We reported this week Mayor Charlie Hales has been gearing up for a fight this May, when Portlanders will decide who controls the city's water and sewer services. Now that effort has a name.
"The campaign is the Stop Bull Run Takeover PAC (political action committee)," Hales said this afternoon. The mayor confirmed he's been working behind the scenes since a proposal to create a "Portland Public Water District" officially made the ballot about a week ago.
Hales wasn't even in town at the time, but has made quick work of hiring longtime Democratic campaigner Carol Butler to run the effort. Butler managed then-state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici's successful 2011 campaign to replace former Congressman David Wu. And she helped Sen. Ron Wyden gain re-election in 1998.
Jay Clark—who had a hand in Hales' mayoral bid—has been tapped as fundraising manager.
"We had some prospects and ideas and, as soon as the signatures got validated, we got serious," Hales tells the Mercury. "I feel really strongly about this."
There's a lot at stake in the May 20 election. The measure Hales and others are opposing would create a new seven-member board that controls of the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services. Proponents say the new board would remove city hall cronyism from sewer and water rates, and hint more-prudent decisions will lead to rate relief.
Opponents—including the city's elected officials, environmental groups, and labor unions—have painted the effort as a takeover bid by industrial water users, far and away the water campaign's biggest supporters.
Hales has called the proposal "political terrorism" in the past. Today he called it "mischief."
"If this measure passes, the ownership of the Portland water system gets transferred to a government that a few people might be able to control," he said. "Some well-moneyed interests could buy some seats on this board."
Hales wasn't sure whether the PAC has formally been established—and the Secretary of State's office has experienced web problems, of late— but expects Butler will kick off the campaign in earnest next week. Butler couldn't talk about the effort this afternoon, she said, because of an appointment.
The campaign's unveiling comes the same week the Portland Business Alliance released a paper calling the water initiative "irreparably flawed" but also finding fault with the way Portland currently manages its utilities.
"I certainly would agree with anyone who says there's room for improvement in any city service," Hales said, adding he's made holding down rate increases a priority. "We're going to make sure we're not spending water or sewer money on anything that's inappropriate, as unfortunately was the case in the past."
The mayor is referring to questionable outlays of ratepayer money on things like the Portland Water House and Rose Festival headquarters. The city's currently defending those expenditures in a court case filed in 2011—by many of the same people backing the fast approaching water measure.
In fact, an attorney in that case recently used Hales' past statements about inappropriate use of ratepayer dollars as evidence the plaintiffs have valid claims. So he might want to stop mentioning it.