With Jim Francesconi vacating the fourth position in city council, there is an opportunity to clean house and put in place a councilmember who will help push forward social issues, support community concerns and develop a progressive agenda.
Along with frontrunners Sam Adams and Nick Fish, Jason Newell was invited to a Mercury interview. A fourth candidate, Brian Smith, failed to show.
To pin candidates down to specific stances on social issues, they went through two separate rounds of questions. During the first round--entitled "Kiss It or Dis It"--candidates were asked to offer their opinions on current projects and local groups.
Newell was unfamiliar with sit/lie rules, ZooBombers and Rose City Copwatch, three issues that have been in the newspapers recently. Newell also dissed the anti-war resolution and kissed the drug-free zones--two indications that his views do not line up along progressive politics. For the most part, Adams and Fish kissed and dissed along the same lines: dissing editor Mark Zusman of Willamette Week, but kissing the aerial tram.
In another round of short answers, candidates were asked to vote "yes" or "no" on recent issues or ordinances.
Here, Newell voted "no" against the recently passed zoning ordinance to accommodate Dignity Village, "no" against an ordinance to stand up against the USA Patriot Act and "no" against same-sex marriages. Fish and Adams voted "yes" on all of those matters.
The turning point in the interview came when the candidates were asked, "if you had to choose one person on city council, who would you kick off?"
Without mincing many words, Adams answered Dan Saltzman. When pressed for reasons, Adams took the safe route: "He has the resources and the suave to get right back on."
Fish also said Saltzman, but made his choice because Erik Sten and Randy Leonard were his friends. "I don't know him personally," Fish said, referring to Saltzman.
In response, the Mercury asked, "Could one derive from that answer that your politics are all personal? If someone you didn't know came in (to city council), would they get a fair shake just like anyone else?"
Fish didn't answer the question directly, instead saying, "I will say that politics get down to personal [relationships]."
SO WE SAYÉVOTE
FOR SAM ADAMS!
To earn the Mercury's endorsement, Adams had to climb out of a hole--a deep one that he and his former boss, Mayor Vera Katz, have been digging for years.
When the Mercury first started publishing four years ago, one of our first feature stories concerned what we saw as a divide between the constituents that Mayor Katz worried about and the constituents that truly needed help. At that time, Katz had turned her attention to PGE Park, assuring that the streetcar was installed and that the Pearl District was being developed. At the same time, Katz had given little--if any--attention to the burgeoning homeless population, failing schools and soaring unemployment rate.
In response to the article, the mayor's office, with Adams as chief of staff, sent a terse letter to the Mercury, asking, "what had we been smoking?" This was essentially the last correspondence we received from the mayor's office for two years. We were dropped from the press release distribution lists and dozens of phone calls went unreturned. The message was clear: If you criticize us, we cut you off. Though intended to damage our newspaper's pickup rate, the Mercury has been doing great (thankyouverymuch) and Katz' actions only served to damage her credibility with her constituents.
Coming into this election, Adams was tainted by the poor policy decisions of the Katz administration. However, during the course of the campaign, we have grown to respect and appreciate Adams' candor and openness on a number of issues. Adams seems to have genuine concerns about gentrification and developers who buy up housing stock in vulnerable neighborhoods for quick profits. Over the next few years, this is an issue that will define livability in Portland. No other candidate has sufficiently addressed it.
So, in a tight race, we're giving the nod to Sam Adams, with one friendly word of advice: "Sam, we're cutting you a break. So watch your ass."
IS CLOSEÉ BUT NO CIGAR
In some ways, Fish hung himself. In his opening statement, Fish told us he wanted to "reconnect people to city hall," a sentiment expressed by nearly every candidate on the campaign trail. He went on to explain he was "bringing together virtually all the leadership of the business community and the labor movement; they do not feel welcome [at city hall]."
But Fish had little to say about individual voters and other disenfranchised groups; instead he peppered his answers by name-dropping political insiders. Moreover, Fish received the endorsement of the Portland Business Alliance--always a grave concern for the Mercury. Over the past few years, the PBA has acted as the consummate insider, often blocking citywide concerns with their own agenda. The executive director of PBA lobbied city council to vote against the antiwar resolution. They also pushed for sit-lie rules against the homeless and for an ice skating rink at Pioneer Square, a project that would have displaced activists from the city's "living room." Fish did little to defend his association with them or to mitigate concerns that PBA holds too much sway on public matters.
