JEFFERSON SMITH was feeling punchy. We were nearing the end of a long interview, and the mayoral candidate had just finished explaining why it would be stupid—now that Mayor Sam Adams isn't running—to make next year's race all about Adams and his legacy.
"They could," Smith said, invoking his two main rivals, Eileen Brady and Charlie Hales, while simultaneously fidgeting with a pair of chess pawns. "I'm not going to. He's not in the race."
But later, as he kept talking, Smith hinted that what he wants—and what Portland's elite political donors want—are most certainly not the same thing. In fact, a referendum on Adams seems precisely what the fat-cat check cutters (my words, not his) want most.
In his conversations with would-be donors—"they're all important people"—he says he's heard something close to a "consensus" on three main points, points that would fit just as well on a pitchfork used to run Adams out of town.
"I've heard that 'weird' doesn't work—Portland's too weird," he says. "Also, there's too much process. And third, we've got to stop all this sustainability crap." Although sometimes, Smith adds, the word is "fetish."
This rankles Smith. And it's a good thing for his campaign that he isn't planning to head up into the West Hills any time soon with his hat in his hand. Because that crowd probably won't be clamoring to give him their money.
(This might also explain why Eileen Brady is suddenly employing the "Fresh Start" campaign slogan; it's not just about trading in on her ties to New Seasons—it's about not coming off like Sam Adams.)
"There are three things I love about Portland: We're creative, civically engaged, and sustainable," Smith says, flipping the coin on words like "weird" and "process." "A lot of people have taken the city for granted."
Dumping those qualities in a push for renewal, he says, would leave Portland looking like "Phoenix with rainier weather. I wouldn't want to run for mayor of that town."
Smith certainly has his foibles. He can talk and talk and talk and then talk some more—he used the word "amplify" at least five times when we spoke. Critics will fairly question whether lofty rhetoric can translate to policy successes in a lousy economy. He also must run to overcome media reports about some minor blemishes on his financial history. (Although, he notes in a dig at Adams, "I've never missed a mortgage payment.")
But all the same it's refreshing to hear a politician stick up for Portland instead of trying to apologize for it.