If there's one thing you can learn from this year's truckload of campaign literature, it's that candidates have a knack for saying a whole lot of nothing.
In case you haven't been to your mailbox lately, a landslide of fliers have been arriving at your home for the past week, as candidates try to grab your attention before you fill out that ballot. To be fair, most of the people running for city council this year have no political credentials, which means they've got thin—or nonexistent—records to tout. Nevertheless, we scrutinize the candidates' mailers to see who's stretching the truth, who's floating a pile of fluff, and who's making the boldest claims.
Check out portlandmercury.com to download copies of all of the candidates' fliers, so you can follow along as we fact check them.
SAM ADAMS for mayor
CAMPAIGN LIT HIGHLIGHT: Recycles the same stock photo of Adams that he's been using for years; mentions "green"—and puts the word in quotes—twice, and talks about moving Portland forward.
CELEB APPEARANCE: Former Governor John Kitzhaber
MOST GENERIC PHRASE: "He had the cour-age to tackle the tough issues that others gave up on."
MOST AUDACIOUS CLAIM: Adams "authored and passed a law requiring lobbyists to disclose" who they're working for, and his opponent Sho Dozono "is being backed by some of those same lobbyists" who opposed the legislation.
REALITY CHECK: Snap. Indeed, lobbyist Len Bergstein—who the Dozono campaign has described as a close friend of the candidate—paid for a $27,295 poll central to Dozono's public financing disqualification.
What's most interesting about the flier Adams is handing out—which touts Adams' accomplishments, like how he "lowered taxes on small businesses" and regulated city lobbyists—is what's tucked inside. On goldenrod paper, one side showcases the Oregonian's endorsement of Adams. On the flip side is an annotated April 17 column from the Oregonian's Steve Duin, with lines like "Dozono has no ideas," "ability to adjust his storyline," and "armed with legendary lobbyist Len Bergstein" underlined. The sheet is marked at the bottom: "This photocopy authorized by Sam Adams for Mayor."
SHO DOZONO for mayor
Campaign Lit Highlight: Dozono stands in front of a twilight city skyline, in a piece with the theme "connecting our community."
Celeb Appearance: Mayor Tom Potter, in the background of a photo taken in New Orleans
Most Generic Phrase: "Sho doesn't just talk about doing the right thing—he does it."
Most Audacious Claim: In the "Did you know? That was Sho!" section of the flier, Dozono touts the "PDX2Nola" initiative he launched with his wife, to aid New Orleans.
Reality Check: A year after Dozono's New Orleans group pledged ongoing assistance to the hurricane-ravaged region, their "Big Idea" project hasn't gotten off the ground.
Reflecting his campaign, Sho Dozono's fliers spend plenty of words focusing on Dozono's long record of community service, highlighting his "volunteer work around Oregon and around the country."
Though Dozono has, in the last week (finally!), tossed out a few specific things he'd do if elected mayor (like dedicating "three of my staff to economic development and business creation"), his campaign literature lacks details on his agenda. The strongest promise Dozono makes in his glossy flier is to "keep Portland moving in the right direction."
JEFF BISSONNETTE for city commissioner, position one
Campaign Lit Highlight: Bissonnette sits on a park bench, and showcases his "decade of experience holding utility companies accountable to ratepayers."
Celeb Appearance: State Representative Chip Shields, quoted as saying, "Jeff will... unite people all over Portland."
Most Generic Phrase: "We need Jeff Bissonnette on the Portland City Council."
Most Audacious Claim: "Jeff's spent the last decade fighting Enron..."
Reality Check: Bissonnette was hired as the Citizen's Utility Board of Oregon's organizing director in June 1998. His first project was fighting Enron's deregulation proposal.
Bissonnette's flier—a large postcard, really—crams in only the basics, including his alma mater (U of O), his resume highlights (created clean energy programs, advocated for consumers, "worked to feed hungry children"), and his endorsements, under the banner of "a candidate who can get the job done." Like Bissonnette, the piece is understated and straightforward.
CHARLES LEWIS for city commissioner, position one
Campaign Lit Highlight: One piece is eight pages(!) in a scrapbook format, with pictures of Lewis' projects—from Ethos to the Peace Corps, the other kicks off with a picture of Lewis filling potholes with gravel he purchased with public campaign funds.
