City Commissioner Amanda Fritz met with 22 people last Thursday night, June 4, to plan her outreach effort on the sit-lie law. The meeting followed Fritz's move last month to extend the ordinance for six months so that Portlanders can rehash the same old arguments for and against it before a council vote in September.
Ironically, Fritz could probably have killed the sit-lie, had she voted against it in May. But by sincerely promising to discuss it for the next six months, she has now afforded fellow City Commissioner Nick Fish the opportunity to cover his ass politically to be the swing vote in September for the law's perpetual continuation. By then, it is expected Fish will have completed the deal to build his long-promised Resource Access Center (RAC) for the homeless in Old Town. His philosophy seems to be that by building the RAC, he can then vote to continue enforcing an ordinance that criminalizes homelessness.
Yes, he may be a former civil rights attorney, but Fish is now categorically a politician. He sent a staffer to last week's meeting instead of attending personally like Fritz, and with all due respect to the staffer, the contrast felt like Fish was sending a message to the group that he was somehow above their discussion.
For her part, Fritz listened earnestly for over 90 minutes to homeless activist Patrick Nolen, Mike Kuykendall from the Portland Business Alliance, and others as they re-articulated opposing and intractable positions on the law. I actually felt sorry for the commissioner at one point for reopening such a can of worms.
Having covered these discussions for three years I felt a nostalgic sense of déjà vu during much of the meeting, except for the welcome addition of Hotlips pizza on the taxpayers' dime. A facilitator took notes. Then at the end of the session, Fritz thanked people for being "willing to suspend disbelief and come here and participate tonight.
"I frankly don't know how this process is going to turn out in September," Fritz continued. "It has the potential to be a success and it has the potential to be a disaster."
It would be easy for me to continue slamming Fritz for her efforts on this ordinance, but it takes a rare combination of political naivety and political courage to admit to a meeting of constituents that your approach could be disastrous. It would be nice to see Commissioner Fish putting the same amount of skin into the game.