PORTLAND'S VILLAGERS ARE ANGRY AND RESTLESS. They've lit the torches, sharpened their pitchforks, and are eagerly awaiting the verdict of Witchmaster General John Kroger. In the meantime, Mayor Sam Adams survived his 100th working day in office on Tuesday, May 26. Back in early January, he set the bar for policy and governing goals with great fanfare in his "100-Day Action Plan." This week we picked the plan over and asked: Is this man really our mayor? Or is he, as so many seem to be suggesting, our monster?
It's been tricky for the mayor to advance his education agenda personally—like Frankenstein's monster, it's awkward for Adams to be seen in Portland's schools with the attorney general's investigation of the Beau Breedlove scandal hanging over his head.
Many of the people the Mercury spoke with in the education community seem more anxious to push Adams for improvements, rather than go on record to discuss the tortuous impact of the Breedlove scandal. Community and Parents for Public Schools (CPPS) President Doug Wells says he's "impressed and pleased" with Adams' effort on schools compared to the mayor's predecessors—even though Adams was uninvited from speaking at a CPPS conference in late February because organizers felt the media would be distracted by his presence.
"I have not experienced collaboration with our schools at this level from city hall in the past," says Wells.
Adams also successfully appointed an education cabinet co-chaired by himself and Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler. The shining project of the cabinet, Portland Youth Corps, promises to target 2,500 incoming ninth grade students with work experience and college visits this summer. But more students than expected will get summer jobs in city bureaus.
"We had hoped for more" work placements in the private sector, Adams told the Mercury, blaming the recession for decreased summer job options there. "Anything that relies on a private sector contribution, our assumptions in those areas were too rosy because the economy has gotten worse," Adams explains.
Wheeler agrees that the economic downturn is responsible for the lower number of private sector work placements, but concedes, "uncertainty around the mayor doesn't help." Adams also admits to giving Wheeler more of a leadership role in the education cabinet. "The way we divided it up after the scandal broke is he and I co-chair it, but while the investigation is on, Ted has taken the lead in terms of school visits and those kinds of issues," he says.
MAYOR OR MONSTER VERDICT: Mayor. While Wheeler may be taking more of a leadership role in education as Adams awaits a lightning bolt to recharge his public relations batteries, the children of Portland are more likely to graduate high school than they were under former Mayor Tom Potter.
JOBS AND BUSINESS
Adams has watched as "lots of neighborhood businesses have closed because it's so tight out there," says Jon Turino, executive director of the Alliance of Portland Neighborhood Business Associations, who sits on Adams' 80-plus person economic cabinet. "But it's not Sam's fault, it's the economy," he adds.
Turino says Adams is "certainly putting out the effort that was promised" in his election campaign, and is pleased that Adams' office has listened to the input of small business owners in crafting his economic plan.
"That's a big improvement from where it was when we first saw the plan being developed," says Eric Fruits, an adjunct professor at Portland State University who also sits on Adams' economic cabinet, but has criticized Adams in the past on other issues like Major League Soccer. "To begin with, [the plan] was almost exclusively focused on trying to foster sustainable clusters in Portland, but the newer versions of the plan seem to represent a bigger mix.
"He's listened, and if you ignore his distractions, he's actually been one of the better pro-business mayors we've had," Fruits continues.
Adams has also swung a deal with wind energy company Vestas—the green company has repeatedly assured Adams as recently as last week that it will locate its North American headquarters in Portland. It's difficult to argue with the economic goal setting Adams has been engaged in, either.
"The city doesn't have an economic development strategy," Adams says. "We go into this recession without one, and there hasn't been a lot of interest in it until lately."
MAYOR OR MONSTER VERDICT: Mayor. Though Adams insists that a sustainable economy is crucial to Portland's future, his political weakness has perhaps meant he's had to stop just yelling "more green business" at every opportunity and start working more collaboratively on the city's economic plan.
The monstrous part of Adams' transportation advocacy in the last 100 days has been his support for the 12-lane Columbia River Crossing (CRC). Adams promised a good-looking bridge with world-class bike facilities that meets the city's land-use and transportation goals—but right now, the bridge fails on all three counts.
"Where we want to be as a community would be served by a much smaller bridge than the one Adams has endorsed," says transportation activist Chris Smith, who says Adams was steamrolled by pro 12-lane state authorities and council members. Right now the CRC's bike facilities are slated to run underneath the bridge like a dank, dark cave. And even Adams admits the current bridge design is "ugly."
"I totally understand the skepticism," says Adams. "I have concerns about all aspects of it." But, he promises, "This project doesn't have the green light from me or the City of Portland until we sign off on the [environmental and traffic] performance goals."
On the other hand, Mayor Adams led the effort to snag federal dollars for Portland's streetcar plan and fix street infrastructure, and he has two fat checks to wave victoriously: $45 million for the streetcar and $10.6 million for safer streets. Long-term transportation planning looks good, too: The mayor checked off unveiling broadly supported streetcar and bike master plans.
Adams also won cyclists' hearts by following through on promised bike corrals, choosing cycle track locations, and upping Portland's measly bike budget by $500,000. "This is a great start," says Michelle Poyourow of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. "Next year we'll be asking for more."
BikePortland.org Editor Jonathan Maus agrees Adams has done a good job, but laments that the scandal has kept Adams from pushing innovative ideas and more funding for bikes. "When you're a politician having trouble, anything you support that's not meat and potatoes gets scorned," he says.
