For weeks, the imbroglio over changing the name of Interstate Avenue has played out in the neighborhoods of North Portland, in the blogosphere, and, more recently, in private discussions among city commissioners. This week, though, it's blowing up all over the walls of city council chambers.
This Thursday, October 25, Commissioners Sam Adams and Randy Leonard are introducing a resolution that would keep any decision from being made on the name change until next July—conveniently, after the May primary election. (Adams and Leonard are the only current commissioners who will be on that ballot.) The resolution would create a César E. Chávez Street Naming Committee, which would compile a list of five possible streets—perhaps even including Interstate—to name after the revered labor leader.
But here's where it gets interesting: The following week, on November 1, Mayor Tom Potter has scheduled a vote to definitively rename Interstate to César E. Chávez Boulevard. Though they're separated by a week, these votes are diametrically opposed. On the one side, Adams and Leonard, pushing for a delay in the decision. On the other, Potter and Dan Saltzman pushing for an immediate name change. And dangling in the middle: Commissioner Erik Sten.
In the past three weeks, Sten has played the role of a broker between the two sides. Earlier this week, he frantically tried to convince the mayor to put the brakes on his plan, arguing that forcing a vote on the name change would produce a divisive result—a 3-2 vote.
But at the same time, Sten admitted that if he is forced to vote on Potter's plan next week, he'll likely be a pained third yes vote.
What a difference two months makes! On September 6th, city council voted unanimously to create a public comment period on renaming Interstate after Chávez. At the time, everyone held hands and agreed on how great it would be to rename the street—heck, even the Kenton neighborhood association board initially endorsed it.
But, as we've seen, it didn't take long to fall apart. At best, the city commissioners were fooled into thinking neighborhood support for the change was more widespread than it really was. At worst, city council hung the Chávez committee out to dry, to face the increasingly angry neighbors on their own.
That the vote—either the Leonard/Adams package or the mayor's—will end in a divided council shouldn't be a surprise. It's the logical resolution to a process that's been politically bungled from day one.