City Commissioner Randy Leonard knows what's good for Lents. At least, that seems to be the essence of an extensive dual posting on Leonard's blog and Blue Oregon this morning called The Jaws Of Victory. As in, snatch defeat from the...
The problem? While Leonard has been trying to portray the Lents neighbors as overwhelmingly supportive of a baseball stadium (based on a poll taken last year before anybody mentioned how the stadium might be paid for), the neighbors aren't now so supportive of taking over $40 million from their urban renewal fund to pay for the stadium. Not when that money would otherwise go toward sidewalk improvements, business subsidies and affordable housing to improve the neighborhood. In fact, the more Leonard has tried to convince them baseball's a good idea because he says it is, the more they've bristled at his foot-stomping approach. From Sarah's post covering a meeting with Lents neighbors last Wednesday night:
When a neighbor asked Leonard to get specific about the “nebulous economic development” the stadium would bring, Leonard responded, “Your language betrays your position. The benefit isn’t nebulous at all.”
I don't know about you, but if a City Commissioner answered one of my questions by saying my "language betrayed my position," instead of actually, you know, answering my question, I'd be pretty furious. Still, with an economic impact study yet to be completed, you can't help admiring Leonard's political chutzpah.
Leonard's post this morning tries to explain why his zealous advocacy for Lents since he joined city council in 2002 means he knows better than the Portland Development Commission and Lents neighbors how to renew their neighborhood. PDC's urban renewal plans haven't worked, he argues. The results "have not materialized." Urban renewal is "a thoughtful approach, but one that relies on a variety of forces outside of the control of the Lents neighborhood and the PDC."
Opinion is divided over the success of PDC's urban renewal effort in the neighborhood. But even if it's not been as successful as people hoped, I don't buy the argument that Leonard knows better than PDC how to inject a little rocket fuel into the mix. But the best mind trick of all is this one, where Leonard tries to sell the baseball stadium to Lents neighbors as a way of stopping the "downtown elite calling the shots in this city." Given that the stadium is primarily being proposed to benefit a billionaire who lives in Lake Oswego and likes to dine at an Italian Restaurant called Riccardo's, I have to confess my open-mouthed awe at Leonard's attempt to squeeze a blue-collar-uprising argument into the mix. Still, he tries it with all the subtlety of a copulating elephant:
The Lents neighborhood has brashly and correctly drawn attention to years of the downtown elite calling the shots in this City, often at their expense—or worse yet, without even considering them. With the push to put our City’s storied 100+ year old baseball franchise in Lents with a first class public stadium facility, the admonitions of the neighborhood have yielded the degree of attention and relevance that they have so famously fought for. Finally winning its turn in the driver’s seat, the question that the Lents community will grapple with in the coming weeks is: Did they really want what they were fighting for, or did they just want the fight?
Like our shared hero Winston Churchill, Leonard has never been one to allow logic, reasoning or economic analysis to get in the way of making a passionate argument. But this part of his blog post really does take the cake. If I follow:
a.Downtown elites have always controlled the future of Lents.
b.Leonard is not representing the downtown elite, even though he's in bed on this deal with Merritt Paulson, who is unarguably downtown elitism personified and has even employed former mayor Vera Katz as a consultant to get the deal pushed through at considerable cost.
c.Lents neighbors should rebut downtown elitists and take control of Lents by doing what Paulson wants.
d.We must fight ourselves on the beaches! No...wait...fight Paulson on the beaches! No...that's not right...
Churchill's speeches may have won the war for Great Britain. But it was only after you Americans stepped in to help. And I suspect the commissioner's unusual line of argument, coupled with what appears to be an attempt to take the moral high ground may end up inflaming the situation rather than getting Lents neighbors to agree with his perspective.