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Commissioner Steve Novick

Official Website for Commissioner Steve Novick

Phone: 503-823-4682

fax: 503-823-4019

1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204

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Portland Mercury: Odd City Out

November 13, 2013 | Portland Mercury-- Where governance is concerned, Portland's long been a proud holdout.

We're the only major US city to still use the antiquated "commission" form of government—where commissioners get to make laws and control city bureaus. Voters have turned down changing it eight separate times.

Now, thanks to changes approved by Seattle voters earlier this month, we're stuck in another increasingly rarefied group—something that experts say makes Portland's elections more expensive, less accessible, and less representative than they might be.

Of large American cities, only Portland and Columbus, Ohio, elect all their leaders via citywide elections. Every other city with at least 500,000 people carves its electorate into districts that vote for their own candidates to represent them.

So what's the deal? Are we a bunch of rugged individualists who know something the rest of the country doesn't, or are we foolishly holding on to a relic of governance?

The Mercury asked around. It wasn't pretty.

"Rugged individualists?" asks Paul Gronke, a political science professor at Reed College. "Quite the opposite. In fact our system is stacked against individuals and in favor of incumbents and the entrenched powers that be."

"We have at-large districts, which have been for decades known to make it difficult for minority interests to be represented. And we have a commissioner-based system that encourages silo-ing and diminishes the oversight role of the council."

Researchers say district-based elections address those criticisms. They make minorities and relative unknowns more likely to run for elected office. They tend to create city councils that better resemble the makeup of a city. And they help ensure that traditionally underrepresented portions of the city—think East Portland—have louder voices in city hall.

"There's greater access to elected office, and more importantly less monied special interests," says Jason Malinowski, who researched district elections as part of his graduate work at the University of Washington.

Malinowski's research suggests another crucial advantage of district READ FULL ARTICLE