Recently, I was asked what Tom Potter's mayoral legacy would be.
My answer should have been something like, "Why the hell are you asking me? I don't have any insight—I just write stupid jokes about him being old!" Frankly, I hadn't spent much time considering Potter's legacy but, as luck would have it, I unwittingly fell ass-first into a pretty solid answer: Tom Potter's legacy will be one of trying to include minority groups and children more regularly in city decisions. He's a one-man Up with People.
Of course, this should all be pretty obvious. During his campaign, he pledged to reach out to the community... and do little else. Nothing in his nearly three years in office illustrates that more than the visionPDX project, which was scheduled to go before city council this Wednesday, September 19. Staffers have been laboring over the survey materials for months, and now they'll finally be presenting a summary of what Portlanders think about Portland—trouble is, no amount of sweat and sleepless nights will combat the growing suspicion among city leaders that the project isn't exactly overflowing with information they can use. Portlanders want safer bike paths, increased diversity, more community policing, fewer cop shootings, eco-friendly development and industry, more jobs, etc.
These nice—if obvious—sentiments won't result in a list of projects for commissioners and bureau directors to take on, but they will undoubtedly be used to justify future projects.
But to hear staffers talk about visionPDX now, one gets the sense that "actionable" information was never really the primary goal—the real objective was to reach out to people who normally don't talk to the city, like immigrant and refugee groups. In other words, a perfect Potter project. Even that goal, though, came up short. The project was initially supposed to hit 100,000 people—the final tally was more like 13,000.
Whether he succeeded or not, this community outreach is clearly Potter's intended legacy; this line from his retirement speech pretty well sums up his own view of his time in office: "While I have had the job, the doors to city hall have been opened wider to all people, particularly those who have been marginalized in the past because of class or color." But tangible accomplishments? Not so much.
Curious as to what 13,000 of your neighbors think about Portland and its future? Here are some highlights from the visionPDX input summary: "Portlanders imagine a pollution-free future." "Portlanders envision all neighborhoods feeling safe." "Feelings run strong on the topic of diversity in Portland." "Religion is a deep and powerful influence in some people's lives."