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Washington County elects 1st Black commissioner, other communities also mark firsts, increase diversity


Nafisa Fai’s election this week to the Washington County Board of Commissioners will make her the board’s first Black and first Muslim member.

Fai secured 58% of the vote in a runoff with Jeffrey Hindley to fill the seat being vacated by Dick Schouten, who stepped down to run for the Oregon Senate but lost.

Fai has served on the Clean Water Advisory Commission and Oregon Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, but this was her first run for elected office. She’ll serve District 1, which includes much of Beaverton, Aloha, Cooper Mountain and Reedville.

“I think it’s a testament that people needed new perspectives,” Fai said. “Not only am I going to bring a person of color lens, I’m also adding public health to the commission.”

Fai, 43, has spent her career working in public health. She’s currently managing contact tracing for Washington County through the Public Health Institute.

Fai was born in Somalia, where her family fled the civil war and spent several years in a Kenyan refugee camp before they arrived in Oregon when Fai was a teenager.

About three years ago, Fai said, she participated in Emerge Oregon, an organization that prepares Democratic women to run for office.

“I always had a passion for helping people,” she said. “I was a refugee, I’ve been helped, I always wanted to reciprocate that. But for some reason, I just didn’t see myself running for office. I always felt like my calling was to be the community organizer that I was and give back that way.”

Even after completing the Emerge Oregon training, she said she still didn’t consider becoming a candidate.

“Maybe subconsciously, it seemed like the highest mountain to climb, and it seemed impossible,” she said. “Maybe subconsciously, I didn’t see people who come from the lived experience I come from be in those positions. Maybe I internalized that.”

But about two years later, she said, “something changed.”

“This narrative that Washington County all of a sudden got diverse, wasn’t true. Washington County has always been diverse. We just weren’t participating in the political elected leadership,” Fai said. “I really thought … work hard and if I don’t win, mobilize the next generation or the next person to say, ‘Wait a minute, Nafisa tried, I can try too.’ And we’ll make a dent one way or another. We have a rightful place, we belong in that room, and we belong (as) part of the board.”

Cornelius will have its first majority-Latino city council

Doris Gonzalez Gomez, left, and Angeles Godinez-Valencia are the newest elected members of the Cornelius City Council.

The city of Cornelius has one of the most heavily Latino populations of any city in Oregon, accounting for 52% of its population. Now, for the first time, the city will be represented by a majority-Latino city council.

Doris Gonzalez Gomez and Angeles Godinez-Valencia, both Latinas, will be the newest members of the four-person council. They will take the seats currently held by Dave Schamp and Steve Heinrich, who each decided not to seek re-election.

They’ll also bring gender diversity to the city council, which is currently comprised all of men.

Gonzalez Gomez, 32, is an environmental, health and safety coordinator for Epson Portland and serves on the board of the Cornelius Library.

“For me, it was just the uncertainly of where we are as a nation, that was very overwhelming, and instead of just focusing on the negative, I decided to focus on what could I do,” Gonzalez Gomez said on why she ran for office.

One of her priorities on the council is strengthening the connection between city leaders and the community.

“Representation is really important,” she said. “I think that for our youth to be able to see people who look like them, who speak Spanish like them, it will help them feel like these are spots they can hold in the future.”

Gonzalez Gomez said she would like to see some of the many vacancies on city boards and committees filled by young people and people from a diversity of backgrounds.

“Ultimately, having people that are bilingual, that look like half the population in Cornelius, hopefully we’ll be able to find ways to really connect with them and really hear them,” she said.

Godinez-Valencia, 26, is a program manager for Cornelius-based Centro Cultural de Washington County, Oregon’s oldest Latino non-profit. The organization provides arts and culture programing, civic leadership training, youth programs and more for low income families and communities of color.

“Having worked with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), youth from marginalized communities, non-traditional students, and being a Xicana myself, I believe I have the skills and lived experience necessary to effectively represent the interests of my community,” Godinez-Valencia wrote in email. “The reality is that many of our Latinx community members are having to navigate through so many systematic barriers that they don’t have time to go out of their way to educate themselves on the different branches of government.

