IT CAME during a recent Portland City Council vote on a proposed immigration jail in South Waterfront. Randy Leonard was going along with the council's decision to further review the project, but bluntly told his colleagues not to kid the project's foes about whether the extra study actually meant the project might die. Because it won't.
On its own, the warning was hardly remarkable for the council's most outspoken commissioner. But what caught the ears of one observer was how the message was delivered—one sentence in particular:
"I frankly hope I'm not here when the next hearing happens," Leonard said of a discussion that won't actually be all that far off, maybe just several months.
As this observer explained, it was almost as if Leonard—undeclared about whether he wants to seek a third full term next year—was offering a wishful window into his political future. A future that may not include Wednesday council meetings, and the day-to-day affairs of Leonard's favorite fiefdoms: the fire and water bureaus.
Leonard, first elected in 2002, insists he's made no decisions. The filing period doesn't open until September, which means, he says, that "it's way too early."
But observers familiar with Leonard's thinking say Leonard isn't playing coy. There are days when he's strongly leaning toward stepping down.
They say that's it's like any other job—there are good days and bad days and much can change before it's time to file. Dan Saltzman's decision last year to wait until March before declaring for reelection was mentioned. Others suggest it's not just "some" bad days—and more like "most."
It's unknown how a rough few months has affected Leonard's thinking. After Leonard said he felt stretched thin trying to implement a new fire equipment bond he backed last year, Mayor Sam Adams plucked away one of Leonard's more controversial assignments, the bureau of development services, and gave it to Saltzman. Leonard faced questions over the bureau's priorities—public signs vs. food carts vs. home inspections—at a time of layoffs, and was trying to borrow money for a computer system upgrade that Saltzman will now oversee.
Last month, an audit questioned his water bureau's spending of ratepayer money on dubious projects: a green-tech "water house" and the revamping of the Rose Festival building. Leonard also butted heads with colleagues over his spending plan for the fire bond. Also significant: Since 2008, his family life has increasingly been a subject of city hall scuttlebutt.
Leonard has not been raising money, either, according to campaign finance reports, but neither has Mayor Adams, who is expected to seek reelection.
Leonard did tell me he's certain about one thing. He won't make anyone wait. "If I run—or not—I would make my plans known earlier rather than later."