Decision point for Multnomah County

At a moment of crisis, two competitive races will decide the direction of Oregon’s most populous. 


Whatever disagreements they have, polls show Multnomah County voters are largely united in thinking the county is faced with a crisis of homelessness, drug addiction, and untreated mental illness. Programs to address those are at the core of the county government’s responsibility. 

County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson doesn’t face re-election until 2026, but this year all four Multnomah County Commission seats are up for election. Two of the four are led by candidates with little real opposition. But two are closely contested races, and union endorsements are split in each of those two races. 

District 1 (Westside and inner southeast to about Cesar Chavez Boulevard) is currently held by Sharon Meieran, who was unable to run again because the county charter limits office-holders to two terms. Vying to succeed her are disability rights advocate Meghan Moyer and administrative law judge Vadim Mozyrsky. Moyer, who once worked as a political organizer for SEIU, is backed by that union as well as AFSCME Local 88 (which represents county workers), Portland Association of Teachers, and UFCW Local 555. On the other side, the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council, Portland Fire Fighters Local 43, and the construction unions IBEW Local 48 and Laborers Local 737 are backing Mozyrsky, who helped unionize fellow attorneys and eventually served as regional vice president of his federal employees union IFTPE. 

And District 2 (North and Northeast Portland North of I-84) is open because commissioner Susheela Jayapal resigned to run for Congress. Three candidates are running energetic campaigns to fill out the remainder of her term: hotel owner Jessie Burke, social worker Shannon Singleton, and former Portland mayor Sam Adams. Burke is backed by three public safety unions: Fire Fighters Local 43, Portland Police Association, and the Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff’s Association. Singleton is supported by AFSCME Local 88, IBEW Local 48, Portland Association of Teachers, SEIU, and UFCW Local 555. Adams has had union support in the  past, but no endorsements in the primary. However, several labor organizations declined to endorse because they were torn between Adams and Singleton. 

The Labor Press interviewed the union-endorsed candidates in the two races. Read what they had to say below. 

The five candidates are highly unequal in fundraising. As of press time, three had reasonably well-funded campaigns that included by 80 to 100 big-donor contributions of $568, the maximum allow- able under voter-approved campaign finance limits. Total contributions as of press time were: Burke ($101,800), Adams ($100,252), Mozyrsky ($79,298), Singleton ($25,401), and Moyer ($22,546). 

Of the five leading candidates, only Burke sparks antipathy from some unions. For construction unions, she fails a basic litmus test: support for the requirement to pay construction workers the prevailing wage on publicly-funded construction projects. Asked about that, she said she’s concerned that projects won’t pencil out if private developers are required to pay prevailing wage as a condition of accepting public subsidies. Other union leaders faulted Burke for being a non-union hotel operator. But a decision to unionize a hotel would be up to its workers. What would she do if her workers came to her asking for union recognition? The Labor Press asked that, twice. Burke said people are allowed to do whatever they want, and it’s fine for people to to want to unionize, but she didn’t pledge to voluntarily recognize a union or remain neutral. 

Multnomah County candidates want the union vote

In two closely contested races for Multnomah County Commission, more than one candidate has union support. The Northwest Labor Press asked each of four union-endorsed candidates: Why are you running? And why should union members in particular vote for you? (Answers have been condensed for space and edited for clarity.)


Westside and inner southeast as far as Cesar Chavez Boulevard

Meghan Moyer

I’ve had two different careers. One is working almost exclusively on human services policy on behalf of a bunch of different organizations, doing policy and advocacy work. The other is in construction. And I think I am like a lot of Multnomah County residents right now: I’m pretty frustrated with the lack of effectiveness. But I’m somebody who believes in the services that taxpayers voted for and doesn’t want to see people giving up on them or believing that we can’t make that work. I think there’s a huge difference between ineffective and compassionate. And sometimes I think there are those who are confusing that. I feel like there has been a lot of negativity by people who are critical of Multnomah County’s handling of houselessness, as well as the City of Portland. But their approach is to have a much more punitive reaction and (they) seem to believe that the policies behind the ideas are also flawed. And I really draw a distinction between myself and some other candidates: I don’t think the underlying approach of providing services and housing is flawed. I think its execution has been atrocious.

My entire career with labor, outside of labor, what I’m passionate about is regular working people. I am going to look at every decision from a lens of, “Is this good for regular working people? Does this protect the middle class? Does this create an avenue to support a family? Is this an unfair burden on working people? Does this provide services for regular people that need it?” I view the health of a community from “What are people experiencing?” That’s not the view everybody has. Some people view it from, “What’s best for business is best for people.” Other people view it, “are we collecting our taxes?” I judge policy and I make decisions from a position of “is this benefiting regular people? Environmental policy — are we protecting the health of people? Are we making sure that the jobs that are being created are for working class people?” And I think if I were to say anything, as somebody who got the Labor Press for years and read it: Who I am at my core is somebody who prioritizes working people, not bosses, not big business. And that doesn’t mean I’m anti business, because we need employers. But I am not willing to trade on the backs of workers to benefit those who have already benefited the most.