Adams says he's pleased with the $500,000 for bikes in a year of nearly $9 million in cuts to the city's budget.
MONSTER OR MAYOR VERDICT: Half-mayor/half-monster. While it's impossible to ignore those federal transportation or bike dollars, when it comes to the 12-lane bridge, Adams has betrayed our expectations, and despite his assurances, we think he's signed off on too much, too soon.
PLANNING AND SUSTAINABILITY
Adams points to the creation of the Climate Action Plan as one of his biggest achievements as mayor so far. He's right—that plan spells out how Portland can massively cut its carbon emissions over the next 40 years despite gaining population.
But other planning efforts are gruesome. Adams cut 10 planning jobs from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability in his proposed budget, and has switched some remaining planners from long-term projects like the Portland Plan, an overarching vision for the city launched last spring, to focus on Major League Soccer.
"That's the mayor's prerogative," he says, when asked to confirm it.
In the 100-day action plan, Adams aimed to create four "eco" districts around Portland. But the site of the most public planning effort—the Rose Quarter—involved the not terribly "eco" plan to tear down Memorial Coliseum to make room for a minor league baseball stadium and a mall-like "Rose Quarter Live!" district. In a heated public meeting about the redevelopment, over 200 citizens turned out to complain about the project's swift timeline and lack of community input.
"What you've seen in public is a lot of the discussion that takes place behind closed doors," Adams says. "I understand it looked messy, but it was a lot more transparent than many of the decisions we make here."
Adams eventually backed away from the coliseum teardown, but now he's planning to pay for the baseball stadium in Lents with $42 million from the neighborhood's urban renewal fund—dollars originally slated for business development, affordable housing, and street improvements. Adams has also taken cues from big developers in pushing for a convention center hotel in the Lloyd District, ignoring county and Metro experts who say the project needs to be slowed down.
What got lost in the hubbub over the hotel and the stadiums is a focus on long-term planning, specifically the Portland Plan. One of Adams' first acts in office was to oust Planning Director Gil Kelley and pile his job onto the already-full plate of Office of Sustainable Development Director Susan Anderson.
"The Portland Plan absolutely requires three components and they all have to be working: extensive community engagement, dedicated staff, and very strong mayoral leadership," says Kelley. "The staff is working hard, but I worry about Sam's ability to provide sustained leadership given his compromised position."
Rather than "increasing internal city government and external community support" for his planning and sustainability agenda as he'd planned, Adams has pushed for projects that split both council and the community.
MONSTER OR MAYOR VERDICT: Monster. Adams has behaved like a vampire, sucking money from Portland's long-range planning projects to feed his blood lust for big shiny buildings that aren't necessarily in the city's best long-term interests.
ARTS AND CULTURE
It seems Adams' legendary love of the arts is paying political dividends. The arts community is "maybe his strongest base of support in town at this time," according to longtime gallery owner and art curator Mark Woolley.
Artists have also been essential to boosting Adams, the first Portland mayor in recent memory to manage the city's arts portfolio, through a tough first 100 days. After all, it was Pink Martini's Thomas Lauderdale, buttressed by Portland authors, arts educators, and musicians, who organized the city's first pro-Adams press conference just days after the Breedlove scandal broke.
Adams, assisted by Arts Policy Director Jennifer Yocom, laid out an ambitious arts policy agenda for his first 100 days: pump city money into arts programs (Check! He's asked for $100,000 in city money for the "Creative Advocacy Network" and supports city funding for arts groups like the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center); build a broad coalition of arts advocates (Check! See, "Creative Advocacy Network"); promote local arts education and philanthropic initiatives like the "Work for Art" campaign (Check!); and finish up his sprawling "Creative Capacity" strategy (a work in progress).
Most arts leaders give Adams high marks. Portland Center Stage Artistic Director Chris Coleman says Adams gets an "A-plus" in arts policy. "I have never worked with an elected official who's so hands-on in a policy issue," he says. "I know there were a couple of donors that we approached about supporting the Creative Advocacy Network, and they weren't ready to do that, and part of it was because of Sam's situation," he says. "But it's been a concern for maybe one or two people out of maybe 150 people we've approached, and we've raised $250,000 this year in the worst fund-raising environment in the last 50 years—and that's largely been attributable to Sam's energy."
But there have been other signs of strain. The mayor's hugely popular "First Thursday" arts series at city hall—the very venue of that famous bathroom smooch between Adams and Breedlove—has been canned indefinitely, breaking earlier promises to continue the series through this spring. Lauderdale also said the mayor had "lost his mind" over plans to demolish Memorial Coliseum, but the rift appears to have healed since Adams backed down on the idea.
MONSTER OR MAYOR VERDICT: Mayor. While there may be monstrous symptoms creeping in around the edges, Adams has delivered on his campaign promise to provide energy for the arts.
EXTINGUISH YOUR TORCHES
To be honest, we are more impressed than we expected to be with Adams' first 100 days—especially given the media massacre he's chosen to endure. Sure, he may have broken the law and he definitely lied about past indiscretions, but how he will eventually atone for his actions will be for Attorney General John Kroger and the moralists to decide. In the meantime, as mayor, he's been surprisingly effective on policy issues.
"Nobody is perfect, God knows, and we didn't achieve everything we set out to do," says Adams. "But by and far, on most of it, I think we have delivered—and the investigation will be done some day."
So is Adams our mayor or a monster? His answer: "I'm not even going to dignify that question with a response."
Wait. Does that mean he's got something to (Mister) Hyde?