This week you’ll get to know a rising star in local political and advocacy circles, Ashton Simpson.
At just 34 years old, Simpson is running for Metro Council, and with no challengers for his east Portland district seat, he’s now all but assured the spot. (I actually didn’t know that update about his campaign until he told me during the interview, so you’ll have to excuse me when I say “if you’re elected” several times.)
Simpson will be just the second Black man to ever sit on Metro Council, following in the footsteps of Ed Washington who served for a decade between 1991 and 2001. It will be the start of Simpson’s career as an elected official and the culmination of a whirlwind life journey that has seen him bounce through many life experiences, both highs and lows, that are on par with someone twice his age.
After growing up in tough urban neighborhoods in Houston, Texas and dropping out of college his first go-round, Simpson found work as a mall cop. When he declined a promotion in the mall security industry, his boss urged him to join the Air Force and he served stints as a civil engineer at bases around the world before moving to Portland in 2015. In the relatively short time he’s been here, Simpson has worked as a project manager with a construction firm, earned a community development degree from Portland State University, been a community organizer for the nonprofit Rosewood Initiative in east Portland, and has had his current job as executive director for Oregon Walks for since January 2021.
In addition to all that, in the past two years he’s lost several close family members to Covid and other causes, navigated America’s racial reckoning as a Black man and has been a devoted father to his nine-year-old son, who he lives with in his home in east Portland’s Russell neighborhood.
Given his role with Oregon Walks and his volunteer activism on many transportation-related advisory committees around town, I’ve already interviewed Simpson several times for stories on BikePortland. So going into this one, I wanted to learn more about him as a person. For the first half of the interview or so, you’ll learn about how his life has shaped his values and perspectives. The second half of the interview has more policy and project talk and we touch on issues like housing, I-5 freeway expansion projects, 82nd Avenue, Portland’s tragic record of pedestrian traffic fatalities and more.
But as you’ll hear from him, Simpson doesn’t see a fine line between projects and people. To him, you can’t build up one without the other.
I really enjoyed this interview and I think you’re going to love getting know future Metro Councilor Simpson.
Full transcript here.
Thanks for listening to our podcast. If you like it, please tell your friends and give it a rating or review on your favorite player.