The 2020 election for the position of Portland mayor is shaping up to be an unusual one, chiefly because there are three major candidates vying for the seat. Portland’s mayoral elections are designed to prevent this from happening: in May, a primary election is held, and the top two vote-getters will go on to compete in the general election in November. This year, the top two candidates in the primary were incumbent Mayor Ted Wheeler and challenger Sarah Iannarone, so only their names will be listed on the ballot for mayor. However, anti-police brutality activist Teressa Raiford, who finished a distant third in the primary with 8.4% of the vote, is gaining momentum as a write-in candidate, owing to her increased recognition and visibility in Portland during the months of anti-racism protests. This is the second in a series of three articles, each focusing on one of the three major candidates for mayor of Portland.
Raiford, who is a fourth-generation Portland resident, is best known as the founder of Don’t Shoot PDX, a nonprofit she started in 2014 inspired by the still-unsolved 2010 murder of her 19-year-old nephew Andre Dupree Payton. Even before she founded Don’t Shoot PDX, Raiford was well-known as a community organizer and police accountability activist within Portland’s Black community. Her campaigns against gun violence led to an invitation to the White House to meet First Lady Michelle Obama in 2013. While this is Raiford’s first campaign for mayor, she has vied for several other local positions in the past, including unsuccessful runs for Portland City Council in 2012, Multnomah County commissioner in 2014 and Multnomah County sheriff in 2016. If elected, she would be Portland’s first Black mayor, as well as the city’s first woman to hold the position since Vera Katz, who served from 1992 to 2005.
Raiford’s organization, Don’t Shoot PDX, has been integral to Portland’s protests. In June, the group sued the City of Portland over medical complaints caused by the police’s use of tear gas, as well as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security over President Donald Trump’s deployment of federal officers to Portland. A judge ruled in favor of protesters in the city suit, while the federal suit is ongoing. Don’t Shoot PDX also organized “Riot Ribs,” an all-you-can-eat barbecue for protesters over the summer, and started a donation drive to help Oregon residents who had to evacuate from areas affected by recent wildfires.
Raiford has a long history of dealing with racial injustice. Her parents owned the Burger Barn, a North Portland restaurant well-known as one of the city’s preeminent Black-owned businesses in the 1970s and 1980s. On March 12, 1981, when Raiford was 11 years old, two Portland police officers tossed dead opossums on the restaurant’s doorstep. The incident was investigated as a hate crime and resulted in the firing of both officers. At that time, protests broke out against the firing of the officers, led by police officers’ families, and they regained their jobs.
During her campaign for mayor, Raiford has focused on continuing to manage Don’t Shoot PDX and fighting for racial equity. The majority of the campaigning has been done by volunteers. Perhaps due to this less targeted approach, Raiford has not garnered as many endorsements as her rivals. Wheeler has been endorsed by numerous city organizations, from blue-collar organized labor such as the Teamsters and the Northwest Carpenters Union, to business leaders including the Portland Business Alliance. Meanwhile, a coalition of 14 Black community leaders have endorsed Iannarone. Raiford’s lone endorsement from a prominent figure or entity comes from Portland Trail Blazers basketball star Damian Lillard, arguably Portland’s most nationally known Black resident.
As a write-in candidate, no polls have been taken on Raiford’s chances, and no write-in candidate has ever been elected mayor of Portland. However, she will likely garner a significant share of the vote if her momentum on social media and in Portland’s ongoing protests are any indication. If Raiford does end up winning, it will be far from the most unexpected thing to happen in 2020.