LET THE RECORD REFLECT: Portland likes an eight-person mayoral debate.
Sure, it's messy at times. Cursing mingles with polished political speechifying. Cocktail-toting crowd members won't be silenced by decorum. People clap for taxing the rich, neighborhoods' rights, and especially for late-night bus service. But they also jeer and cajole.
In short, eight candidates offer a more "Portland" feel than a buttoned-down, two-candidate, Oregonian editorial board-approved event. We learned all of that on Monday, though it's not what was supposed to happen.
At the 11th hour, the O's editorial board pulled out of a planned debate between Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey—the only two candidates looking to replace Mayor Charlie Hales who have elective experience and so, according to the O, the ones most worthy of consideration.
Such a narrow view isn't novel in Portland. Look back four years ago, when 20-plus candidates were vying for the mayor's office, and few people seemed to care that just three were getting all the shine. (One of them, former state Representative Jefferson Smith, helped moderate Monday's debate.)
Maybe it's something in the perception of just two candidates versus three, or maybe it's the obstinacy of the lesser-known candidates themselves this year, or maybe Portlanders are on edge because of a housing crisis that's burning quickly from the city center outward. Whatever the case, 2016 feels different.
That hit in earnest Monday morning, after the O freaked out over activists' plans to protest its establishment-candidate event. (The paper's editorial board first proposed a streamed debate with no audience, but Wheeler and Bailey declined.) Right away—and partly in concert with Wheeler, his chosen candidate—Revolution Hall co-owner Jim Brunberg began arranging a backup plan.
"We know you wanted to hear the voices of all the candidates and not just a few of them," Brunberg told the audience at the event. "That's what we wanted, too." People cheered.
Every candidate who was interested got in on Monday, including two we haven't heard much from: local musician Bim Ditson, and "business employment specialist" Deborah Harris.
Ditson, dressed in his characteristic leather jacket, impressed crowd members and fellow candidates with earnest and informed answers. Sarah Iannarone captured the audience's imagination with a sweeping closing statement about Portland's possibility. Wheeler and Bailey were their well-polished, knowledgeable selves. Community college instructor Sean Davis won cheers when he chastised Wheeler for his vast war chest. Activist Jessie Sponberg mostly engaged in a fight with the audience, which had realized early on that it enjoyed booing him.
Sure, it was superficial—as the O's editorial board argued its event must not be. And it was incomplete, with not a single question, for instance, about homelessness.
But if you're basing your vote on a single event, you're doing it wrong. What Portland got was a solid sampling of its options, a dialogue without prerequisites.
This is how the city has decided it wants to elect its mayor this time around. And on Monday, it worked just fine.