Vadim Mozyrsky

I’m running because I want to make a difference. I love our city. Right now, where we need the most help and most practical solutions, if people are willing to roll up their sleeves and do some good work, is at the county commission. You talk to any Portlander out there, and they’re worried about drug addiction, mental illness in our streets and homelessness, and also public safety. And that’s all the purview of the county commission. They’re the ones in charge of the huge budget we have right now to address homelessness. They’re in charge of making sure that we have a continuum of care for people with drug addiction and mental illness. And they’re also really kind of that center of the wheel when it comes to public safety. They work with the judges, they work with the DA, they work with the public defender and the city and the police on creating long term planning for public safety. So, when it comes to where can I have impact, that’s where I decided I would have the most ability to do some good.

I believe in unions. No matter what metrics you look at, unions helped the middle class grow, develop, get better educated, and be able to afford retirement, which now is very difficult for a lot of people. So I will always be a champion for the union. Many of the issues that people are facing are certainly issues of failure in the county commission. If you want to make sure your kids can walk around and not have to deal with syringes on the streets, or you having to explain to them why people are smoking fentanyl openly or using drugs … I don’t think that’s a normal situation. That’s not what other cities are seeing. That’s the county. We need to make our city and our county safe for our kids. I have a 13-month-old right now. And she’s too young to understand that, but God damn it, I’m running for office so when she’s old enough to walk around downtown, she’s not dealing with this. And we need to give people the services that they need, and we need to make sure that those services are taken up, and that our tax money is being spent well. Again, that’s the county. I’m endorsed by a lot of current candidates all the way from mayoral office to other people running for county commission to past commissioners, because they know when I’m in office, I’ll be able to work to get things done with the urgency people deserve.


North and northeast, north of I-84

Jessie Burke

I’m running because Sharon Meieran (the current District 1 commissioner) asked me to. The last four years in Old Town (Editor’s note: Burke owns the Society Hotel in Portland’s Old Town neighborhood) have gotten progressively worse and worse. The only people walking around outside were severely mentally ill or addicted. Just seeing that no one knew what to do, a lot of electeds started asking me what to do. And I told (Portland mayor)Ted Wheeler once, “If you ever don’t know, just call a small business owner, because we don’t have the luxury of not knowing. We have to make a decision.”  Ted Wheeler’s office was really trying. And they were contorting themselves to cover the work of the county. So it was seeing that level of dysfunction, where they even got to a point where the Joint Office of Homeless Services asked the city to stop creating programs that are supposed to be at the county. And the city said, “Well, if you would do it, then we wouldn’t need to.” They (the county) needs some executive function. And that is a specific skill set. I mean, as a small business owner to be able to create a budget and a plan and execute that plan on time. And I think people forget that the taxpayer is the customer and we’re not delivering the product to the customer on time. So people are getting disenfranchised. They’re leaving. We’ve never lost this many people. So all of those things combined were what compelled me to do this.

The county is really needing some executive function and leadership experience. I don’t need a job. I actually think my skill set could be helpful. And that’s what I’m offering here. I am employed, and I am guaranteed a job forever. I just think that my skill set is helpful right now. And I’m offering that to the public. And I do see this as a role of public servitude. I meet with elected officials, because they always want to come meet with me at the hotel, and I don’t let them in the building. I make them sit outside. I said, I don’t think you’re a celebrity. I think you’re a public servant. And I want you to see how it’s going. And they are 100% of the time scared to death. Because there’s no protection between them and what they’re seeing outside. So I’m very clear that this is a role of public servitude, and this is not a long term professional track for me. I just think that we need to right this ship. 

Shannon Singleton

I’m running because I believe I’m the candidate who can make immediate changes that we need to see in our community. I’m running on the top three priorities of housing and homelessness, behavioral health care, and really looking at what safe community means, not only in the upfront kind of investments I think we need in prevention programs that we know prevent gun violence, but also on the back end.  Our folks, when they’re in jail, should be connected to social services at the county, so they don’t go back out into the street. I’m a social worker for almost 30 years. I’ve been on the front lines of behavioral healthcare as well as homeless services. So I know where those gaps are, and particularly in Multnomah County’s system. When homeless services were at the city, I worked at the City of Portland as a contract manager. And I worked briefly at the Joint Office of Homeless Services. I was the interim director there for about eight months. Prior to that, I was in the governor’s office for three years. And I worked with the county a ton during that time as well. So I know their health department very well. There’s some good things that the county does — Earthquake Ready Burnside (bridge renovation) is a really good project with a lot of workforce opportunities. On social services and the safety net, there’s way too many holes in the system, too many folks keep falling through those cracks. And lack of internal coordination I think is a real problem.

I support workers rights. I always have. It’s not a campaign issue for me. It’s who I am. Whether I’m elected or not, I will continue to support unions and our workers. And one of the big things is I want to address, with SEIU for example, there’s issues with some of the contracts that they have with their represented members. We can’t say we have these values but then not actually live the values as a county when we’re funding these things. So I really want to be the person to step into that space. I think the other piece of it is contracting: What are we actually paying staff? Internally at the county as well, my understanding is most recently we went to a $15 an hour minimum wage, which is still not ability for people to live in the place that they work. We need to look at what county employee wages look like as well.


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