Portland nonprofit leader AJ McCreary is running for the Portland City Council seat currently held by Commissioner Dan Ryan. Her platform puts her to the political left of Ryan and it has earned her support from some young climate activists. But will it be enough to unseat an incumbent?
I talked to McCreary yesterday to learn more about her views on transportation.
“As somebody who deeply cares about the environment and is loudly looking at what we are proposing to do and what we should be doing, I definitely want to lean into our opportunities to make sure Portland is a bikeable, walkable, public transit-friendly city,” McCreary told me.
McCreary, 36, is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Equitable Giving Circle, an organization founded in the early days of Covid that collects and distributes food boxes and other necessities to Black, Indigenous and other people of color. Her background has been heavily focused on mutual aid work, which McCreary says she is very passionate about.
McCreary says growing up in an interracial, working class family in north Portland informs her perspective on the city today and has shaped her vision about what needs to change.
“I remember a Portland that was very bike and transit friendly, and we’re moving in a very different direction.”
— AJ McCreary
“Right now, there are parts of Portland that are bikeable. But not all of Portland is bikeable. And that has to do with lights, bike lanes, bike safe streets, streetlights,” she said. “It also has to do with where folks are living and which places are being economically developed. We need to make sure that we’re not just revitalizing downtown, but we’re revitalizing Lents, 82nd and St. John’s, and making those areas easier to get around with bikes, walking and public transit.”
If elected, McCreary would be the youngest person on City Council. She has pointed out the age discrepancy between other commissioners and their constituents. McCreary says she has a connection to Gen Z (born 1995 to 2010) via her son, who she raises as a single parent, and who has helped inform her belief in working with and for youth.
“We are only stewards for a temporary time,” McCreary said. “I’m really trying to make things better for the next generations. We should be thinking about what we’re leaving the people we’ve never met.”
Danny Cage, a student representative of the Portland Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education Policy Committee who helped create the expansive PPS climate policy, is McCreary’s youth coordinator. Cage has been advocating for McCreary at Youth vs ODOT rallies and is trying to build her support among climate advocates.
“In the last two years Portland has been through so much political turmoil, To fully address our city’s needs we need someone with a background in community to help our community,” Cage tells BikePortland.
McCreary has made climate a top priority and says she’s strongly against I-5 freeway expansions. “As someone who lives right by the freeway, I’m horrified by this expansion. It’s not going to resolve any traffic – what will resolve traffic is making sure our city is bikeable, walkable and has working public transit.”
At a Youth vs. ODOT rally in March, she signed the “Green New Deal” pledge. She has been endorsed by environmental justice organization Sunrise Movement PDX, among several progressive organizations and policymakers.
To McCreary, transportation is interconnected with everything else. She says she wants people to be able to connect with their city and each other by the way they get around, and by doing this, to help restore and give pride to Portland while keeping us on a forward-looking trajectory.
“Transportation is a language that connects things. It interconnects with housing, it connects with economic development, it interconnects with the environment,” is how she put it.
“I remember a Portland that was very bike and transit friendly, and we’re moving in a very different direction. And while I don’t want to go back, I do want to reconnect with some of those core values that we’ve had.”
— Learn more about McCreary at her campaign website.