Portland’s progressive DA Mike Schmidt is branded lazy by challenger for spending time meeting lawmakers to push ‘equity’ instead of working on cases in crime-ridden Oregon city

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Written By Maya Cantina

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  • District Attorney Mike Schmidt facing off with subordinate Nathan Vasquez
  • Have opposed views on what the DA’s job is – in the trenches or a wider role
  • Vasquez also attacks Schmidt for destroying morale among prosecutors

Portland’s progressive, Soros-backed DA spends too much time glad-handing lawmakers to push his ‘equity’ agenda – and not enough time working on criminal cases, his rival says. 

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt is facing stiff competition from senior deputy district attorney Nathan Vasquez ahead of the May 21 vote.

Vasquez is viciously critical of his boss, who was elected in 2020 has and presided over the city’s rising crime crisis, which saw annual murders hit and all-time high and other violent crimes soar. The city’s downtown is now largely a no-go zone and is overrun with homeless drug abusers who’ve driven away many of its retailers. 

Vasquez contends that the city’s notorious crime problem would be better if Schmidt focused on day-to-day prosecutions – and not pushing for ‘equitable’ new laws that victims’ advocates say prioritize criminals over those they harm.  

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt is facing stiff competition for reelection

Schmidt was elected from outside the office and spends much of his time meeting with local and state politicians, and attending events and conferences.

He frequently talks up his success boosting the office’s budget by 30 per cent and and increasing its numbers by 30 new prosecutors.

Schmidt also touts his political advocacy and legislative success in making the justice system more equitable – meaning fairer to people on lower incomes and from minority backgrounds. 

Vasquez, by contrast, spent his entire career in the trenches and now spends his times handling big cases in the courtroom.

He came up through the ranks since 2001 under former DA Mike Schrunk, who for  a decade made a point of being the first in and last out.

His vision to be more hands-on and instead of spending so much time focused on issues not directly related to prosecuting open cases.

Vasquez claimed Schmidt was an absent boss who left the office rudderless, causing discontent, low morale, crushing caseloads, and high turnover.

Analysis by The Oregonian found Schmidt swiped in to the DA’s office 60 per cent of days, compare to Vasquez’s 90 per cent.

Opponent senior deputy district attorney Nathan Vasquez is viciously critical of his boss

Opponent senior deputy district attorney Nathan Vasquez is viciously critical of his boss

DAs of nearby, but much smaller, counties both came to their office more than Schmidt, one at 80 per cent and another at 91 per cent.

‘It’s pretty clear I’m the only candidate in this race who is consistently in the office prosecuting serious cases, standing up for victims, and providing the present, dedicated leadership that my fellow prosecutors need day in and day out,’ Vasquez told the paper in response.

However, days signing in to the office doesn’t measure how long either candidate actually spent there, or account for their very different roles.

Schmidt delegates the day-to-day running of the office to two chief deputies who directly supervise prosecutors, and a first assistant functioning as a chief of staff. 

Former DAs in other areas, even those who don’t support Schmidt, said 60 per cent was about right for a big city like Portland.

They chalked up Vasquez’s attitude to a lack of understanding of his different the job was to a frontline prosecutor.

‘The work of the elected prosecutor is to build bridges from the courthouse into the community,’ former Seattle DA Dan Satterberg said. 

‘You can’t do that if you are only in the courthouse. It took me a while to figure that out.’

Stan Garnett, former DA of Boulder, Colorado, who doesn’t know either candidate, agreed and recalled he frequently travelled around his district to meet leaders.

Oregon became the first state in the country to decriminalize the possession of all drugs including heroin and cocaine in 2020. Pictured a man smoking crack in downtown Portland

Oregon became the first state in the country to decriminalize the possession of all drugs including heroin and cocaine in 2020. Pictured a man smoking crack in downtown Portland

‘If I had been simply sitting at my desk every day worried about attendance or somebody criticizing that, I don’t think I would have been as effective as a district attorney,’ he said.

Schmidt himself at a debate last month said Vasquez was too rooted in the past and didn’t understand the need for his progressive approach.

‘He’s right that we’re facing real challenges. It’s just that the old ideas are wrong. I am focused on moving forward,’ he said.

He talked up his work pushing through the recent bill that recriminalized small amounts of drug possession, after Oregon’s legalizing of drugs was blamed for a spike in crime and overdoses.

Schmidt also claimed his advocacy with Oregon politicians helped secure $25 million for a round-the-clock drop-off sobering center.

‘That’s something that law enforcement on the frontlines has been asking for for decades. And now we’re finally bringing it home,’ he said.

Vasquez countered that Schmidt was overstating his role.

‘I bet all of us sitting in this room here have a boss that loves to take credit for everyone else’s work. That’s what you’ve got in Mike Schmidt,’ he said.

