But isn't Adams just going to carry on the Vera Katz malaise? To call Sam Adams a Vera Katz protégée is naíve, and shows a lack of knowledge of how city hall actually works.
Yes, as Katz's chief-of-staff for 11 years, he understood his role as a kingmaker and his duty to support and follow his boss. But Adams also spent a good deal of time trying to balance out the mayor's shortcomings--namely, her insular nature which gave birth to well-founded criticisms (many born by the Mercury) that city hall was closed to new ideas.
"I've seen how city hall doesn't respond," explained Adams. "And fighting back is like punching a marshmallow."
Behind the scenes, Adams fought almost daily with Katz to open up the mayor's office to more constituents. He also ventured out on his own, going out to undernourished neighborhoods; like Linnton along the northern stretch of the Willamette River.
"We argued," admitted Adams of his relationship with the mayor. "Katz has said, 'It was the best-worst marriage I ever had.'" Adams added, "it was a responsibility not to have her like me every day; but she did respect me."
Adams also went about trying to focus Katz, who could be more a dreamer than a doer. A few years ago, in an attempt to put the mayor's office on task, Adams diligently tracked down and documented her various ideas and proposed projects. "There were 312 projects," he said. "Do you see what the problem is?"
We like our council members like we like our boyfriends: Experienced! Unlike almost every other candidate this election year, ask Adams for any level of specificity on an issue and he will provide it.
When we asked about utilities, like handling the water bureau, he conceded that utilities were his weakest topic--but nevertheless proceeded to tick off a list of bright-idea remedies to the bureau's administrative shortcomings.
Adams has worked at city hall for 21 years. He knows its strengths, and has plans to address the shortcomings. Being under Katz kept him on a short leash, but a city council seat will give him his first opportunity to fully spread his wings.
When asked what bureau he wants, he plainly stated, "transportation." He admitted it wasn't the sexiest assignment, but recognized it as vital in jumpstarting the city's economy. According to Adams, Portland needs to build up its infrastructure to accommodate the freight we need in order to compete with other West Coast cities.
"It's a very complex bureau," he added, getting excited in only the way a policy wonk can about bureaucratic intricacies. He went on to talk about hammering out common interests for the freight industry and the "bike-peds." He pointed to Amsterdam as a model to follow. He also wants to push the city to become a "platinum" city for bikes. (Currently, in spite of the city's esteemed cycling reputation, Portland is only rated as a "gold.")
Meanwhile, Fish is angling for parks bureau--the closest one can get on the city council to a "fun" assignment.
Adams cares about the community. When asked at our endorsement interview what he would do if the candidacy doesn't work out, Adams said he had been in discussions with Hacienda Development Corporation to be their executive director. Hacienda provides housing as well as health programs and a credit center for the Latino community.
"I was really excited about the prospect of that," he said. He would be their first Anglo director. "This candidacy has reminded me how much I like being out and about." In previous interviews, Adams is the only candidate who has pointed to the dangers of gentrification in North and Northeast Portland.
Adams has the remarkable potential to be a team builder. Currently city council is about as fractured as Serbia-Bosnia. There's enough friction between Francesconi and Erik Sten alone to start a brush fire. Meanwhile, the other council members have been busy carving out their own personal fiefdoms, protecting their bureaus from outside meddling. Adams promises to build coalition from within, starting with providing support to the mayor--which he's already proven he can do.
"Whoever becomes the next mayor, I'm going to work like hell to make him successful," Adams claims. "Because you can't have a successful city without a successful mayor."
Outside city hall, Adams has already started building a better sense of community. In the midst of all the empty talk about "community policing," Adams has been spelling out specific plans to instigate that concept. He says he will push neighborhood associations and police officers to cooperatively develop a Top 10 list of priorities, ensuring that community goals will remain consistent even if the personalities don't. Adams calls this a "little" idea, but in the long run it could help to improve community-police relationships in concrete ways.
And, oh hell… he's just adorable. In two out of the three Mercury's You Promised! town halls, Adams was voted the "gold medalist"--and for very good reasons. Adams is smart, funny, incredibly candid, and has a remarkable ability to be self-effacing--all qualities lacking at city hall right now.
So Why Not Fish?
Let's start with: We like Fish. He's smart enough. He's articulate on housing issues. He wants to make Portland a better community. That's all clear. But facts are facts and he's nowhere as experienced as Adams. Some have endorsed Fish saying it's time for a "newcomer." But that's like the boneheads on Let's Make A Deal who foolishly gamble their prize away, saying, "you know, instead of keeping this $10,000, I'm going to see what's behind door number two." Given Adams' considerable strengths, we're certain it's not a worthwhile risk.
Moreover, while Fish has proven his mettle as a candidate, he hasn't shown he can successfully make the transition from candidate to leader. Some of his campaigning skills could be useful in office. If elected, he has pledged to continue canvassing in an effort to engage more citizens. That plan could help address the sense that city hall is disconnected from the city.
"The rules of engagement need to be changed," Fish stated plainly. He also wants to host radio call-in shows with elected officials and to better publicize city council meetings. While those ideas are laudable, many of those public forums already exist--further pointing out that Fish may already be out of synch. KBOO has excellent call-in shows and Portland Cable Access routinely has political forums.
Moreover, Fish is missing out on an essential point: It's not necessarily how city council presents its ideas and projects to engage the citizenry, but rather what it presents.
We don't think that gambling on an untested candidate is worth the risk--especially when the alternative is tried and true, and he has great ideas for jumpstarting the city.