An unlikely but refreshing 2024 Portland mayoral candidate, Liv Osthus, better known by her stage name, Viva Las Vegas, feels she has a special insight to offer as a community leader. Osthus has worked in the food and beverage industry since she was 14, and has stripped at Mary’s Club — the subject of the documentary, Thank You For Supporting the Arts, as well as for an exotic dancer opera, Viva’s Holiday, inspired by her memoirs  — according to Eater Portland.

Although this would be her first elected office, Osthus has been an unyielding voice for sex workers and adult entertainers for decades in the most densely populated strip club market in the country (with the most strip clubs per capita), Portland, Oregon. She also bartends at Bunk Bar in the Inner Southeast, and so offers a personal take on the undervalued service industry, one of the top industries bolstering the economy in greater Portland.

“And while some of the Portland mayoral candidates can speak to the issues facing Portland’s food and beverage sector — Portland City Commissioner, Carmen Rubio, for instance, has been tackling the recent smell ordinance that shut down a Vietnamese restaurant, and worked on the city’s financial relief programs for businesses following the ice storm — no others are currently working in the restaurant industry,” shares Eater Portland. “Her perspective as a service worker for a small business impacts her goals as a politician.”

“Her perspective as a service worker for a small business impacts her goals as a politician.”


– Eater Portland

“I want to see small businesses flourish,” Osthus tells Eater Portland. “They’re like acupuncture points — it gets energy flowing through the city. People fly here from Japan to try our food carts, and then we put up a Ritz-Carlton.”

In an interview taken from their website below, Eater Portland spoke with Osthus — who is also a classically trained soprano and book author — about her experience in hospitality, as well as her proposed approaches to city governance. Osthus addresses downtown Portland’s crime surges and emphasizes her intent in centering art — including Portland’s food and beverage art — to promote revitalization. This story has been edited and condensed for clarity by Eater Portland.

EATER: How does your service industry background impact your platform or political goals?

OSTHUS: I say a lot that I’m perfect for the role of mayor because 90 percent of what I do is listening to people. I hope that’s what the new mayor can do. Those skills are honed both by stripping and by bartending. Also, the state of downtown is so alarming to me personally; it’s putting businesses like Mary’s on the line. That’s a keystone business down there. It’s so hard for that business to survive, and a lot of the dancers I’ve worked with have left because they can make more money flipping burgers at a food cart. It’s a systemic problem, and I’m trying to get some unique perspectives, having worked with those communities. The houseless community comes into Mary’s. Those are my patrons, and I care about them, too.

“I say a lot that I’m perfect for the role of mayor because 90 percent of what I do is listening to people. I hope that’s what the new mayor can do. Those skills are honed both by stripping and by bartending.”


– Liv Osthus, 2024 Portland mayoral candidate

EATER: I’ve heard you speak consistently about addressing the challenges facing downtown Portland — what’s your strategy there?

OSTHUS: Addiction crisis is a big part of what’s going on downtown, so I have a meeting with Portland Street Response to see how they operate — meanwhile, the city is trying to take money away from them. I’m learning about Canada where they have safe usage sites. Editor’s note: Osthus is referring to Canada’s supervised consumption sites, where people can safely use drugs without fear of arrest, in the presence of trained staff to reduce the risk of overdose. Safe usage sites, where people can access food or health care, will help cut down on crime, ideally. It’s crucial that we think outside the box. We can’t sweep it away; we can’t push it into another neighborhood. There has to be some better solution, for small businesses, too — they’re responsible for cleaning up the graffiti, cleaning up the broken glass. How many times is the business owner expected to cover that before they just close?

EATER: How does the city’s food and beverage industry, or larger hospitality industry, play a role in your efforts downtown?

OSTHUS: One of my main ideas is centering arts in our solutions. Downtown has always been a dead zone, because it really focused on those 9-to-5 office workers. But if we give those artists those abandoned buildings as studio spaces, and they flood in, soon afterward there will be a coffee shop there to serve them. Low-income housing is key, and there are so many empty buildings down there, it’s unconscionable. Those landlords are just sitting on those buildings, when so many people need them.

I’m from a small town in Northern Minnesota where I started my food service career, and those businesses can’t find workers for the summer because workers can’t afford to live there. If the food service workers can’t afford to live there, suddenly you lose the people who make your coffee, and then the city loses its magic.

EATER: Many Portland restaurant owners have expressed concern about how the city prepares for or handles extreme weather events, like the ice storm earlier this year. I’m interested in how you would address extreme weather in the future, particularly when it comes to PBOT and potential financial relief programs.

OSTHUS: Financial relief is appropriate. We have to keep our small businesses going, that’s what we’re known for. This is something we haven’t really experienced before, these weather extremes. My first priority is to house people, to make sure every neighborhood has adequate resources, and those businesses could be a key part of that. We could partner with small businesses around the city, to help feed people or keep people warm.

“I know I sound like a total idealist, but I am! I don’t think that’s inappropriate for the mayor’s office.”


– Liv Osthus, 2024 Portland mayoral candidate

EATER: Portland is a hotbed of labor organizing within the restaurant world, which means worker protections are often a point of interest for folks within the industry. Do you have any specific goals when it comes to Portland worker protections?

OSTHUS: Labor movements are hugely important. I’d love to see everyone have a living wage, not just a minimum wage, and I don’t want to see that just fall on those small businesses. How do we take the big money in our city and support those small businesses? I see how those small businesses are impacted by the rising minimum wage, which is still so much smaller than it needs to be. If it makes everything into a chain store because those are the only people who can afford it, that would be devastating too. I think, with a 30-hour workweek, people could actually volunteer, they could take part in community building. If we work fewer hours, there’s more time to work in the community garden, to help the people who don’t have housing.

When I say I want to center the arts in politics, small business falls into that, all of that hard work and creativity. We should be proud of the ones that we have. We should inspire people to start new ones. I know I sound like a total idealist, but I am! I don’t think that’s inappropriate for the mayor’s office. I think, “Why don’t we have more of that in the mayor’s office?”

Portland’s general election, which includes the ballot for Mayor, takes place on November 5, 2024.

Read the original story on Eater Portland.

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