He also attacked him for his response to huge 2020 Black Lives Matter protests that took over parts of downtown Portland for weeks.

‘His very first effort as the DA was to come forward and tell the community all the things he wasn’t going to prosecute,’ he said.

Schmidt (pictured with his family) was elected from outside the office and spends much of his time meeting with local and state politicians, and attending events and conferences

Schmidt (pictured with his family) was elected from outside the office and spends much of his time meeting with local and state politicians, and attending events and conferences

However, Vasquez’s criticism doesn’t just extend to his rival’s progressive advocacy or job performance, but to his internal leadership.

‘I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you. Mike Schmidt has destroyed morale in the DA’s office, absolutely destroyed it,’ he said at the debate.

The union representing prosecutors has endorsed Vasquez and a recent survey was full of staff complaining they hadn’t seen Schmidt or their supervisors in weeks.

The office’s most senior female prosecutor, chief deputy district attorney Kirsten Snowden, also made a withering complaint to HR in February.

The 25-year veteran’s six-page complaint seen by The Orgonian accused Schmidt of creating a ‘workplace culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation’.

One of her gripes was Schmidt allegedly passing over a top prosecutor for promotion because of he was too close to Vasquez.

Snowden claimed deputy district attorney Brian Davidson was the ‘obvious candidate’ for a higher job opening, but was barely considered.

‘The only reason given for DA Schmidt’s refusal to consider Brian Davidson for the position was that ‘he is too close to Nathan’,’ she wrote, quoting an unnamed prosecutor familiar with the process.

Another top female prosecutor, Amber Kinney, claimed when she quit in disgust in 2022 that Schmidt had set back women’s advancement in the office ”by decades’.

The Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries last year found substantial evidence to support her claim.

However, criticism of Schmidt doesn't just extend to his progressive advocacy or job performance, but to his internal leadership

However, criticism of Schmidt doesn’t just extend to his progressive advocacy or job performance, but to his internal leadership

Vasquez, who is supervised by Snowden, seized on her complaint as ‘just one more example in a long list of staff who have experienced unbearable working conditions and retaliation from Schmidt’.

‘The District Attorney’s office cannot function properly and keep our community safe when it is saddled with failed leadership and a toxic workplace environment,’ he said.

Schmidt’s campaign manager Andrew Rogers said Vasquez was ‘sowing discord’ in the DA’s office that was ‘bad for public safety’.

‘Vasquez and his political allies are desperate because they know crime is down, prosecution rates are higher than they’ve been in eight years, and Vasquez has no new ideas,’ he said.

The synthetic opioid addiction and overdose crisis that has gripped the U.S. for over two decades has left governments at the federal, state and local levels scrambling for solutions.

Oregon became the first state in the country to decriminalize the possession of all drugs including heroin and cocaine in 2020.

But residents have since demanded for politicians to take action on the open-air drug markets that surfaced and fueled a homelessness crisis. 

Opioid deaths in Oregon more than tripled from 280, before the de-criminalization of drugs was voted in, to 955 in 2022.   

Fentanyl addicts who interact with first responders in Portland's downtown in the next 90 days will be connected to resources including drug treatment programs. Pictured: Two people sat on the street in Portland openly doing drugs on August 11

 Fentanyl addicts who interact with first responders in Portland’s downtown in the next 90 days will be connected to resources including drug treatment programs. Pictured: Two people sat on the street in Portland openly doing drugs on August 11

Oregon leaders have declared a 90-day state of emergency in Portland to battle the city's debilitating fentanyl crisis. Drug users pictured in downtown Portland, Oregon on August 10

Oregon leaders have declared a 90-day state of emergency in Portland to battle the city’s debilitating fentanyl crisis. Drug users pictured in downtown Portland, Oregon on August 10

According to the Oregon Healthy Authority, there were 21 non-pharmaceutical fentanyl deaths in Multnomah County in 2019, before decriminalization was passed. The data has not been updated since.

Oregon lawmakers have introduced a new bill that would undo a key part of the state’s drug decriminalization law. Public opinion has soured on it as public drug use has become more visible because of growing homelessness.

According to the City of Portland, overall homelessness increased by 65 percent from 2015 to 2023, with 6,297 homeless people counted in the latest Point in Time Count.

Portland officials cut millions from its police budgets in June 2020 following the Black Lives Matter protests and the growing ‘defund the police’ movement. 

But following a rise in crime, homelessness and drugs in the city, Portland officials reversed course and increased its $230million police budget by $5.2million a year later. 

Vasquez is massively outraising his rival, collecting $656,000 in donations by the tike of debate, compared to Schmidt’s $362,000.

If neither candidate gets more than half the vote on May 21, they go to a runoff on November 5.

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