THE TALK in city hall, whenever it comes to Commissioner Amanda Fritz, often revolves around two points.
First, as a former neighborhood activist who asks pain-in-the-ass (yet important) questions about the hows and whys of city policy decisions, Fritz seems all too willing to wind up on the lonely side of a 4-1 vote. Which is no place to be if you want to shake up the boys' club that traditionally has dominated city council.
"Two this week," she told me during a chat in her office last Friday, March 4.
The other is that she may not run again in 2012. Public campaign cash, which lofted her into office in 2008, is no more. And the long hours of governing—let alone stumping and fundraising—already have Fritz missing her family.
"It comes at a personal cost," she says.
But Mayor Sam Adams, during his State of the City speech last month, may have changed that conversation. During the speech, he announced a new, bureau-level Office of Equity, and handed it over to Fritz. And even Fritz, usually reticent to talk about her political future, had to admit it was "definitely" another "exciting enticement to continue."
The office likely will be devoted to solving Portland's systemic disparities around race, income, age, and disability. It will start small, with "10-ish" staffers, Fritz says, and swallow the Office of Human Relations—but still keep alive the Human Rights Commission. And it will mainly operate as a hub that helps other bureaus do most of the heavy lifting in their respective domains.
For example: How is transportation doing with wheelchair curb ramps? Or maybe this: Should the city be doing more business with minority-owned firms?
It's almost an impossible job—and it's certainly drawn snickers from the Oregonian and from some of the more skeptical staffers in other commissioners' offices. It's also a big job for someone who might be feeling ground down by politics. But if the mayor is as serious about the office as he seems, then Fritz—who helped devise his proposal—is probably the right person to lead it.
The process of getting it running by July, in time for the city's next budget year, will play to one of her great strengths: listening. She's planning a series of community meetings in the next several months—and she's put out a call for anyone, anywhere with ideas to send an email. (Seriously. Hit her up at email@example.com.)
There could be a political gain for Fritz in all that work—the genuine connections she'll make across pockets of the city sometimes neglected in the political dialogue. But Fritz? She's not convinced.
"It's the right thing," she says. But "it's not politically popular."