Thanks to News Editor Phil Busse's decision to run for mayor, the Mercury finds itself in a sticky position: How do we endorse a candidate for mayor without looking like unfair jerks? Solution: The Mercury Election Genius Squad! We've chosen four undecided local community members who are geniuses in their areas of expertise to go up against the three top mayoral candidates in an interview/battle royale--and the geniuses get the final say!

It should be noted that the Jim Francesconi campaign originally agreed to an endorsement interview--but later backed out, claiming it would be a "futile gesture." However, since we're nothing if not fair, Jim Francesconi will still be represented in our interview--as a plucked chicken with money sticking out from under its wings. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY

Judith volunteers for the Homelessness Working Group, and currently serves on the Office of Neighborhood Involvement Bureau Advisory Committee.

Judith's Thoughts on the Candidates

Tom Potter: "Seasoned and smart. I was impressed by the depth of his knowledge on a diverse range of topics... sewers to economic development. I like his track record and get the feeling nobody owns him. I actually find it encouraging he didn't get the police union endorsement. He's done some great work bringing about community policing--which was seen as pretty controversial by a lot of the 'old guard.'"

Phil Busse: "I gotta admit, I was really surprised by Phil. The guy is smart and well versed on a lot of issues that Portland is facing. I liked his creativity and enthusiasm and how deeply he had thought about the issues. His passion and energy are really engaging. I love his '100 days and 100 ideas' platform (even if some of my priorities might be different). Phil would be willing to take risks. "

James Posey: "I appreciate that James is in this race. He brings a message and perspective that is so often lost. James makes no bones about it; he's a working man and is concerned about the well being of the working class in Portland. He supports the 'grand vision' but is quick to remind us that many aren't even in a position to enjoy some of the amenities the city has invested in. James has his thumb on a pulse that needs to be taken and listened to."

Jim Francesconi: "Well, what can I say? He didn't feel it was important to come and do the interview. My main concern with Jim has been how much he's really thinking of the 'little people' amid this fundraising fury--and it didn't reassure me when he chose not to show up."

MY VOTE GOES TO: "Tom Potter (although Phil would get my vote with some seasoning)."

Lawyer, political activist, and smart as a goddamn whip, Steve Novick knows the who, what, where, and why of Portland politics.

Steve's Thoughts on the Candidates

James Posey: "James is very good at pointing out when other people are just mouthing rhetoric--but not too good at sensing that in himself. The guy won't shut up. I think he had the best sense of what the city could do to help 'small business.' He would clearly reduce the number of meaningless task forces and advisory councils."

Phil Busse: "Phil spouts the least pure bullshit and would be an engaging guy to have around. But I was disappointed in the lack of substance he provided in response to two questions. When I asked if our sewer rates would go down to the national average once the 'big pipe' was finished, he forthrightly admitted (and he gets credit for that) that he didn't know. When I asked him to name the best-run city in America and say why, he said 'Telluride, Colorado because they have a bio-diesel bus system,' which seems like a ridiculously narrow answer."

Tom Potter: "Tom was the opposite of Busse: Somewhat more substance but a highly annoying personality. He's all about 'my leadership,' 'my integrity,' 'my courage.' Give me a break. He didn't quite answer my sewer question the way I asked it, but his answer showed he had studied the issue somewhat. He might be a competent Mayor--but wouldn't be any fun to have around."

MY VOTE GOES TO: "I'm undecided. I was going to vote for Francesconi as the most thoughtful candidate, but am now very disturbed by his "doing more, spending less" ads, which only serve to reinforce the too-common belief that when it comes to government, we can get something for nothing."

Dave is the editor of the Portland Alliance, and also the chief petitioner for the police accountability campaign.

Dave's Thoughts on the Candidates

Tom Potter: "I'll begin with the biggest disappointment -- Tom Potter. Don't get me wrong, it's not that Tom came off unqualified. He was composed, confident, and at times cocky. But he wasn't forthcoming with specific remedies for this town's ills. He articulated an understanding of how small business felt like the poor cousin in this town, but didn't offer anything more specific than streamlining the permitting process and instituting one-stop service. On how the mayor and police chief handled the community relations aspect of the Perez shooting, all I learned was they were following procedure and Tom would do likewise. I know and respect Tom's work in the bureau--but he needs to be ready with more details and not act like he's the anointed second-place candidate."

James Posey: "One thing James Posey did not do was hold back. He's been tilting against institutional racism within our city for years, and I thought he raised a very important point--not raised by the other candidates--that we cannot expect there to be change so long as people of color are kept out of positions of power. He was vague in his responses even though he had a solid grasp of the problem. He recognized that the sewer issue was only getting bigger, but like Potter, didn't seem to have a detailed solution; like advocating the use of dry toilet systems, for example."

Jim Francesconi: At the Mercury interview, Jim exhibited more personality and honesty than I've seen. His decision to appear sans feathers--I probably would have gone with a nice orange sauce--was bold. He also showed us just how many body openings are available in which one can shove campaign dollars. But seriously, Francesconi's dissing of the Genius Squad is just one more reminder that here's a guy with clear criteria when it comes to kissing the wrong people's ass."

Phil Busse: "Except for a certain similarity in complexions, Phil Busse couldn't be more diametrically opposed to Francesconi. Busse demonstrated that his crash course in civics was serious and he was walking around with an awful lot of information in his head. He was also ready with more than his share of solutions ranging from the very simple--like rescheduling city council meetings to increase citizen participation--to more complex proposals--like developing a civilian police review board empowered to look at police shootings and in-custody death cases. I wouldn't necessarily agree with everything on his '100 ideas' platform, but it exhibits a level of energy and thought that's lacking with most of the other candidates."

MY VOTE GOES TO: "Phil Busse in '04."

Sarah Shaoul (proud owner of Retread Threads for over 10 years) is also putting together a think-tank for small businesses who want to encourage Portland shoppers to think and buy locally.

Sarah's Thoughts on the Candidates

Busse and Potter: "I was really impressed by all the candidates who attended and was surprised that Posey, Potter, and Busse had more in common than one would think. By far, Mr. Busse has the most extensive platform. I really believe he understands how to get Portland back to being the 'City that Works.' However, I'm a bit concerned with his and Potter's faith in institutions like the PDC and the PBA, which have committed more resources to larger businesses and land developers, than assisting small businesses."

James Posey: "Posey seems like a man who's interested in leveling the playing field for all businesses as well as all people. And he made a very good point during our discussion of whether or not local government should support the arts: 'Do all Portlanders have the opportunity to enjoy the arts?'

"I encourage Mercury readers to go to their websites, and look at each of their platforms."

Jim Francesconi: "I'm truly disappointed in Commissioner Francesconi's decision to blow off this event. In trying to understand his reasoning, I can only assume the following:

1) He's earned enough money to purchase the media it takes to gain more recognition.

2) He feels he's already the frontrunner.

3) He's not concerned with issues important to small business owners like myself.

4) He has no interest in reaching out to the readers of the Portland Mercury and their concerns."

MY VOTE GOES TO: "Mr. Phil Busse."

FINAL SCORE: Busse 2, Potter 1, and Undecided 1! Thanks, geniuses!