Sarah Iannarone poses for a photo, wearing glasses and a blazer.
Sarah Iannarone poses for a photo, wearing glasses and a blazer.
Courtesy of Sarah For Portland

Sarah Iannarone aims high in mayoral race

Portland is facing what will likely be its most significant mayoral election in decades. Incumbent Mayor Ted Wheeler is running for a second term amid criticism from both the left and right over his handling of the city’s anti-racism protests. His main challenger is public-policy advisor and self-described “everyday anti-fascist” Sarah Iannarone, while anti-police brutality activist Teressa Raiford is running a robust write-in campaign. This will be the first in a series of three articles, each focusing on one of the three major candidates for mayor of Portland.

Iannarone, 47, is a single mother originally from a working-class upstate New York family and is running on an unabashedly progressive, grassroots platform. This is her second run for mayor, after an unsuccessful 2016 campaign in which she touted her urban-planning degree from Portland State University and advocated for sustainable land-use policies. Today, her campaign is markedly more focused on social justice. Iannarone has emphasized her front-and-center role in Portland’s protests, including participating in the “Wall of Moms,” a group of women who have formed a barrier between police and demonstrators at many of the protests. Her distinctive gray helmet, emblazoned with slogans including “A mayor’s place is with the people,” has been a common sight at dozens of Portland protests. The environment has also been a keystone issue in her campaign. Iannarone has emphasized the importance of the Green New Deal and intends for the entire city of Portland to reach net-zero emissions by 2030. 

Her campaign did not respond to an interview request on why she would be the best candidate for Lewis & Clark students, but in her campaign, she has welcomed the contributions of youth activists. On her podcast #OurPortland, Iannarone has discussed youth leadership with Libra Forde, founder of the Portland-based nonprofit Self Enhancement, Inc., which aims to empower underserved youth.

While Iannarone has long been involved in local activism, she has never held elected office. If elected, she would be Portland’s first mayor since Bud Clark, who was in office from 1985 to 1992, to have no previous political experience. However, she has had a visible public role in Portland for over a decade. In 2005, she formed a community organization in her neighborhood, Southeast Portland’s Mount Scott-Arleta, to redevelop an unused triangle of land into a miniature park, now known as the Arleta Triangle. In 2008, Iannarone co-founded First Stop, a nonprofit that ran tours of Portland for visiting dignitaries in order to show off Portland’s commitment to sustainable development and public transportation.

The Iannarone campaign has not been without its controversies. A complaint has been lodged with the state election division alleging that Iannarone intends to mislead voters by listing her education as “Ph.D. (A.B.D.)” on the November voters’ pamphlet. While A.B.D. stands for “all but dissertation,” (i.e. Iannarone did not fully complete a Ph.D., but did everything necessary to get one except for a dissertation) former Oregon Rep. Jules Bailey ’01, who made the complaint, says that most voters are unlikely to know what “A.B.D.” means and will assume that Iannarone has a Ph.D. when she does not. 

Another controversy is far cruder. In 2010, local artist Brian Borrello, who worked with Iannarone on the Arleta Triangle project, filed a restraining order against her over a dispute in which, according to court documents, Iannarone graffitied an ejaculating penis on the door to Borrello’s workshop. 

Iannarone has also gotten flak from figures including DHM Research’s Director of Client Relations & Political Research John Horvick, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell and KGW Anchor Laurel Porter for refusing to denounce the clashes with law enforcement, instead saying, “Peaceful protests, in my opinion, might not necessarily be moving the conversation forward.”

Data is fairly limited in regards to polls on this mayoral race. A poll done by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling in June held that Iannarone and Wheeler were neck-and-neck, both receiving support from about one-third of Portland voters, while the remaining third either supported Raiford or were undecided. It is likely that the numbers have changed since June, but how much is unclear.

With a highly detailed list of policies, including everything from preventing right-wing militias from demonstrating in Portland to creating a city-owned bank, Iannarone has faced claims of being too ambitious. To this, she told Willamette Week, “If you don’t aim for things, you won’t accomplish them. And even if you fall short, you’ve achieved more than you would have otherwise.”

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