Mayor Sam Adams was under enormous pressure to deliver a convincing State of the City speech last week at Portland's City Club.
Having surprised many by voting for a 12-lane Columbia River Crossing last Wednesday, February 25, Adams seemed anxious to prove to City Club's predominantly baby boomer audience that the Breedlove scandal hasn't compromised his green credentials. Not that the audience was hostile: One sensed that most of the audience was either (a) hoping to secure a lucrative city contract, (b) staff members, or (c) related to the mayor. That's right: Adams even invited his grandmother!
On the green front, Adams announced a pilot program to weatherize Portland homes for energy efficiency, and a tax credit for businesses wanting to install solar energy systems. He seemed eager to please.
"Portland's going solar, folks!" he said.
As for the scandal, the Oregonian's editorial board had accused Adams that morning of "leading the distraction" instead of "leading the action" at city hall. Adams apologized to the audience for the "distraction" caused by his "well-documented mistake," and got a round of applause before moving on.
However, the room often felt less like an opportunity for citizen engagement than a fusty, orchestrated show. For example: The mayor wasn't forced to answer any uncomfortable, scandalous questions—which, subject to the organization's rules, can only be asked by City Club members. And his speech ran very long, leaving time for only two questions before the meeting was over. Coincidence?
"I think he stacked the room with city and county employees," one audience member told Rob Manning, the reporter from OPB.
In the press box, I sat next to the Oregonian's editorial cartoonist, Jack Ohman. "Not as much applause," wrote Ohman, in his black notebook, when the audience clapped after Adams apologized. "You can tell the audience is divided."
When Adams mentioned that the Oregonian editorial board had been "wagging its finger at me," Ohman wrote in his notebook: "Which finger?"
At the speech's conclusion, Adams' staff tried to lead the crowd in a standing ovation. Unfortunately the attempt backfired, and apart from one Portland Development Commission employee, almost everyone in the back of the room stayed resolutely in their seats.