Hall Monitor 

Novick vs. the Oregonian

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STEVE NOVICK wrapped his brimming distaste for the Oregonian's rightward-leaning editorial board in a joke.

On his official city blog early Tuesday, January 21, the commissioner took umbrage with the O's rough handling of the Portland City Council in recent weeks—borrowing from a pro football player's nationally televised rant just two nights before.

He was peeved, in particular, by an editorial calling the city's leadership "mediocre"—presumably because it pushed for earned sick leave and wouldn't kowtow to the most draconian voices in the twinned debates over sidewalk enforcement and homelessness.

"So far, the members of the city council have kept a dignified silence," Novick wrote. "But after watching Richard Sherman's post-NFC championship game explosion the other day, I've decided, the hell with that. Let's have some fun. If the Oregonian wants to trash-talk, let's trash-talk.... You want to talk about mediocre? A paper that only delivers four times a week, now that's mediocre."

Novick also called publisher N. Christian Anderson III a "sorry Orange County right- wing publisher" and bellowed, in punchy prose, about the "economic idiocy" of trying to "foist a Fox News paper on a progressive readership."

The post went viral, at least in city hall as well as in media and political circles. It's startlingly rare to see a political figure say what's on everyone's mind and criticize a hand that's actually been good (as Novick himself will admit) about feeding him positive coverage.

And therein lies a canny political gamble.

Instead of deciding he needs the Oregonian to help him with his priorities—Novick's going to fight landlords over seismic retrofits and wants to muscle through a new street fee to bail out the city's transportation budget—he's decided he can do all that even if an aggrieved O shits on him for the rest of his career.

The paper is literally shrinking, announcing the same day as Novick's rant that it's switching to a tabloid format. Its voice has become decidedly conservative. And after layoffs and with Portland news increasingly taking a backseat to suburban and rural news, how many voters will actually care about an out-of-touch edit board's endorsements and outrage?

"Lions don't concern themselves with the opinions of sheep," Novick wrote.

As for whether the Oregonian's brain trust really was offended or not, that's unclear. But probably not. Editorial Editor Erik Lukens told me, in a brief message, that he saw it as "Steve being Steve."

Novick's comments seemed to play well among city hall sources, however. Even if the biggest names didn't get on record. Commissioner Nick Fish, confusingly mentioned in that "mediocrity" editorial as a target, but also as a good leader, declined to comment. Dan Saltzman was out sick. I never heard back from Amanda Fritz.

Not so for Mayor Charlie Hales, who chatted with his spokesman, Dana Haynes, before heading out for a meeting.

Hales didn't share his thoughts on the specifics, Haynes says, but thought Novick's piece was both "hilarious" and "great."

"He's really, really glad the commissioner wrote it and got it out there."

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