There is no doubt that Fish is an able and well-reasoned candidate. He has been outspoken on campaign finance reform and affordable housing. But, at times, he is also an overtly domineering personality. Like a used car salesman who is more interested in the sale than your actual satisfaction, Fish can give the impression that your interests are only interesting when they align with his.
COUNCIL POSITION TWO: WE SAY
Randy Leonard came aboard city council two years ago, after Charlie Hales stepped down and a mid-term election was held. In those two years, Leonard has quickly become the most controversial member of city council. He has come under intense attack from a select group of neighborhood activists. In a unique campaigning approach, six candidates have formed a coalition to run against him. Their theory is that by splintering the vote, they hope to prevent Leonard from amassing the 50 percent needed to force a runoff. That's a sneaky idea. We like it.
But it's Leonard's bulldog nature that nevertheless earns him our nod. City council needs diverse virtues, and tenacity is one of the qualities city hall needs most right now. Leonard's co-council member Erik Sten has positioned himself as a fountainhead of progressive ideals--especially in the areas of housing and campaign finance reform. But Sten takes forever and a day to accomplish anything. He builds coalitions and treads carefully, making certain he doesn't offend anyone's sensibility.
Leonard, on the other hand, prefers to rush in (some may say like a fool). Standing alone, this directness could be detrimental to the city and citizen's interests. But counterbalanced by Sten's tread-lightly approach, these two councilmembers provide the appropriate yin to other's yang.
In his two years, Leonard has proven he can efficiently and effectively address specific issues. Last fall, Leonard successfully pushed for an ordinance to curb tow truck fees. At the time, tow truck operators were allowed to charge exorbitant fees, as much as $400, plus a $50 "obscenity charge" if a person swore at the tow truck driver. Against vehement opposition from tow truck operators, Leonard reformed those pricing schemes, capping fees at $160 and forbidding predatory practices where drivers lurk and wait for violators.
With the exception of Mark Lakeman, Leonard's opponents have failed to define themselves as much more than anti-Leonard. (The founder of City Repair and an advisor for Dignity Village, Lakeman is sincerely concerned with civicly engaging the city. In a race between Lakeman vs. Saltzman or even against Adams, we'd choose Lakeman. Here, he picked the wrong pony to run against.) Leonard has made some hard decisions on city council and tackled important issues. He has often done so even when his popularity and political advantage were at stake. We may not like everything he says--but Portland city council needs Leonard as its backbone.
METRO COUNCIL: WE SAY VOTE FOR BURKHOLDER AND LIBERTY!
Probably the most under-appreciated race in the campaign is for two seats on Metro's council. Responsible for pulling together a regional approach to issues like transportation and urban growth, Metro is a unique and progressive governmental body. It has the goal of pinning down vague concepts like "livability" and "quality of life."
Rex Burkholder currently represents the ideals that Metro should push forward. He helped push MAX's extension into North Portland and has fought tooth and nail to keep urban growth boundaries intact. Burkholder has been the primary driving force at Metro and should be re-elected.
In a more hotly contested race, longtime incumbent Rod Monroe is trying to hold on to District Six, a seat that includes southeast Portland. Monroe has been criticized by peers as disinterested in everything but campaign donations from developers.
His main competition comes from Robert Liberty, whose main drawback is also his strength--he's not a politician. Liberty would fit in better at a university wearing a tweed jacket than on the campaign trail. He has a Harvard and Oxford pedigree and will gladly lecture you about plans for a 21st Century transportation plan. But Liberty passionately (in a geeky way) wants to redesign transportation corridors and lessen reliance on highways. It's a visionary plan and one that Metro needs to pursue. We're all about visionaries. Vote Liberty!
Did you know people in Seattle are hosting fundraising parties for incumbent county commissioner Lisa Naito? Know why? She is a principled and important player in the national civil rights fight for same-sex marriages, and she's in trouble! Naito was running unopposed until she and three other county commissioners supported a policy change which permitted same-sex marriages. After her public support for gay and lesbian rights, Naito was slammed by conservative forces. The Constitution Party put up a right-wing candidate to contest her. What's worse: The staunchly conservative Oregonian endorsed him!
Naito needs your help. She has had the courage to stand up for civil rights. She has unabashedly stepped out from behind politics and plainly stated her viewpoints. She is smart and progressive. Multnomah County and an entire national civil rights movement needs Naito.