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"I'm Not Afraid to Fight": Jessie Burke on Political Posturing and the Fight to Save Portland, Oregon (updated)

"I'm Not Afraid to Fight": Jessie Burke on Political Posturing and the Fight to Save Portland, Oregon (updated)

"The county has forgotten it's in the role of public servitude," says Burke. First in a series of interviews with candidates running for public office in Portland, Oregon

Update: Many of you have written asking that the paywall be taken off this interview. I grant your request.. this time! Upcoming interviews include former Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Deputy DA Nathan Vasquez, who going up against his boss, DA Mike Schmidt. The more paid subscribers we get, the more free material can be posted for the freeloaders good citizens of Oregon and beyond xx

Jessie Burke - former champion fencer, business owner, mother of three, and now-candidate for Multnomah County Commissioner - is one of my favorite Portland people. Courageous, loyal, no-bullshit, we’ve worked together, eaten together, maybe not drank together (gotta fix that…) and together watched what was poised to be the next great American city start to crater around 2016 and, to many eyes, reach full catastrophe in 2021, with spikes in homelessness, murder, drug addiction, and citizens taking flight.

"We're really bottoming out. This has become a city run by children," Jessie told me that year, of local politicians equivocating as Portland literally burned.

That Jessie has now set her sites on fixing a host of public safety issues should surprise no one. She spearheaded the revivification of North Portland’s Kenton neighborhood in 2008 - her bakery, Posies, became an anchor tenant on what was then a tractor-trailer corridor - and in 2015, opened the Society Hotel in downtown Portland’s Old Town. A bright anomaly among the area’s many missions, the hotel and its staff now navigate a record number of overdoses and people in mental health crises - Jessie relays several horrifying stories of women in extremis - due in part to Oregon’s experiment with drug decriminalization, and years of political infighting that took precedence over the needs of citizens.

“There’s a lot of ideological posturing rather than the performing of services,” said Jessie, of leadership in conflict with itself. “You cannot live in a society that is all carrots and no sticks, and that’s sort of what we’ve created, we’ve created an incentive-only society.”

Also discussed:

  • Dirty dealings at the Olympics

  • The time Jessie’s employees would not serve a guy in a MAGA cap

  • “I travel a lot to remember what normal is.”

  • Why Jessie thinks Portland might be on the hero’s journey

  • A naked woman is crying in the street and Portland outreach workers bring her… a cookie?

  • What Jessie thinks of former Mayor Sam Adams saying he would nor run against and then, changing his mind

Learn about Jessie’s campaign at

This is the first in a series of conversations with candidates running for office in Portland, including the hotly-contested (or not?) race for district attorney, between DA Mike Schmidt (readers of this newsletter know I’ve had lots to stay about him) and Senior Deputy DA Nathan Vasquez. To hear the full episodes and bonus videos, become a paid subscriber or consider making a one-time donation.

Walk-on/off music: “Kid Dynamite” by Matt Welch


Episode notes:

Posies Cafe

To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder, by Nancy Rommelmann

“There is no place in the country better known as a bastion of good living, leisure and happy inebriation than Oregon’s largest little city, the low-lying mini-metropolis of Portland.” Freda Moon, “36 Hours in Portland” (New York Times, 2015)

The Racist History of Portland, the Whitest City in America,” by Alana Semuels (Atlantic, 2016)

Op-Ed: Outrage Culture is Out of Control,” by Nancy Rommelmann (LA Times, 2019)

“The loudest voices are not the smartest voices, and they don't know how much of anything works, and they don't understand how to move the needle." Jessie Burke, “The Dream of the 90s Died in Portland,” by Nancy Rommelmann (Reason, 2021)

The Fourth Turning Is Here: What the Seasons of History Tell Us about How and When This Crisis Will End, by Neil Howe

A correction! In the audio, I say “Damian Lewis,” when of course I meant Damian Lillard. Sorry, Dame!


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