I've sat through eight hours of public hearings on a second potential César Chávez street rename since we ran our last story on it in the Mercury ["Chávez Rename Take Two," News, Feb 19]. At the first hearing—where the subject was whether or not to rename Grand Avenue—I counted nine journalists baying for blood.
April Baer, from OPB, buttered up Wentworth Chevrolet owner Bob Wentworth and for her trouble got a few quotes about how expensive it would be to change all his business cards after a rename. When a KATU reporter made a play for an even juicier quote, Wentworth was direct. "I'm a business owner," he said. "I don't want to be quoted saying anything against César Chávez."
The consultants who are being paid to run the process this time have a weapon: Everyone's terrified of being called a racist. Fortunately, since the three hearings on Grand, Broadway, and, this week, SE 39th Avenue have been about whether or not the streets are of a sufficiently historic nature, nobody has been able to weigh in on the racism angle just yet. Nor may they ever.
By holding separate hearings on the historic nature of each of the three streets, the consultants have spread the opposition thinner than last time, when only Interstate Avenue was up for renaming. Bored to tears by a lack of decent quotes, there have also been fewer reporters at each of the meetings. And while a survey by the city auditor's office shows that between 84 (Grand) and 95 (Broadway) percent of local residents oppose the rename, I don't expect those numbers will be enough to stop city council from renaming a street in due course.
When council eventually votes it'll be able to say that while change is difficult, the process has been followed thoroughly this time. It would take someone setting himself on fire at one of the remaining public hearings to change the course of the rename now. And while we Portlanders love getting our knickers in a twist over politically correct trivialities—seriously, let's fund better education for Latinos already—I can't believe either side could care enough to keep showing up at all the hearings, let alone whip out the kerosene and strike a match. Self-immolation would make for great copy, though, if you were, in fact, considering it. Hint. Hint.