Last summer, as local candidates for city hall were clamoring for precious votes, the Mercury hosted a series of three town hall forums. For each, we asked the candidates to provide five specific promises for projects they would accomplish during their first year in office. Cleverly, it was called the "You Promised!" series.
At each forum, Sam Adams and Tom Potter dangled tasty promises in front of us—converting the city's fleet of cars to hybrids, more funding for the arts, more skateparks, less crime, and more sunshine.
But we weren't born yesterday: We know that politicians will say just about anything to score your vote, right? So, at the time, we also issued a promise: A year after the candidates gave their pledges, we would check back in to see if these elected officials kept their word.
Well, time's up! And as promised, here are Potter's and Adams' report cards.
WHAT ABOUT THE ARTS?
The results are mixed: For the most part, Adams has stayed true to his word. He has not yet fully achieved any of his promised 15 goals, but his staff has been giving the old college try to each and every one.
Mayor Potter's achievements are less certain. Part of the reason for hosting the "You Promised!" series was to pin Potter down to specific pledges. During the bulk of his campaign, Potter routinely answered policy questions with evasive platitudes, claiming, for example, that he "would listen to the community." But we wanted specifics. We wanted ideas. We didn't think 15 projects were too much to ask from an incoming mayor.
During the forums, however, Potter sneakily skated around our rules, leaving many of his promises ambiguous. For example, at the Mercury's first forum, in which the subject was supporting the arts, Potter told the audience he would develop "the arts" as a "core value." Sounds great, right? But how does one measure whether he's done so?
Nonetheless, Potter did offer some choice—and specific—pledges; namely, he promised to push forward two capital projects. Potter drew his loudest applause when he said he would work with Portland State University to bring about a new performance arts center. It was a stroke of genius: Capital projects often ignite excitement in the community and, moreover, it was an important gesture toward PSU, the city's largest university.
Unfortunately, calls made last month to PSU administrators uncovered that Potter did not follow up with his pledge. In fact, the Mercury's call was the first time administrators there had even heard about the idea.
At that same debate, Adams offered his own promises to jump-start the art-based economy in town. If you remember, Adams was locked in a tight race with Nick Fish for the council seat; in fact, most pundits believed Fish would beat out Adams. But even then, Adams refrained from trotting out flashy promises. Instead, most of his pledges were nuts-and-bolts issues—ways to find funding for art programs and new methods to support artists. Adams claimed he would secure $15 million in five years for arts funding and, interestingly, he also pledged to push for more affordable housing for artists.
Ultimately, a year later, Adams has fallen short of completing those ideas. But he has initiated programs that will eventually have big payoffs in years to come.
WHAT ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT?
The second forum focused on parks and other "green" issues. There, the Mercury asked each candidate to present ideas for cleaning up the rivers and bringing skateparks to the city.
Of the three forums, this was the most feisty, as then Council Member Jim Francesconi jabbed at Potter, directly asking the ex-police chief what positive measures he had taken for the city's parks.
Potter responded: "First of all, I wasn't commissioner of parks for eight years." Oooh, SNAP—a biting comeback to Francesconi, who had overseen the Park Bureau since '96. Potter continued, "But I'll tell you what I do personally." He then went on to tick off a list of personal lifestyle choices—he drives a hybrid, doesn't water his lawn during the summer, and works with Friends of the Trees.
At the time, that answer sounded like a crowd-pleasing cop-out—and the Mercury ridiculed Potter for it. But, a year later, it seems we owe the mayor an apology. In fact, these personal values have inspired Potter to push sustainable programs at city hall.
At that forum, Potter promised to convert the city fleet to less-polluting hybrids and begin purchasing more of the city's electricity from wind-generated sources. And, for the most part, he has delivered. Granted, these accomplishments should be tempered. The wind-purchase programs have been in place since 2000 and the pesticide-free parks were a program nurtured under Francesconi.
WANT MORE SPECIFICS?
ADAMS' PROMISES—AND DELIVERY
For the Arts:
$15 MILLION IN FIVE YEARS FOR ARTS FUNDING: Has identified $1 million and looking for more.
