many Oregonians on the streets today in unnecessary and preventable tragedies. Community safety is a community issue – not a “law and order” or Portland Police enforcement issue. Law enforcement is a tool that is rarely required for public safety and which most often makes situations worse with escalation and violent police behavior. Also, we know that Portland Police traffic safety stops and searches are statistically and historically overwhelmingly racist. Racism in any governmental agency – and in our justice system must be eradicated and rejected in totality. Again – the Portland Police Bureau has failed to be accountable for the safety and security of all community members. Bike rentals and scooter rentals are also great programs that can be expanded. I’ll propose a free fare transit program so everyone will have equal access to public transit, as this model has been proven successful in other cities. Public transit is a human right, not privilege and we can’t afford to not support its successful expansion and usage. Equity and accessibility are paramount in everything we must do to lift up our beautiful City of Portland.

5. Garbage and graffiti are ongoing issues in SE and East Portland. What will you do to take the burden of neighborhood clean-up off the shoulders of volunteers?

Candidate Answer: Three items would make a huge difference for the houseless living on our streets today. This is made obvious by the amazing work of Moon Wise, Cory Elia and many others in the St. Johns community of people that care, help and save lives every day.

1) Bathrooms/Port-a-potties and portable washing facilities for basic human dignity, public health and sanitation.

2) Permanently affixed sharps containers for needles that end up on the ground – again, a massive public health and safety risk easily and inexpensively abated. Implement safe injection sites and implement bio hazard bins to all public places here in Portland.

3) Garbage cans regularly emptied must be immediately placed on the public trail where humans live and camp every day in all weather, in their attempt at basic human survival.
The City of Portland pays millions upon millions, and takes the millions of dollars from others for murderous sweeps – allegedly to clean places where the city knowingly fails to provide required sanitation infrastructure. This is a circular firing squad and WeThePeople – our community and neighbors are in the middle. Have a heart and some humanity – it is time to treat this issue as a public emergency until we get basic public health and safety in Portland, Oregon!

6. In several areas of SE, illegal activity occurs on a daily basis, often for years at a time. Neighbors continuously report this activity, only to be told that the individual is, in short, not worth arresting. Many of these individuals have had multiple contacts with the police. How will you address the revolving door in Portland’s criminal justice system that allows these chronic conditions to continue?

Candidate Answer: First we must address what is “illegal activity?” Are laws being broken with victims present, or are there issues around the very presence of people that are labeled “homeless?” First, houseless community members can’t disappear or just go away – so Police have nothing to offer a public scenario unless there’s imminent physical danger or a crime in progress.
Our Portland community, especially the houseless do not trust the Portland Police Bureau who they rightfully see as their predators and harassers. Neighborhood watch groups and community supporters must peacefully engage in dialogue, and work with other resources such as www.carepdx.org to help our houseless friends. “First – do no harm.” The hippocratic oath works for both doctors and public policy. I will not allow the City of Portland to perpetrate harm upon our vulnerable communities – you have my word.

7. Much of the Public transportation in SE and East Portland is infrequent and does not serve large swaths of the area. This creates an imbalance in which our neighbors are forced to drive more and pay a larger portion of the associated costs and taxes. Even neighbors who prefer to take transit, can only do so in certain directions and often not on the weekend. How will you work to rectify the imbalance in transit access in our area?

Candidate Answer: We must expand transit services, reduce costs and remove all barriers to residents and visitors requiring public transportation. Again, we’ve grossly misused “law enforcement” as fare enforcement which is a vicious, racist, dangerous, classist and unjust cycle in which lives are stolen. It’s all unnecessary and destructive. No more! 

Public transportation is wholly in our community and environmental interests and our policies must reflect that fact. MAX should run 24 hours and can do so with increased ridership and appropriate funding. All sidewalks should be accessible for wheelchair users, meaning all gaps must be filled and maintained. Braille yellow blocks need to be filled as well. We must regulate and require filters for cleaner air as it is well documented at www.portlandcleanair.org. Additionally, Tri-Met buses with diesel fuel engines should be all converted to electrical operation, as diesel fuel has been proven harmful to environmental and public health. This is how I see us together working to make Portland green and a beacon for environmental responsibility. 

Without necessary regulations in place, especially in the SE and East Portland area, our quality of life and health are at high risk of health degradation. Partnership with Portland Clean Air Executive Director, Greg Bourget and his organization will significantly benefit our city leaders and we must continually seek-out such experts to guide new and better sustainable and scientifically sound solutions. 

Finally, after having served for eight-years as your Commissioner with Portland’s Commission on Disability, I can assure you that many accommodations are urgently required for safe public access and must be reviewed with great priority and focus. As a Deaf leader and a queer man, my campaign is a mission of speaking and standing for those forgotten, left behind, disenfranchised and ignored. I’ve watched as the City of Portland has systematically dismembered community supports for disabled access under the current administration and I plan to reverse that trend with all my energy, experience and passion.

The richness, vibrancy and peace of Portland have been taken from us by mass injustice, ableism, systemic racism and city-sponsored overt-classism. It’s well past time for change. I’m proud to seek your endorsement for City of Portland Commissioner, Position No. 1 – together we can serve Portland and East Portland with an open heart and open mind – for a better future.