POLICE CHIEF MIKE REESE has a decision to make. And he needs to make it now. The choice is clear-cut, even though the ramifications are not:
Stop the soft, informal mayoral campaign he's clearly launched in the past two weeks—registering domain names, talking to advisers, and, now, opening a campaign account—and focus on being chief of police. Or plainly acknowledge that his handlers have persuaded him to run, and then figure out how and when to hand the police reins to someone else, either on an interim basis or permanently. (As the Oregonian notes, he's got nearly enough vacation banked to get him most of the way through the May primary.)
Reese, apparently too busy to sleep, has been doing both. And that has to stop.
On any handful of issues—but especially, right now, with the handling of Occupy Portland—the potential for conflicts of interest (or at least the perception of those conflicts) between the two roles is too immense. Reese isn't just any city employee or Johnny or Jane Lunchpail running for office. He's the chief of police, and his bureau is the city's most visible, and expensive, spending the largest share of Portland's operating cash.
The timing of the latest step in Reese's electoral quest is eyebrow raising. On Friday, November 11, the day after Reese and Mayor Sam Adams announced the pending eviction of Occupy Portland, Reese found time to register a campaign account with the Oregon Secretary of State's office.
It suggests that as Reese was firming up plans with his subordinates for the eviction (and patrolling the camps himself, also on Friday), his future was still on his mind. It doesn't take a political genius to discern that his handling of Occupy, particularly if he stumbles at some point (he hasn't yet), will affect his electoral odds. A campaign also creates a strange dynamic with Adams, who may be Reese's boss right now, but has a far dimmer political star.
"When you're dealing with the issues he's had to deal with, at the same time as opening the account, it raises concerns about where his priorities are. That's a fair question of any candidate," says Reverend Chuck Currie, a police accountability advocate and former political candidate, speaking only for himself. "We need a police chief who is focused on the right issues and not politics. He may decide he can do both, and if so, I'll respect that, but I think it's a fair question to ask."
Reese is already walking a fine line, and it strains credulity to say that he's not already running for mayor. The state AFL-CIO council announced last week he'd appear at a mayoral and council candidates' forum. The day of the forum, Tuesday, November 15, they said he would not make it, because he'd been so busy with Occupy. The initial announcement called him a candidate.
Reese, when asked to address the fundraising account and whether it's appropriate to try to balance both roles, did not return two messages. Adams, through his spokeswoman, also offered a curt "no comment" on whether Reese had updated the mayor.
One Reese ally, City Commissioner Randy Leonard, told me earlier this month that Reese isn't the type of public servant to mix politics with duty. He also said Adams doesn't have it in him to be shunted aside.
"Nobody should think he isn't going to be mayor until midnight, December 31, 2012", Leonard said of Adams.
Other observers stress that opening an account doesn't mean Reese is running full time. It's just a way to be above board about any exploratory spending.
Maybe. But it's also a solid indicator. The timing of all this—talk of Reese running emerged as police were sharpening their rhetoric on Occupy Portland—hasn't been lost on occupiers.
Says an Occupy statement: "These things are not a coincidence."