Interview with Portland Mayoral Candidate Cameron Whitten

photo by Paul

Cameron Whitten, an activist from Occupy Portland, is running for Mayor. Adam Rothstein interviewed him, and asked him some questions about his campaign, and how it came out of the Occupy movement.

Adam Rothstein: How is the campaign going?

Cameron Whitten: It’s going really well. I’m meeting new people every day.

AR: What’s in the works?

CW: It’s all happening at once. Media-wise, what I’m currently working on is to design a candidate forum to be televised that will not allow the “Big Three” Mayoral candidates to be involved, to give minor candidates more of a voice. I’m working with Portland Community Media on that one. I’m still contacting all of the candidates, so we’ll see how that one turns out.

I’m also currently working on a Progressive Portland Plan, that describes the immediate need to address the inequality in our city before we start moving on with the other plans we’re discussing. It shows a four-year plan of how we can radically change what the city looks like, and the governance model, to better represent the people.

Most of my time is spent on the front lines, going to neighborhood association meetings, going to forums, going out talking to people. I’m making sure I hear what their lives are about, before I tell them what I’m about.

AR: I know a little bit about the process by which you decided to run for mayor — do you mind recapping it?

CW: When Thursday [before the park evictions] came around, [Portland’s lame-duck Mayor] Sam Adams had a press conference but didn’t let anyone from Occupy in. I was watching from LiveStream at PSU. Sam Adams announced that the parks were being evicted. I was furious. I went straight to the computer and printed off 600 flyers saying that we were going to occupy City Hall and take over the Mayor’s office on Monday if he tried to close down the camps. So they gave us notice, people went back into the camps, and they arrested everybody. When Monday came around there were only twenty or thirty of us outside. Everyone was tired, disheartened, and no one knew what to do.

The city was really afraid, and they actually had the entire City Hall on lockdown. We didn’t know what to do at that point. And there was a guy standing outside, talking about how he was going to run for mayor. So I asked him, “How do you do that?” He tells me, “You get a bunch of signatures, and sign some paperwork, and you get your name on the ballot.” So I go up to City Hall, and asked the guards to help me out, saying I need to get some paperwork from the Auditor’s Office. They actually let me inside the building, and they followed me into the Auditor’s Office. They told me they actually weren’t supposed to let anyone inside the building, and I asked them to just give me five minutes. I talked to the elections officer and he gives me all the pamphlets, and tells me what I need to do. I go back to PSU, and make photocopies and bring paperwork back to General Assembly. I tell everyone that we should all be running for mayor, running for commissioner, we should fill up the ballot. But everyone was afraid and didn’t want to run. They told me they wanted me to run and that they were going to vote for me. That’s pretty much how it started.

At first it was satire. I was running as a pirate, to abuse politicians and show how ineffective they are. And then a lot of people came to me, and told me they wanted to help with the campaign and that they wanted me to take it seriously. People rely on candidates to show up and do something.

AR: What do you think is important about the office of mayor, as opposed to other elected offices in the city?

CW: I couldn’t be auditor, because I don’t have an accounting degree. And the issue with commissioner is, first of all, it’s really contentious right now. And I really respect what Steve Novick is doing, I really respect Mark White–I don’t think either of them will be bad for Portland. But when it comes to the Big Three–Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales, and Jefferson Smith–I don’t think any of them are right for Portland. And so, when the whole thing started, it was just spur of the moment, and I didn’t have any intention of running seriously. But it was the feedback from people, that said “you should go for mayor”, that’s what I ran with. And the reason I’ve stuck with it, is that the mayor has the ability to do far more representation of the city, and to really catalyze and spearhead policy changes, than the other commissioners. Even though they say that all the positions are equal, there is still the first among equals, and that’s the mayor position.

AR: You said you don’t think those main candidates are right for Portland. So what is right for Portland?

CW: I don’t think any one person is right for Portland. My biggest concern is that we have these people who are still advocating for a structure that has not worked, for so long. I don’t support anybody who’s not willing to make some systemic change, to make sure that people have their voices heard regardless of who’s in power. I could go on about why I think The Big Three aren’t about that, but really nobody can lead this city as is, and that’s what needs to change.

AR: So what other messages to you want to bring forward with your campaign?

CW: My biggest focus is on inequality. Mostly economic and political inequality. I’m advocating for progressive financing on campaigns, I’m advocating for raising the minimum wage for for-profit institutions, I’ve been advocating for instant-runoff voting, for campaign finance reform, I’ve been advocating for giving much more power to the Charter Review Commission, I’ve been advocating for taking away a lot of corporate rights. One thing that I’m really focusing on is regulatory taking, and putting the needs of people in housing above protection of property that is currently not being used.

AR: You mentioned your Progressive Portland Plan.

CW: I think people want to see, visually, what I’m talking about, and not just having to hear it. I have paragraphs and paragraphs on my website. I want to be able to timeline, to show what the priorities are, what needs to be done first, and really how fast Portland can change in four years. That’s what the Progressive Portland Plan is.

AR: Tell me about your strategies for your campaign. Do you have any other innovative plans for getting your message out?

CW: I’ve been doing a lot of guerrilla flyering. I hand them out on the bus, I hand them out to people I know, to people I don’t know. What’s I need to do is brand myself better. After that, I will announce the Progressive Portland Plan, hopefully around the third week of February. Right now I’ve been putting myself out there, seeing what works, and what doesn’t.

At first, when I started taking this more seriously, I thought there would be more support from Occupiers. There’s verbal support, from afar. I thought we could sweep through and change everything overnight. But I’m having to take up more conventional political tactics. From inside the movement, it seems like I’m just some guy trying to be famous. But from outside, I’m a nobody in politics. I’m having to stop think about the “99%”, and start asking the “real” 99%, that is everybody, what they want. If you can’t get people to even vote for a candidate, how are you going to get them into the street with you?

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