- ILLUSTRATION BY SHAWN DICRISCIO
Ray Horton describes himself as a "flaming radical lefty." He voted for both Commissioner Steve Novick and Mayor Charlie Hales when they were elected in 2012, and he voted to keep Portland's water and sewer bureaus in city hall's possession in May, rather than turning them over to a new board.
Now Horton feels like he was sleeping with the enemy: "You wake up the next morning and say 'who is this person?'"
The contentiousness of the city's "street fee" debate have turned the southeast Portland resident's allegiances. On Friday, Horton, a 69-year-old retired graphic designer and rabid Model A enthusiast, filed petitions to recall both Hales and Novick.
Those efforts might seem like long shots—enraged voters, after all, twice failed to land a recall of former Mayor Sam Adams on the ballot after a sex scandal—but there are reasons Hales and Novick might be bracing for impact. And the chief reason could be Hiram Asmuth.
Asmuth is the man whose Encore Political Services collected more-than 50,000 signatures to land the Portland Public Water District on May's ballot (it netted nearly $140,000 for that work, according to campaign finance records). He had a hand in getting the successful anti-fluoride measure before voters the year before. Now, he says he's going to pour those same energies into booting Hales and Novick from office.
"I'm going to throw as much of my weight into this as I possibly can," Asmuth said this morning from Colorado, where he says he's working on a separate issue. "When I get back, I'm going to try to kickstart this thing. I'm willing to take a massive pay cut to get it on the ballot."
Asmuth, like Horton, says the street fee—which would assign residents a flat monthly fee, and assess charges on businesses via a much-debated sliding scale to raise up to $50 million a year for road improvements—is a death knell for the city's small businesses. Like Horton, he's adamant city hall needs to better prioritize its existing cash rather than forcing a regressive fee on voters (though as we've explored, such theoretical prioritizing is no easy feat).
"It's terrible across the board," Asmuth says. "There are much better ways to do this."
He concedes that the recall effort will be tough. Horton needs about 35,000 valid signatures for each Novick and Hales by October 9 to get recalls on the November ballot. Just days into campaign—and up in Washington for a Model A convention—he says he's got about 15.
"Recalls are never a slam dunk," Asmuth says. "If it gets on the ballot I think its a slam dunk because guys have betrayed us at so many levels."
A freelance graphic designer for nearly 40 years, Horton says he's never been much of a political animal. He's never so much as volunteered for a campaign. But he was incensed enough by the street fee discussion, and in particular Hales and Novick's insistence on passing a fee without a public vote, that he filed the recall petitions on Friday. Horton's since taken steps to arrange things with his bank to be able to accept political donations.
And he says there's no going back. Even if Hales and Novick killed the street fee discussion today, Horton says he'd move forward with the recall effort. Enough supporters have emerged that he actually believes it has a chance. That wasn't the case when he filed.
"It’s been a realization that this can actually happen," Horton tells the Mercury. "These guys need to be aware that people are upset."