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Monday, January 6, 2014

With Money—and Endorsements—in the Bank, Nick Fish Officially Files for Re-Election

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Mon, Jan 6, 2014 at 1:23 PM

City Commissioner Nick Fish is finally making it official.

After weeks of collecting checks like a candidate—and hiring campaign staffers like a candidate—Fish today has launched a re-election website and quietly filed the formal paperwork needed to place his name on this May's primary election ballot.

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It's a somewhat low-key move, and maybe not all that surprising for a seasoned candidate and veteran commissioner looking for his second full term on Portland's city council. (Although, it should be noted, Dan Saltzman, Fish's colleague in city hall, formally announced his plans way back in September at the Northwest Oregon Labor Council's Labor Day picnic.)

Maybe that's because no one major has yet to declare against Fish, even as he's become a target for industrial water interests after taking over the city's water and environmental services bureaus last year. Incumbents, as Mary Nolan learned in challenging Amanda Fritz in 2012, are notoriously tough to unseat.

But Fish isn't ruling out the possibility that seemingly easy landscape might change. He made sure to point out, in an interview in his office, that the quiet announcement actually followed hours of calls and community check-ins, with Fish waiting to declare, he says, until he'd lined up a convincingly deep list supporters, raised "seed" cash, and hired his team.

"My goal was to raise at least $50,000 last year, which we did. And I've been out earning endorsements," he tells the Mercury—ripping through a short list of big names, including two labor organizations, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and politicians and advocates including House Speaker Tina Kotek, County Commissioner Loretta Smith, Commissioner Fritz, candidate for Multnomah County chair Deborah Kafaoury, former State Senator Avel Gordly, and Michael Alexander of the Urban League (who wrote Fish a campaign check).

(His campaign website includes even more names, among them Steve Novick and former Mayor Bud Clark.)

Fish also says he's hired Jake Weigler, a well-known political hand, as his campaign consultant—another sign he's taking things seriously. Weigler worked for Senator Ron Wyden, ran a congressional campaign for Brad Avakian, and also ran Steve Novick's upstart race against now-US Senator Jeff Merkley in 2008.

Even without a major challenger (only perennial candidate Michael Durrow, with an impressively progressive platform, has filed), Fish's name will still appear on the ballot next to an industry-backed "water district" measure trying to wrest the city's water and environmental infrastructure away from city hall. That effort may yet give rise to more challengers.

"I intend to run a serious campaign, particularly since there's talk of a water district candidate getting in, and that person could well have unlimited corporate funds," Fish says. "I have to be prepared for any contingency."

Fish has most closely been associated with parks and then housing, homelessness, and social justice issues (all of which feature prominently on his campaign site), after having served as the city's housing and parks commissioner until Mayor Charlie Hales mixed up longtime bureau assignments last year.

Even after losing the housing bureau to Saltzman, Fish has been among the loudest voices on council on homelessness, sharply criticizing Hales' rhetoric last summer as the mayor cleared campers from "hot spots" in and around downtown.

"My voice is needed now more than ever," he says. "I'm very worried about slippage."

It seemed fair to ask whether Fish might be setting his sights on a bigger office, going big in what might be a sleepy re-election campaign to reintroduce himself to voters citywide. Fish countered that he hadn't had a chance during his last election—in 2010, when he had just a year or so on the council—to talk about his record. Mostly because he hadn't built one yet.

"Now I've got a five-year record. And it's fair game," he says. "But now I get to defend that record, explaining what my values are and how I put them into action. You have a pretty clear picture. You may like it, or you may not. But it's a pretty clear picture."

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