THE LABOR STAMP in Portland's mayoral race, according to most casual observers, seems easily and breezily destined for one candidate above any other: State Representative Jefferson Smith.
Smith has been a stalwart union supporter in Salem, scoring "bronze medal" rankings from the AFL-CIO in each of the past two legislative sessions. His opponents have either had little to no dealings with unions, or have rankled them in the past.
But something strange might happen on the way to Smith's presumed labor coronation, according to sources closely tracking the early stages of the campaign. It might not happen—or, also possible, he might have to share the throne with New Seasons co-founder Eileen Brady.
And here's why: Smith has been unfailingly vocal about his opposition to the current Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project—even within earshot of union supporters eagerly salivating over the onslaught of jobs promised by a new, multibillion-dollar I-5 bridge. He's bashing the project even though he's reportedly been told by some to treat it like the political third rail it is and pipe down.
Not Brady. In her bid to win over labor skeptics (remember, crunchy ol' New Seasons isn't a union shop), she's been throwing union members meat that, while not quite red, has been prepared to soft, pink perfection. In candidate questionnaires recently released by the Portland Business Alliance, Brady said "yes" when asked whether she supports the project as currently proposed. Both Smith and Charlie Hales said "no." And while Brady does follow with some noise about cost controls, she also explicitly mentions putting "our tradespeople to work."
She's clearly fighting hard. And she clearly believes she has as much a chance as winning over labor as any of her rivals do. Why does it matter so much?
Union endorsements are important: They usually bring thousands of dollars in contributions and, more importantly, an army of volunteers willing to spend weekends calling voters and knocking on doors—all to spread a chosen candidate's gospel through neighborhoods across town.
The unions are just beginning that process, I'm told, after waiting in some cases to make sure a more compelling candidate (like the not-running Jeff Cogen) didn't jump in at the last minute. The questionnaires they draft and submit to the candidates will weigh heavily. Right now, one idea is to have unions, partially under the aegis of the AFL-CIO, try for a consensus candidate. Smith isn't making that easy. Unions don't all share the same agenda—trades locals will care way more about projects like the CRC, while city workers will care way more about the carving of Portland's budget.
Still, Smith's overall record of chumminess can't be ignored, right?"
That's worth something," admits one labor source, "versus Eileen with no record." But some union members may need more convincing.