“I spoke to many community members during my campaign, my own family included, who did not understand the role of the city council and how decisions made at that level impacts their day to day life. Simply by starting those conversations with the public, we’re able to create meaningful connections for change and can begin to mobilize our community to work with its local government.”

Cornelius is located west of Hillsboro, and has a population of just under 13,000 residents. The city has grown fast as Washington County’s “Silicon Forest” draws high wage jobs, but that also means, for many long-time residents, affordable housing is in dwindling supply.

Godinez-Valencia said one of the reasons she joined the Cornelius Planning Commission in January and ran for city council was to address rising housing costs, and she hopes to create a task force to study solutions to housing affordability.

“For so long, I waited for my political knight in shining armor to come and fight for everything I believed in,” she said. “Instead, I graduated college in 2017 to Trump living in the White House and suddenly it felt like no one was listening to logic and facts anymore. I watched my town grow from 6,000 to 13,000 … Cornelius does not have enough equitable housing, forcing multiple families to live under one roof and many others to move away.”

Claire Hall wins first race after gender transition

Claire Hall

Claire Hall won her first re-election following her gender transition to retain her city on the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners.

On the Oregon coast, Claire Hall won election to her fifth term on the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners and her first election as Claire. In 2018, The Oregonian/OregonLive followed Hall during her gender transition.

While Silverton Mayor Stu Rasmussen became Oregon’s first openly transgender mayor in 2008, Hall appears to be the state’s first transgender official to announce their transition while in office and be re-elected.

“I am humbled and gratified by this result,” Hall said. “Because of COVID-19, I probably made more difficult and controversial decisions than at any point in my career. It’s gratifying that the majority of voters still believe I have their best interests at heart.”

Hall, who grew up in Portland, was a producer for the Portland school district’s radio station, a reporter for the Newport News Times and later spent 15 years working as a news director for Newport radio stations. Hall left that career in 2004 after winning a seat on the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners.

In May, Hall led in the five-way county commissioner race but did not secure 50% of the vote. That forced Tuesday’s runoff election, which she won with 55% of the vote. As she wrote on her Facebook page, Hall claims to be only the third person in Lincoln County history to be elected to the commission for a fifth term.

Milwaukie elects first Black man to city council

Desi Nicodemus

Desi Nicodemus was elected the first Black city councilor for Milwaukie.

The city of Milwaukie has elected the first Black man to its city council: Desi Nicodemus, a teacher at Lot Whitcomb Elementary. During his time with North Clackamas School District, Nicodemus, 47, helped found an affinity group for teachers of color and establish Black student unions at two middle schools. He’s also one of the primary organizers behind Black Lives Matter Milwaukie, which held a “Sit-In for Solidarity” event over the summer that drew several hundred people to Milwaukie’s downtown.

In a four-way race for Council Position No. 3, Nicodemus drew 62% of the vote.

“I’m humbled by the outpouring of support that I’ve received during this race. I look forward to serving on Milwaukie City Council and bringing my unique perspective as a teacher to bear on the important issues facing Milwaukie,” Nicodemus announced on his website. “I hope my historic race inspires other BIPOC candidates to volunteer for important committees and to run for elected office.”

Gladstone elects first Indigenous city councilor

Annessa Hartman

Annessa Hartman, 32, was elected this week to the Gladstone City Council.

Gladstone, a city of about 12,000 people in Clackamas County, appears to have elected its first Indigenous member to its city council, the Clackamas Review reported.

Annessa Hartman, 32, who ran on a campaign of diversity, inclusion, transparency and accountability, was elected with 43% of the vote in a four-way race.

Hartman’s career has been in the food and hospitality industry. Hartman is biracial, and her mother’s family is part of the Cayuga Nation.

“Bringing pride to my culture and family is one of my main personal goals, in addition to paying respects to those that walked the land that we now call Gladstone,” she wrote in email. “Being a part of this new wave of leaders who identify as people of color, is so inspiring and uplifting. I cannot wait to see where we all are in four years!”

In June, Hartman helped organize a Black Lives Matter protest in Gladstone that drew some 250 attendees. On her campaign website, Hartman writes that the event inspired her to get more involved in her town.

One of her early efforts will be forming a Youth Advisory Council and a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Committee.

