Burkholder, Novick jump into City Council District 3 race

Burkholder campaigning at the Sellwood Bridge opening in 2016. Novick at Better Naito kickoff in 2016. (Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

We’re less than one year out from what will be the wildest race for Portland City Council this city has ever seen. And in the past week or so, two new candidates with serious transportation bona fides have declared their candidacy: Rex Burkholder and Steve Novick.

Keep reading to find out who they are, why they’ll shake up the race, and what you can expect if they win…

Rex Burkholder

At a ride to save Washington County farmland in 2009.

Burkholder founded the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (now known as The Street Trust) in his kitchen in 1990. At least that’s how the story goes. The story took a big turn five years later when the BTA filed a lawsuit against the City of Portland alleging they weren’t building bike lanes on main streets as required by the Oregon Bike Bill. The BTA won that lawsuit, and it helped set Portland on a trajectory to become the best bicycling city in America for the next two decades.

Now Burkholder thinks Portland is, “Once again at a crossroads, struggling to fulfill our vision of being the most livable city in America” and he wants back into local politics.

Burkholder served 12 years on Metro Council before being term-limited out. He ran for Metro Council President in 2010 and lost in the primary to Tom Hughes and Bob Stacey. Burkholder finished a mere 600 votes behind Hughes, who would go on to win in the general election.

Some BikePortland readers might recall that Burkholder’s political fate likely rested on his controversial transportation views that belied his reputation as a progressive activist. In 2008 he came out in support of the controversial Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project (now known as the equally misleading Interstate Bridge Replacement). In an interview with BikePortland in 2008, he said he supported the project because it would come with light rail and cycling infrastructure. He had faith in project modeling that showed additional freeway lanes wouldn’t lead to induced demand and said, “I consider the CRC a tree in the forest,” and that, “We have to do something and this is the smartest thing to do… Doing nothing is not an option.”

Interestingly, toward the end of this Metro tenure, Burkholder criticized the BTA for “acquiescence” and expressed concern at the organization’s shift to the center.

Burkholder was also an early believer in open streets and was well-versed in Mexico’s “ciclovia” events that helped inspired Portland Sunday Parkways.

Burkholder left politics in 2012 and has spent the last decade as a nonprofit consultant, strategist and climate change activist. In 2014 he founded the Oregon Outdoor Education Coalition and spearheaded a successful effort to win $22 million in annual state funding for Outdoor School.

Is 2024 a good time for Burkholder to re-try his moderate stances among an electorate that’s weary of extreme views and desperate for progress and a functional government? Or will he look to be even more progressive this time around, realizing that it might have cost him dearly in his last campaign? A lot has changed in Portland since 2010, and adapting to the new environment won’t be easy. Connect to Burkholder’s campaign at RexforPDX.com.

Steve Novick

Novick outside City Hall after passage of Biketown agreement in 2015.

Novick is another known quantity to many Portland voters. He ran for U.S. Senate in 2008 (narrowly losing to Jeff Merkley) and then won a seat on City Council in 2012 with a whopping 76% of the votes. He served one term and lost to Chloe Eudaly in 2016.

Trained as an attorney and a former Department of Justice litigator, Novick is known for his quick, candid, and sometimes controversial wit. During a bruising effort to pass a local transportation street fee in 2014, Novick said, “If the voters are really mad at us… They can throw us out.” And they did.

Novick was a capable steward of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, an assignment he was given in June 2013. Three weeks into his tenure he showed up to a Breakfast on the Bridges event to mingle and mix with bike riders on the Hawthorne Bridge. He battled hard for two years to make biking safer on SW Barbur, but was never able to make a major breakthrough.

And he finally closed the loop on his journey to get more PBOT funding when the Fixing Our Streets local gas tax was approved by voters in May 2016.

Better Naito was the largest feather in Novick’s cap as PBOT Commissioner. He was around when the idea for a wider cycling path on Naito Parkway first came up in 2015 and casted a vote to fund a seasonal version of it before he left council in late 2016.

Novick is known as a policy wonk who loves digging into details (like the time he made a speech about how economics could beat the bike backlash), so it’s no surprise his campaign website offers detailed positions on his priorities.

In a press release announcing his campaign, Novick jumped onto the centrist train and called out how “both the left and the right” need to “get more realistic about the homelessness crisis.” The lack of housing, “Doesn’t mean we need to allow unlimited, unregulated camping,” he said. “We need to get people off the streets and into places that are safe.”

The entry of both Burkholder and Novick into the District 3 race is likely to shake up an already competitive field. The other eight candidates already vying for one of the three seats includes young progressive TikTok star and top fundraiser Angelita Morillo, former council candidate and City Hall staffer Jesse Cornett, and former policy director for Oregon State Rep Khanh Pham, Robin Ye.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Aaron Brown
4 months ago

I’d also give Commissioner Novick huge props for the 2016 gas tax. First time there was an initiative to find funding for portland’s streets in memory.