Celeb Appearance: Al Gore, shaking hands with (a ponytailed) Lewis in the Congo in 1996
Most Generic Phrase: "We need someone in city hall who is looking out for the little guy."
Most Audacious Claim: Lewis calls out city subsidies to "boondoggle after boondoggle," saying the city should instead "invest in programs that will allow families and individuals to stay in Portland."
Reality Check: Lewis doesn't point to specific "boondoggles," but elsewhere refers to "multi-million-dollar condos in the downtown area" that he says the city has subsidized.
While Lewis focuses much of his literature on the work he's done over the years—from launching Ethos, to starting a small business (the Portland Duck tours, which he recently sold)—he also hits his main campaign message over and over. Lewis has his sights set on making Portland affordable (at the expense of boondoggles!) and "strengthening our communities," two planks in his "little guy" platform.
AMANDA FRITZ for city commissioner, position one
Campaign Lit Highlight: A photo of the Portland Building downtown is missing the "Portlandia" sculpture, above the line "What will be outsourced next?"
Celeb appearance: Former city council candidate Dave Lister is seated at a conference table with Fritz.
Most Generic Phrase: "Because after all, it's your money."
Most Audacious Claim: Fritz calls out a four-year-old city council vote that sent "millions of dollars in computer maintenance to a Canadian firm," and says it doesn't make sense "at a time when our local economy is struggling."
Reality Check: That vote was in 2004. The economy is just now hitting the gutter.
Fritz takes the outsourcing theme a few steps further, highlighting that 2004 city council vote on a computer maintenance contract (where more than $4 million went to a Candian company), and calls for audits of city projects to make sure they're utilizing local workers. It's a shift from Fritz's usual "basic services in all 95 Portland neighborhoods" campaign rhetoric (though that's also mentioned in the mailer). She also lays out an eight-point plan to boost the local economy and create "more good jobs."
JOHN BRANAM for city commissioner, position one
Campaign Lit Highlight: Branam has four versions of the same mailer—for different parts of town—featuring Branam surrounded by kids, and a photo of the Steel Bridge.
Celeb Appearance: The only difference in the geographically tailored pieces is the slate of semi-celeb endorsers. The piece tagged for the "West Hills" features Tom Kelly of Neil Kelly Company, Chris Coleman of Portland Center Stage, school board member Dan Ryan, and Jay Bloom, interim president of the local United Way. Oregon Action's Jo Ann Bowman is noted on the other three pieces, for North and Northeast Portland, and the Hawthorne/Belmont area.
Most Generic Phrase: "John believes we must redouble our efforts to reduce Portland's carbon footprint."
Most Audacious Claim: As the Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association president, "John has helped businesses like New Seasons and Art & Sole locate in North Portland."
Reality Check: We bet New Seasons didn't need a whole lot of "help" moving to Arbor Lodge.
Branam's flier is short and sweet, with quick hits on four pillars of his agenda. His agenda mirrors that of many of this year's candidates, with a focus on schools, the local economy, and the environment (Branam, too, puts "green-collar jobs" in quotes). The candidate tosses in "collaborative leadership" as the fourth leg of his message, saying nonspecific—and Potter-esque—things like "Our city needs commissioners who can bring Portlanders together. We need leaders who know how to work with existing communities and governmental leaders to move Portland forward."
CHRIS SMITH for city commissioner, position one
Campaign Lit Highlight: Smith has put out two mailers already, in the week before ballots went out. One features the view from the OHSU tram looking toward downtown, and focuses on Portland's future growth. The other, with pictures of community members, is about increasing civic engagement.
Celeb Appearance: Powell's Books' Michael Powell is quoted, saying, "Chris knows transportation and land use..."
Most Generic Phrase: "Portland is a great city."
Most Audacious Claim: Twice in the piece on growth, Smith showcases a figure pegging Portland's projected growth as 300,000 people by 2030—a number Adams has used frequently on the stump.
Reality Check: The Oregonian discredited the figure on April 22. The actual growth projection, via Metro, is 148,000 people by 2030.
In both pieces, Smith touts his "15 years of work in the community" as an activist on issues like transportation, smart growth, and government transparency. Thanks to his frequent presence on Portland's committees and task forces, Smith can point to accomplishments like helping create the city's public financing program, lobbyist registration system, and Bike Master Plan. Oddly, despite his love of the streetcar system—and the work he's put into building and expanding the network—Smith doesn't mention or picture streetcars in either piece.
