Kate Snyder’s citywide sweep in Tuesday’s mayoral election should give Portland residents a reason to be optimistic about their local government.

In our highly polarized time, it’s significant that a candidate won 12 out of 12 voting precincts so convincingly that her opponents called to concede before the ranked-choice runoffs were processed and her victory was made official. And after four years of confrontational politics at City Hall, the winner was the candidate who promised to listen, build coalitions in the community and make progress toward widely shared goals.

That indicates that most Portland voters want their government to work, and although they represent a variety of different interests, they want a fair and open decision-making process managed by someone who is committed to the city as a whole, and not one faction.

That’s easier said than done, of course. It becomes much harder to bring people together when the kind of real-world problems that municipal governments have to fix are on the table. People demand services from their city, and the government raises revenues to pay for them. That generates conflicts and leaves winners and losers.

Of the three people who have been popularly elected mayor since the position was created in 2010, Snyder seems the best prepared to make it work. Throughout her campaign, the former school board chair focused on filling the job that’s defined by the city charter with a clear view of its strengths and limitations, and not demanding that the job be adapted to fit her.

Portland does not have a “strong” mayor, who can hire and fire city employees. Although independently elected, the mayor is a member of the City Council, just one vote of nine.

But it’s a full-time position with a four-year term, which gives the mayor the ability to work between City Council meetings to organize long-term projects, doing work that regular councilors don’t have the time for. An effective mayor can keep things on track, making sure that everybody is heard and issues are ready for action when they come up for a vote.

That doesn’t mean that everyone will agree on every issue. Whether the council is coping with the city tax rate, the location of its homeless shelter, zoning revisions, affordable housing, transportation or unglamorous but necessary spending on street repair and sewers, there are going to be conflicts. But it’s important that those conflicts don’t consume the council, interfering with progress on other priorities.

Snyder won our endorsement because she seemed to be the best-equipped candidate in the race to handle this complicated role. She ran a smart campaign, convincing a majority of voters in every precinct that she had the right combination of skills and temperament to make their government work for them.

Now comes the hard part. But regardless of who got their vote, Portland residents have reason to be optimistic about their new mayor.

 

 

 


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