Danny Hellman
Usually standing ovations are reserved for the symphony and the Schnitzer. But on Thursday evening, after over two hours of public testimony and several months of waiting, city council voted 4-1 to pass a resolution that withdraws Portland's police officers from the Joint Terrorism Task Force. The outcome was expected--for a moment after Mayor Tom Potter brought the meeting to a close by banging his gavel, the council chambers were filled only with hushed murmurs. But then the 100 or so supporters of the withdrawal--many who had petitioned for this move for years--were on their feet, applauding.

Portland will become the first city in the nation to withdrawal its police officers from the Terrorism Task Force.

Certainly, much of the support expressed last Thursday spoke to the symbolism of the resolution. To many, the decision is an important statement about standing up against the federal government and questioning the tactics in the war against terrorism.

But the applause on Thursday was also underscored with a genuine appreciation for the recently elected mayor, who after only 100 days in office, has brought back a sense of verve and dignity to Portland politics. When elected, many saw him as friendly and cordial; few considered him controversial. But this issue has squared Potter against some conservative law-and-order forces in the city, even drawing national attention.

For his part, Potter looked weary as he sat through testimony from three dozen residents. He listened intently, but did not ask any clarifying questions and made few comments. For the past month, Potter has bunkered down with FBI agents, federal attorneys and ACLU representatives in an effort to work out a mutually beneficial arrangement. During that time, he also has been attacked by the Oregonian as "rash" and "stubborn."

Although Potter's rationale for withdrawing has been squarely based on his concern about oversight--namely, that the mayor and police chief were not allowed the same security clearance as the participating officers--the move to withdraw has been vilified as both unwise and as opening up the country to future terrorist acts.

Even Potter's fellow council member, Dan Saltzman, wrote an op-ed in the Oregonian, oddly stating that withdrawal was "disrespectful" to New Yorkers. Saltzman was the lone dissenting vote."

But Potter disagreed with these assessments. Instead, he said that the negotiations have opened up the lines of communication between local officials and federal agents. The former police chief also re-asserted that "the police have to be answerable." Under the current protocols, officers operate in a blind spot, unanswerable to their direct commanders. Potter had negotiated to be given the same security clearances as the participating officers. But when the FBI refused, Potter said that he had no choice but to withdraw the officers.

But it was Council Member Randy Leonard who best captured the spirit of the resolution. During the more than two hours of public testimony, several opponents of the resolution raised the specter of 9/11 and future terrorist attacks. But Leonard rebuffed those concerns--in providing rationale for supporting the resolution, he offered what amounted to a gut-check to the federal government's war on terrorism.

"I believed the president when he said that there were weapons of mass destruction," explained Leonard. "As it turned out, my trust in what I was told was wrong." He continued, "I have a new guiding principle: Trust, but verify."

Officers will be available to work with federal agents on a case-by-case basis.