Sean Davis

My Mayoral Campaign: Going Full Walter

Sean Davis continues his bid to be mayor of Portland, but finds himself channeling his inner Walter Sobchak as he feels frustrated by the lack of inclusion for all mayoral candidates.


“Has the whole world gone crazy?! Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?!” —Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski


I’m a month in this mayoral race and it’s hard to believe that all the worst things that make people apathetic in national politics happen on a local level. I was sent to Haiti during their revolution during “Operation: Uphold Democracy” and then I was critically injured and had friends die while trying to spread democracy in Iraq, and now I come home to run for office and find that democracy isn’t real in my hometown. I vented about this on social media and a few of my army buddies called me on it. They said I sounded like the Vietnam Veteran character Walter Sobchak in the Coen Brothers’ movie The Big Lebowski.

“This is a league game, this determines who enters the next round robin. Am I wrong? Am I wrong?”

The truth is that the very worst part about getting into politics is finding that our local government is just like our national government when it comes to big money. Money is synonymous with viability. The best recent example of this is The Big Idea: A Mayoral Debate held by our state’s largest media outlet, The Oregonian. This paper has only invited two of the twelve candidates to debate the issues in front of a large crowd of potential voters. Hundreds of people have written and signed a petition to have them change this but they won’t. Instead they published an excuse.

“Over the line! I’m sorry, Smokey, you were over the line, that’s a foul. Mark it zero.”

I get the fact that people may see me as an outsider, or as someone who doesn’t know our city’s political process very well, or as someone doing this as a stunt. None of this is true, but I can see why other people would believe that. My problem is that I can’t understand why a newspaper, whose role in our society has historically been to seek out injustice in our democratic system, is putting on a “mayoral debate” with only the two rich, career politician candidates while there are twelve actually running and six who would actually show up to debate if asked. There will be only two candidates after the May primaries. They’ve given no reasoning on why they can’t hold their two candidate debate after the people decide who the frontrunners are instead of picking the two frontrunners for the people.

“We’re talking about unchecked aggression here, Dude.”

The problem doesn’t all fall on the editors of The Oregonian, or OregonLive. The Regional Arts and Culture Council had a debate with only the two candidates as well even though RACC is a non-profit and it is against federal law to hold a candidates debate without inviting all the candidates if you are a non-profit. And on top of that RACC gets its funding from the city budget, the same city budget the mayor puts out. The labor unions, City Club, community organizations, and so many other groups only asked for the “top two” candidates.

We, as a country, have dollar signs in our eyes and have been talked into seeing money as a more valuable asset than our democratic system. If you look up how to run for office, you don’t get age or experience requirements on any of the state or county or city documents. Instead, the first thing you’re told is to create a political action committee (PAC) and register it with the Oregon Secretary of State. The 42-page “Candidate Information Packet” is filled with instructions on how to follow campaign finance regulation. In other words, a person running for office isn’t required to meet any requirements other than the potential to raise money. After you sign up, you have to have a residence in the city and be a registered voter, but that’s it. So while the system was meant to allow any responsible citizen run for office, it has mutated into a system that only allows the rich to be seen as viable.

“I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”

Look at our “frontrunner” Ted Wheeler. When he first ran for the Multnomah County Chair, he was questioned on his lack of political experience and said the criticism “presumes the only people who can fix the problems created by politicians are other politicians. And I disagree with that.” But that was then, this is now, and now the only people who can fix the problems are the people with money apparently. If Ted really believed what he said back in 2006, he would make sure that all the candidates were on that stage, or maybe he does believe it and just doesn’t stand up for what he believes as much as I do.

My biggest problem with this isn’t that I’m not being included. It’s that the other candidates aren’t being included either. These other candidates are working full-time jobs on top of running campaigns with minimal staffs. As if this wasn’t hard enough, they are putting themselves out there for public criticism. This takes courage. David Schor is a motivated man who loves this city. “He currently serves as an Assistant Attorney General for the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) where he fights corporations to get the money they owe to the people of Oregon. Before beginning work with the DOJ, David’s non-profit service in both the ACLU of Oregon and the Oregon Justice Resource Center played a crucial role in shaping his worldview.” He’s also a snowboarder. When I first found out I was running against him, I emailed and asked if he’d meet me for coffee. A few days later he met me and my daughter Jackie at Cup and Saucer on Hawthorne. Immediately, I knew this man loved this city and was motivated to help the people in Portland losing their homes.

Jessie Sponberg has so much passion. He cares so much about the houseless and while I believe if he spends more time learning policy he could do a great job in a leadership role in our city. He says that he turned his garage into a “one-stop shopping” for the houseless to come and get what they need to live on the streets for free. I don’t know much about Sarah Iannarone, but she knew what she was talking about at the debate we were in and she has many of the campaign staff from current Mayor Hale’s brief reelection bid.

I guarantee that if we had more debates with all of the candidates, voters wouldn’t believe that only the two career politicians with money are the frontrunners, but more importantly than that Portland of all places needs to show that democracy isn’t just a word we use to send people like me to war. In Iraq, my squad was told to patrol around a government building and to capture or kill anyone trying to interfere with their very first democratic elections. I remember that day very vividly. We patrolled and almost killed the Baghdad Zoo security and then we ran toward car bombs for most the day, small arms fire popping off all around us. I risked my life for democracy and protected people who also risked their lives to cast a vote in a system we hold up as the best the world has to offer. Imagine how angry and frustrated I am finding that it doesn’t truly exist in my hometown.

“I’m perfectly calm, Dude. Calmer than you are.”


Sean Davis

Sean Davis is the author of The Wax Bullet War, a Purple Heart Iraq War veteran, and a community leader in Northeast Portland, Oregon. His latest stories, essays, and articles have appeared in various magazines and media sources such as HUMAN the Movie, the international fashion magazine Flaunt, Forest Avenue's forthcoming anthology City of Weird, and much more.

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