NICK FISH for city commissioner, position two
Campaign Lit Highlight: Fish's piece is meta, with a photo of him handing campaign literature to someone at the SW Broadway MAX stop. The message is "opening city government to everyone."
Celeb Appearance: There's a photo of Fish standing side by side with Senator Ron Wyden.
Most Generic Phrase: "[He's] been shining a light on city government..."
Most Audacious Claim: "He... won $35 million for affordable family housing."
Reality Check: Fish didn't pull in that hefty chunk of change on his own. The money, in the form of a federal Housing and Urban Development grant, went to the Housing Authority of Portland (HAP) in late 2001. Fish had joined the HAP board in December 1999, shortly before the grant application process began.
Of all the campaign literature across the city, Fish spills the least ink. He makes a quick reference to his accomplishments—the HAP money, his activism to "save the Portland Women's Crisis Line," and his work as host of the Outlook Portland public affairs show. Then he hits three general agenda items he'd tackle if elected: He'd "support stronger 'sunshine laws'" to make government more transparent, invest in schools for smaller classes, and work "to make Portland a national leader in creating good-paying green jobs." Fish is the only candidate in the city who doesn't feel compelled to put "green" in quotes.
Capped with the quote from Wyden—"Fish has a long track record working for progressive values..."—and a list of his endorsements, Fish ends by asking for your vote by May 20.
JIM MIDDAUGH for city commissioner, position two
Campaign Lit Highlight: Middaugh has two campaign lit pieces so far, both of which show him walking down NE 28th with his family. One piece has the tagline "Our priorities. Our city. Our future," and the other calls Middaugh "The clear choice for ALL of Portland."
Celeb Appearance: Congressman Peter DeFazio and former Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten—Middaugh worked for them both—stump for Middaugh on the back of the earlier piece, but Sten is absent from the newer mailer.
Most Generic Phrase: "Just as important as what Jim does is how he does it."
Most Audacious Claim: "Jim saved taxpayer money by cutting more than $1 million from city budgets."
Reality Check: As the city's Endangered Species Act manager, Middaugh did in fact slash his own budget from $2.3 million in 2000 to $900,000 by the time he left to become Sten's chief of staff in 2007.
In his earlier piece, Middaugh takes aim at his opponent Fish, but doesn't mention the candidate by name. Instead, he says "Jim isn't a well-connected downtown lawyer," and "he hasn't spend the last six years running for various offices"—a reference to Fish's past two bids for city council.
The newer piece sticks to Middaugh—mostly, as there's a reference to "big business and developers" funding his opponents—touting his work on the Columbia River Gorge and with his neighborhood association, in addition to his work for the city. His sound-bite priorities include "investing in schools, parks, and affordable housing," and "keeping an eye on the bottom line."
ED GARREN for city commissioner, position two
Campaign Lit Highlight: In a cost-saving measure that the low-budget candidate spins as being environmentally friendly ("'Electronic Campaigning'... saves trees, paper, and carbon"), Garren's campaign literature is web only, and has gone out via email.
Celeb Appearance: None. Unless you count Garren's shoutout to the "two women friends who own one of the last independent book stores on the West Coast, 'Volumes of Pleasure' in Los Osos, CA," who gave him a T-shirt he wears in one campaign photo. The shirt says, "Mess with me, you mess with the whole trailer park."
Most Generic Phrase: "Vote for Ed Garren for REAL change at city hall."
Most Audacious Claim: "Garren has also gained notice by proposing rent stabilization and other protections for Portland residents."
Reality Check: Garren has in fact gained notice for promoting rent stabilization as the centerpiece of his agenda. The problem is, state law prohibits it. Garren shoots back, saying he'd lobby for changes in the state law if elected to city council.
Garren's literature is littered with platitudes, like "It's not enough to talk about making change, we've got to do things," and "Talk is cheap and I think people are ready for some tangible action." Unfortunately, Garren's campaign material is short on tangible things he'd do if elected; instead it's focused on criticizing what the city hasn't done (affordable housing promised for the South Waterfront hasn't been build yet, Garren points out). The closest Garren gets to specific action, beyond his currently outlawed rent stabilization idea, is his call for "many new living-wage jobs."