NEW SOURCES OF ARTS FUNDING: Trying to increase work-place giving and currently establishing a "business check-off" program that would allow companies to donate portion of business license fee refunds to Regional Arts and Culture Council.
BUILD 100 NEW AFFORDABLE LIVE/WORK RENTAL SPACES: Presently working with private developers to identify pilot projects that will use public funding.
DEVELOP ARTS TO ATTRACT TOURISTS: Ongoing: "We have much to do to grow the city as a tourism magnet," says Adams' staffer Jesse Beason.
For Parks and the "Green" Issues:
SPEED CLEANUP OF RIVER WATERSHED: Not yet. Meeting scheduled imminently to push this project.
FIGHT BALLOT MEASURE 37: Yes!
BUILD TWO SKATEPARKS: Dude, Adams' Chief of Staff, Tom Miller works closely with Skaters for Portland Skateparks and has been exceptionally active in the planning process for the city's new network of skateparks.
PESTICIDE-FREE PARKS: Waiting for three-year pilot program to run its course. Trying to determine how well a volunteer effort is working to manage the weeds.
COUNTRY'S FIRST PLANTINUM-LEVEL BICYCLE FRIENDLY COMMUNITY DESIGNATION: Portland was beat to the punch by Davis, California (silly hippies!), but Adams is increasing signage for bikes, regularly attending Bicycle Transportation Alliance meetings and is working with DMV to increase bike safety education.
For Community and Policing Issues:
STAFF UP LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT: Working on funding.
AUDIT CITY'S INDEPENDENT POLICE REVIEW BOARD: Has budgeted funding for the review; process is in progress.
CREATE "TOP 10" LIST OF COMMUNITY POLICING PROJECTS IN EACH NEIGHBORHOOD: Temporarily on hold.
EQUAL OUT LEVELS OF SERVICES BETWEEN NEIGHBORHOODS: No direct efforts on this yet.
ADAMS' GRADE FOR YEAR ONE: A-, Keep up the good work!
POTTER' PROMISES—AND DELIVERY
For the Arts:
CONSIDER CENTENNIAL MILLS AS AN ART CENTER: Helped persuade Portland Development Commission to halt planned demolition; mayor is scheduled for site tour in near future.
PROMOTE ARTS AS A "CORE VALUE": Hmm. And exactly HOW does one measure that?
INCREASE "PERCENT FOR ARTS" TO TWO PERCENT: No direct follow-up.
NEW PERFORMANCE ARTS CENTER FOR PSU: No follow-up.
DEDICATED FUNDING SOURCES: No answer from mayor's office.
MAYOR'S BALL: Staffer assigned to it and reportedly has every intention on bringing it back.
For Parks and the "Green" Issues:
REDUCE PESTICIDE USE IN CITY PARKS: Park and Recreation continue to "dramatically" cut down on pesticide use on all parks and golf courses. Portland Parks was recently certified as "Salmon Safe," the only park system in country to achieve that certification.
BE MORE AGGRESSIVE IN "GREEN THINKING": We'll just have to take his word on this one.
BEGIN TO PURCHASE SOME OF CITY'S ELECTRICITY FROM WIND SOURCES: City is negotiating with a company to build a wind farm in eastern Oregon.
CONVERT CITY FLEET TO HYBRIDS: One of Potter's first acts was to trade-in the traditional "big Ford" (the mayoral limo) for a Prius. Currently, Potter is pushing a feasibility study for converting fleet to biodiesel.
For Community and Policing Issues:
BRING BACK COMMUNITY POLICING: No answer from mayor's office.
INSTITUTE "ACCOUNTABILITY" WITHIN POLICE BUREAU'S CULTURE: That's a judgment call.
TAKE TOUGH STANCE ON METH LABS/DRUG HOUSES AND GANGS: After a series of gang-related shootings this summer in downtown, Potter held a few press conferences and urged increased police presence. Is that tough enough?
RESTORE NEIGHBORHOOD NEEDS ASSESSMENT REPORTS TO ONI SYSTEM: Actively pushing neighborhood programs to "better represent a diverse range of perspectives and needs."
POTTER'S GRADE FOR YEAR ONE: B-, Promises need more follow-up... wouldn’t trust buying a used Prius from this guy.