The Art of Getting Noticed

Some candidates are rewriting the campaign playbook in their pursuit of a seat on Portland City Council. Will it work to get them elected?

Maja Viklands Harris Avatar

Last month, Rose City Reform heard from political strategists about how campaigns are evolving under Portland’s new electoral system.

This month, we spoke to three candidates who are approaching their campaigns in innovative ways. Angelita Morillo stands out for her take-no-prisoners social media channel. Nat West is doubling down on collaboration with other candidates. Eli Arnold, an army vet and police officer, has carved out a niche for himself as the resident public safety expert in his district.

Despite their varied political stances, these up-and-coming candidates share a knack for capturing attention in crowded races. But can their unconventional campaign strategies take them all the way to City Hall?

Strategy #1: The Influencer.

D3 candidate Angelita Morillo in a TikTok video

When Angelita Morillo (D3) started her TikTok channel two and a half years ago, she never planned to run for office. Working as a constituent relations manager for then-City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, Morillo wanted to create a platform that demystified City Hall, especially for Portlanders new to the public process.

“I felt like someone needed to meet people where they were,” says Morillo, whose proliferous videos use popular social media techniques like lip-syncing and playing multiple characters to explain policy concepts and poke fun at Portland’s elite.

Her candidacy was sparked by a 2023 council meeting on Portland’s proposed camping ban, during which developers were allegedly allowed to bypass homeless residents in the testimony line.

“That’s when I knew I had to run,” says Morillo, who immigrated from Paraguay as a child and faced homelessness for nearly a year as a college student. 

From followers to funders.

Morillo quickly leveraged her 33,000 social media followers to secure the 250 contributions needed to unlock matching funds from the city. She’s now nearing the second tier of public financing, which requires 750 certified donors.

“Some people say I’m only successful because of my social media, but they forget I built that platform myself to educate people about local government and policy,” she says.

“I see some candidates trying to replicate what I’ve done, but it’s hard to broker that same trust once you’re already running.”

Yet Morillo recognizes that her rapid fundraising progress may be difficult to maintain. Portland’s public campaign financing program, strained by an unprecedented number of candidates, now caps matching funds at $120,000 per council candidate, a 60% cut compared to previous years.

Turning likes into votes.

This begs the question: Will Morillo’s followers also turn out to vote for her? Many progressive elected leaders seem to think so, including City Commissioner and mayoral candidate Carmen Rubio, who has endorsed Morillo’s campaign. 

If elected, Morillo says her priority will be caring for those who have the least, something she believes will improve conditions for everyone. Perhaps unexpectedly, this includes an ambitious sanitation program.

“People are often surprised by my obsession with sanitation because they don’t expect me to be very practical. But I’ve realized that most people aren’t actually upset about unhoused people; they’re upset about garbage and uncleanliness. If we can relieve that pressure, we can have a more level-headed conversation about houselessness,” she says.

Strategy #2: The Convener.

D2 candidate Nat West presents to fellow candidates about TriMet

On a Saturday in late May, over a dozen city candidates gathered in Portland’s Old Town for a skill-swapping session. For three hours, candidates made presentations about subjects of their choosing, ranging from campaign advice to proposed amendments to Portland’s noise code.

The host was Nat West (D2), a former cider entrepreneur who regularly organizes gatherings for council hopefuls from across districts.

“I wouldn’t say my convening strategy was planned,” West says.

“It’s something I’ve always done, inspired by the collaborative nature of the Portland beer and cider communities.”

West’s marketing skills, honed while operating Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider, have made his events popular networking and media opportunities. From his campaign launch, where he shared the stage with other candidates, to pulling together the team “Cruising to City Council” for a local bike race, West is rarely seen campaigning alone.

Early coalition-building.

West says there’s more to his events than creating buzz. The goal is to help future district representatives build rapport, allowing the new council to hit the ground running.

“I sometimes argue with one of my campaign advisors over the main bullet point on my website, which is the need to build a high-functioning team. My advisor insists I should highlight specific issues, but I believe the real potential for failure lies in the lack of structure and teamwork on the council, not in the issues themselves.”

West is running on an ambitious agenda that includes increased support for small businesses, investments in public infrastructure and transportation (since winding down the cidery, he now drives a TriMet bus), and improved delivery of basic city services. Or, as West refers to it, the “boring and dirty work.” 

Sharing the spotlight.

If elected, West’s collaborative approach could land him a leadership position on the council. But first, he needs to win a seat, and so far, his willingness to share the spotlight has not excluded his own competitors.

“I don’t think collaboration threatens my position because I’m unique and not easily substitutable,” West notes.

However, he acknowledges that in his own district, he intentionally surrounds himself with the candidates whose backgrounds are the furthest from his own, like former labor organizer Elana Pirtle-Guiney. 

“She is very different from me. Our voters aren’t interchangeable, so I can genuinely support her without concern.”

West points out that for entrepreneurs, a collaborative spirit and a fiercely competitive personality are not mutually exclusive.

“I have every intention of winning this thing,” he says, “and when I do, it’s going to be as someone who helped people along the way.” 

Strategy #3: The Hands-On Approach.

D4 candidate Eli Arnold in an Instagram video

“The idea of a Portland police officer running for office is pretty crazy,” says Eli Arnold (D4), a former Blackhawk helicopter pilot now serving as a member of the Portland Police Bureau’s Central Bike Squad.

Arnold wants to offer practical solutions to Portland’s challenges of homelessness, crime, and addiction. In his opinion, the main obstacle to progress is that Portland lacks a triage-level response to the emergencies that regularly unfold on city streets.

“We talk about housing and treatment, but we’re missing the first step, which is how do we render aid until we get long-term solutions in place?”

Getting up close and personal with problems.

Arnold describes Portland’s public safety policy as “ideology-based” and says city and county leaders spend too much time in their offices and too little time immersed in the problems they’re trying to solve.

“I’ve never seen County Chair Vega Pederson or Mayor Wheeler at ‘The Pit,’” he observes, referring to the controversial tent encampment under the Steel Bridge. 

“If you have a crisis on your hands, why not go a few blocks to look at it?”

That hands-on approach has become the trademark of Arnold’s campaign. On social media, he often speaks to voters directly from street corners, narrating what he’s seeing from an officer’s perspective. He also frequently encourages other candidates to go on a police ride-along, an offer some of them have accepted. 

Pushing back against labels.

Arnold is hopeful that Portland’s new three-seat districts will allow for a wider variety of backgrounds and perspectives on the council.

“Under the new system, I think enough people might be interested in what I have to say. I want to be a voice for voters in my district who haven’t felt heard,” he says.

That includes speaking for Portlanders who feel the tax burden has gotten out of hand and worry about the flight of residents and businesses from the city. Yet Arnold pushes back against attempts to cast him as a tough-on-crime moderate.

“Being a police officer automatically makes some people dislike or distrust me, but I’m not a law-and-order candidate,” he asserts.

“I was a Bernie delegate in 2016. I’m a liberal person, but I also recognize that we’re off-balance right now. Once we take care of our fundamental public safety, I’d love to dream about things like free public transit.”

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