On Friday, January 19, Mayor Tom Potter delivered his second State of the City speech, once again shunning the public at large to address a paying crowd of Portland elites at the City Club.
The grand ballroom in the posh downtown Governor Hotel was filled with City Club members and city employees—the event was priced at $20 for lunch, or a mere $5 for coffee and tea (free for the media, but good luck getting a free lunch—or even some coffee). It's a long tradition in Portland for the mayor to give his annual speech at the City Club, but in Potter's supposed era of "involving the community," the practice is woefully out of place.
Last year, Potter's office told the Mercury he'd consider holding the State of the City at a larger, free-to-the-public venue—an idea that was obviously rejected in favor of maintaining the City Club members' exclusive rights to hear the speech. Thanks for nada, mayor.
Anti-elitist grumpiness aside, as it turns out, the public really didn't miss all that much. The theme of Potter's speech—"What are you doing for others?"—amounted to little more than a celebration of his ongoing citizen-involvement programs, like the Bureau Innovation Project and (ugh) visionPDX. A large chunk of the speech was devoted to introducing citizen volunteers and city commissioners, leaving no time to announce any new city policies or direction. In fact, the only bit of news offered by Potter was that all of the police precincts will be open until midnight—and some might be open around the clock. Wow! Awesome!
Potter also said that he and Police Chief Rosie Sizer were dedicated to getting police officers out of their cars, engaging in "community policing." Funny, that sounds a lot like what Potter said on the campaign trail, and there's little to show for it two years later.
The mayor did show his comic side, though, introducing Commissioner Sam Adams as "the only commissioner unfortunate to have a name that rhymes with tram." When I asked Adams which nickname is worse, "Sam the Tram" or "Big Pipe," he laughed without answering.
But perhaps the most disappointing (and illustrative of the closed-off nature of the event) part of the afternoon was question-and-answer time, where questions were only open to City Club members—yet another exclusive privilege saved for an already privileged class. Even then, the mayor made time for a whopping three questions.
A note to future mayors and mayoral candidates: If you want to keep the public at arm's length, fine. Just don't campaign as a mayor "of the people."
You wanna live like common people? firstname.lastname@example.org