“I will be the city councilor that makes sure every community member feels heard and valued, so we can build a more inclusive and diverse city government that strengthens instead of divides,” she said. “I am bringing new voices and fresh perspectives to the table so we have a community where all walks of life feel safe, welcome, and supported. I will also focus on creating a connection with the ancestral inhabitants that once walked this land, so we as a community can connect with what is now Gladstone’s true history/past.”

Iranian-American elected to Happy Valley City Council

David Emami

David Emami was elected to Happy Valley City Council.

When David Emami, 37, was appointed to the Happy Valley City Council in March 2019, he became the state’s first Iranian-American city councilor, according to the city’s website. Now, after winning election to his seat this week, Emami will be the first elected in Oregon.

“I stand proud as an Iranian-American, and my multifaceted identify affords me an empathy and understanding of the diverse communities I represent as part of the council,” Emami wrote in email. “Now more than ever, it’s important to have people who are often underrepresented or overlooked in leadership positions so that all of our residents have a voice in our city’s future.”

Emami’s parents are both from Iran and moved to the U.S. in 1980, just after the Iranian Revolution. Emami, a Portland native, works as an account manager at Ferguson Enterprises. He’s previously been involved in Happy Valley politics as a member of the Parks Advisory Committee and Planning Commission.

“Happy Valley has grown quite a bit over the years and our demographics continue to change,” Emami said in email. “As someone who understands the racism, prejudice and stereotypes that come with being a minority, I knew I could be a strong voice for the underrepresented and a champion of the people.”

The biggest issues facing Happy Valley today? Emami says he’s focused on managing development in the rapidly growing suburb. He lists among his priorities: bringing a community center to Happy Valley, “fully funding” police and fire, growing the city’s parks system, and managing growth by “choosing livability over special interests.”

Firsts for Beaverton City Council

Beaverton City Council

Lacey Beaty, left, will be Beaverton’s first female mayor. Nadia Hasan’s election to the newly created Pos. 6 seat on the Beaverton City Council makes her the first Muslim to join the council.

Nadia Hasan’s election to the newly created Pos. 6 seat on the Beaverton City Council makes her the first Muslim to join the council. Hasan, a former Beaverton high school teacher and human resource professional, won the three-way race with 71% of the vote.

“I just want to keep paving the way for people in the future,” she said, adding that her 6-year-old daughter is already talking about being a city councilor when she grows up.

“You can’t be what you can’t see, and now people are seeing it,” Hasan said.

Hasan, 37, said on her website that housing, transportation and access to government were her candidate priorities.

“I am dedicated to ensuring that every single person has access, awareness and understanding of the resources available to them so that they can thrive in Beaverton,” she wrote.

Beaverton is also poised to have its first woman mayor, after Lacey Beaty unseated incumbent Denny Doyle with 53% of the vote.

This year, Beaverton voters adopted a new city charter that added a sixth council seat and changed the role of the mayor. Past mayors worked full-time and ran the city’s day-to-day operations. Beaty will still serve full-time, but a city manager will serve as the administrative head of Beaverton’s government.

Beaty, 36, has served as a Beaverton city councilor since 2015. She’s a U.S. Army veteran, lacrosse coach for Beaverton High School, and most recently served as director for Virginia Garcia’s School-Based Health Clinics.

Beaty is, interestingly, not the first woman elected as mayor, but she will become the first to serve in the role.

In 1976, Beaverton elected Renee Fellman as mayor over incumbent David McBride. But in the same election, voters approved a change to the city charter that abolished the position of city manager and made the mayor full-time – the same change that is being undone today. The 1976 charter change invalided the mayoral election results, and Fellman decided not to run in the special election for the new mayor’s role.

“I just don’t feel like I can take that time away from my family,” Fellman told The Oregonian at the time.

Beaty said that, as she ran for mayor, she was thinking of Fellman, and of the importance of having a variety of voices speaking up for the city’s interests.

“Beaverton is a really young and really diverse city,” Beaty said. “The average age is 35, Portland’s is 44. One in four residents identifies as a person of color. Having diversion representation making decisions is incredibly important.”

— Samantha Swindler, sswindler@oregonian.com, @editorswindler





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