THE ALMOST controversial hearing last week where Mayor Sam Adams rallied Portland City Council to unanimously appeal a state order that he reinstate the fired cop who killed Aaron Campbell in 2010 played out with a bit less drama than expected.
Neither side—the community advocates supporting the mayor, or the Portland Police Association (PPA), which is backing former officer Ron Frashour—drew many spectators to council chambers last Thursday, October 4. And the vote to take the case to the Oregon Court of Appeals, having been telegraphed by every single city commissioner beforehand, played out mostly perfunctorily.
Only a couple of times did the tepid proceedings even get a little more than lukewarm. The first came during a long, telephoned-in condemnation of the unarmed, distraught Campbell's death and the PPA's response from a vacationing Randy Leonard. Then, when the PPA's counsel, Will Aitchison, was building his way to a rousing rebuttal of Leonard's statements, Adams bloodlessly cut him off when his allotted three minutes expired.
"Mr. Mayor, can I ask you a question?" Aitchison asked a little later.
"No," Adams said. "You can return to your seat."
But given the way the rhetoric around the Campbell shooting has, at times, threatened to boil over (the words "keg of powder" were bandied about after an arbitrator first ordered Frashour back to work this spring), that relative civility isn't insignificant.
And Adams—sticking his neck out in search of an answer to the question of who, ultimately, is in charge of our police bureau—is entitled to a victory bow.
Not only did he cajole his colleagues into waging a long-shot legal fight—although, sources say, he didn't have to persuade them all that much—he's also been able to expertly manage community expectations. Slowly, deftly, as his fight has raged on, he's helped deflate much of the outrage that's been simmering ever since Campbell's death nearly three years ago.
Testimony from those who did show up at city hall last week was particularly revealing.
For the first time, you could hear advocates allowing for the likelihood that the city's challenge will fall short.
In a comment endorsed by Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman, frequent city hall gadfly Joe Walsh urged the city to be ready with a "Plan B": keeping Frashour from returning to the streets.
"If you lose that case," Walsh said, "assign that man to a desk with superglue. So he'll never be able to move."
Just six months ago, even the idea that Frashour would once more wear his uniform was anathema to advocates. Now, they're coming around to it. And here's what that means: Even if Adams' legal gambit does fail, he'll have succeeded at something else just as important: keeping the peace.