Lloyd Dangle
The radio ad begins with the distant sound of gunshots. A voiceover begins to spin a story about a police officer who was excused from the force after roughing up a citizen. The voiceover continues to explain that this officer was then remarkably reinstated--only to shoot at a fleeing suspect 23 times a month later. The ad then asks who the police chief was who reinstated the officer. The answer? None other than Tom Potter.

Another companion ad talks about a sergeant who was not disciplined for allegedly sexually harassing a female officer. Again, the ad points out, Potter was police chief during this time.

Together, the ads only cost the Francesconi campaign $1700, but they have purchased more attention--good and bad--than any other stunt during the almost year-long campaign for mayor.

Two weeks ago, the Francesconi campaign began airing a series of radio ads impugning rival Tom Potter's record as police chief. In conjunction, the campaign launched a sparse website, www.therealtompotter.com, which alleges to expose the "truth" about Potter's two-year stint as police chief. At best, those claims have been contested as only partial accounts of Potter's actual record. (For example, they leave out important information, such as the fact that it was a neutral arbitrator, not Potter, who reinstated the officer in the shooting incident.)

But whether purposefully misleading or simply partial truths, those ads provided enough fodder to sufficiently piss off the powerful police union, who had endorsed Francesconi during the primaries. Considering that Potter had been working in and with the police force, this endorsement was seen as a coup; one that cast doubt upon Potter's leadership and diplomacy skills. But last Thursday, those ads cost Francesconi his endorsement.

In dropping their endorsement, Robert King, president for the Portland Police Association, said he was concerned that the city councilor was badmouthing officers and undercutting faith in the police. It is the first time in the union's history they retracted an endorsement.

Although the radio ads and subsequent fallout will probably be relatively insignificant in terms of swaying large numbers of votes during the November election, the incident as a whole has several important repercussions. For starters, the fallout sets the tone for the relationship between the city's future mayor and the police union--even before either Potter or Francesconi have taken office.

Over the past decade, the union has been maligned as one of the most powerful and stubborn forces in city hall. During that time, there have been several controversial police shootings. The common denominator between these incidents, copwatching critics complain, is that the officers involved with these incidents have not been sufficiently punished--often walking away with little more than a slap on the wrist. The other shared trend is that during these controversies, Mayor Vera Katz has remained mostly mum, deferring to the judgment and political power of the police union.

Most recently, in May 2002, rookie officer Scott McCollister shot an unarmed 21-year-old black woman during a routine traffic stop. At the time, community leaders demanded that the officer be removed from the force, or at least severely reprimanded. Attempting to strike a compromise between the community's demands and the police union's refusal to punish McCollister, then-police chief Mark Kroeker dished out a five-month suspension.

That gesture ultimately cost Kroeker his job. It is widely believed that union president King demanded that mayor Katz drum Kroeker out of office for his insubordinate attitude. She did.

Moreover, for at least the past several years, the police union has balked at important policy reforms. Last March, when newly appointed police chief Derrick Foxworth tried to implement a new rule requiring officers to write a report each time they drew a weapon, the union complained that such protocols could put officers in harm's way by causing them to unnecessarily hesitate during dangerous confrontations. (Officers for Hillsboro, Beaverton and the State Patrol all follow mandatory report rules.) Ultimately, Chief Foxworth did push forward reforms, but offered the compromise that an officer would only need to complete a report when he or she actually pointed the weapon at a person.

The decision by the union to dump Francesconi sets up an important showdown with the future mayor. On the campaign trail, Potter has boasted that he's proud the union didn't endorse him. Now, with Francesconi losing the union's endorsement, it seems as if the union has lined up against both candidates.

This could signify an important shift in the relationship between the mayor's office and the union. For 12 years, Katz has stood idly by as the union has amassed more and more power, and has protected officers from necessary discipline and training protocols. But now, with nothing to lose (at least endorsement-wise), both candidates have a ripe opportunity to finally confront the union.

The fallout from the ads has also provided further hints regarding Potter's lack of passion for the job. While it's understandable that he doesn't want to lower himself to a mud wrestling competition, he barely expressed any objections during the hubbub.

While taking the high road is an honorable characteristic in a politician, apathy isn't. Potter currently seems to be sleepwalking through his campaign--and surprisingly, instead of being criticized for inaction, he is being praised for not doing anything.

Granted, Francesconi is managing to lose the mayor's race well enough on his own. But it is about time for Potter to step forward with some bark and bite. When he was challenged in the radio ads about not disciplining officers--even if the accusations were untrue--Potter missed a remarkable opportunity to voice his opinion about how he will clear out the chronic problem of slack discipline within the police bureau. Instead, Potter continues to sit back-- saying little and doing less.