Quint
Quint
4 months ago
Reply to  Aaron Brown

I’m very happy to see Novick is running. He was always one of my favorite City Council members, especially his willingness to take on things that were the right thing to do even if it was controversial, and his keen policy smarts and wonkiness that were always on display. He is also the funniest Council member in recent memory.

Jakob Bernardson
Jakob Bernardson
4 months ago

District 3 here.

Yikes!

Write in “Greta Thunberg.”

John L
John L
4 months ago

I don’t think everyone has menorized which number is what area. Are there more descriptive names in use?

Damien
Damien
4 months ago
Reply to  John L

I don’t think everyone has menorized which number is what area. Are there more descriptive names in use?

I could use a map every time a district is mentioned for a year or so, I reckon.

Quint
Quint
4 months ago
Reply to  John L

1 is East Portland (everything east of 82nd/I-205)
2 is North and Northeast Portland
3 is Southeast Portland (except for Sellwood/Westmoreland area)
4 is all of Westside, plus Sellwood/Westmoreland area

Maybe imagine like the letter “S”–starting at the upper right, draw a giant S over Portland and that would trace 1-2-3-4.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
4 months ago
Reply to  Quint

Map of districts: https://www.portland.gov/transition/districtcommission/map

District 1 also has the small Sumner NA which isn’t normally part of East Portland, just south of the airport, and the airport itself.
District 2 includes all of North, NECN, and CNN, plus most port facilities, but excludes Sumner and Madison South in CNN.
District 3 includes all of SEUL except Sellwood/Westmoreland area, plus has Madison South of CNN added in, plus Gateway Green, Mt Tabor.
District 4 has downtown, the Morelands, Forest Park, Ross Island, and all them thar hills and the Goose Holler.

Quint
Quint
4 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Ah yes, I forgot to mention that a portion of NE is in District 3, basically Rose City Park and Madison South. And of course by NE I use I-84 as the dividing line, not Burnside.

BrickLearns
BrickLearns
4 months ago
Reply to  Quint

And Roseway

Michael
Michael
4 months ago
Reply to  John L

District 3 can generally be described as “SE Portland,” but even that isn’t hard and fast. I’m in District 3, but solidly in deep NE Portland, so it’s a bit of an odd bedfellows situation. I take comfort in the STV structure to the new elections, though, so even if I’m in a bit of a niche corner I can still expect my vote preferences to matter more than if each district were single members.

Watts
Watts
4 months ago
Reply to  Michael

it’s a bit of an odd bedfellows situation

Just be glad you aren’t in Sellwood.

BrickLearns
BrickLearns
4 months ago
Reply to  Michael

It’s sorta weird but IMO preferable to defining Sandy as a defining line and enshrining it as a stroad cutting through neighborhoods forever.

Quint
Quint
4 months ago

Just a correction to a common misunderstanding. My understanding is that the BTA did not “win” their Bike Bill lawsuit. They were ruled to have the standing to sue on the issue (similar to the recent ruling in the Bike Loud case), and the agency defendants chose to settle the case by putting in bike lanes through the Rose Quarter, making the lawsuit moot. This is important, because the case didn’t result in any actual case law about what does and doesn’t trigger the Bike Bill.

If I’m wrong about this, please let me know, but I’m pretty sure this is how it happened.

JaredO
JaredO
4 months ago

No thanks to highway expansion Rex

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
4 months ago

To me, it’s Rex Burkholder over Steve Novick. The better Naito Pkwy deserves more accolades than it’s just better. Is the Red Line to PDX better? Is the Rose Quarter I-5 Widening better or much worse? Was the SW Corridor MAX to Tigard better, or much much much much WORSE? I am so very glad voters rejected that MAX plan that its promoters repeatedly said was better. Yeah, I don’t think so.

Jakob Bernardson
Jakob Bernardson
4 months ago

So this is how it shakes out!

Rex and Steve are certain to finish 1 – 2 because of name recognition and fund raising. Because of experience they will have outsize influence on the new Council.

Perhaps they filed because of the lavish salaries being bruited. Old pols need money too!

Odds on Sam’s hat being tossed in soon?

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
4 months ago

I’m in District 3 (just east of 82nd but in the section near Montavilla where the eastern border is I-205). I’m heartened by the entry of Burkholder and Novick in this race, mostly because each has serious transportation chops, and a record of actually getting s*** done, which is, to my mind, what Portlanders are desperately seeking in replacing the current tragically disfunctional city council members and structure. And the fact we don’t have to choose just one is a bonus. Burkholder, Novick, and Khanh Pham would be a District 3 Dream Team, IMHO.

J_R
J_R
4 months ago

Having two capable, thoughtful, articulate people with actual accomplishments to their names declaring for the commission gives me hope for Portland.

Adam
Adam
4 months ago

At least now we have some serious candidates with a testable public record, other than TikTok, to choose from.

Up till now the declared slate of candidates was not at all impressive, and the thought of selecting three of them was beginning to seem like an absolute farce to me.

one
one
4 months ago

I remember at the 2008 Car Free Cities Conference Rex Burkholder tried to convince the crowd to be FOR the CRC Highway expansion project and got laughed offstage. Is he still working for them? Do one of you have a clip of that?