Mostly Passing Grades 

Mayor Potter's Early Term Report Card

On Friday evening, Tom Potter hopped on his bicycle and joined the activists of Critical Mass. Though more than double the age of most of the protesters, Potter chatted easily with his fellow riders. All in all, it was a surprising sight, and one not seen in the past 12-year tenure of our aloof and reclusive former mayor.

Although Potter may not have yet made good on his ambitious promise to spend half his time circulating with the general public, he has done more than any recent elected official to step out of the enclosure of City Hall.

As Potter takes a six-day vacation to Japan this week, we thought an early report card on his first term was in order.

Public Outreach: B+

Although Critical Mass has mellowed in recent years, and friction between cyclists and police has toned down, the monthly ride is still one of the enduring symbols of the city's activist community. Over the past several years, Critical Mass has been a hot spot for police abuses, with cyclists tackled and arrested for nothing more than minor traffic violations.

Potter's predecessor tended to badmouth protesters and invariably sided with police, even when faced with blatant and videotaped incidents of abuse. To join the Critical Mass ride last Friday was, if nothing else, an important symbol that city hall is receptive to hearing all sides of the story.

Involving the Public: B-

On the campaign trail, Potter routinely promised he would bring city council meetings into community centers. So far, the mayor has yet to act on that promise, and, according to his communication director John Doussard, there are no concrete plans to do so.

That said, Doussard did say they were considering hosting a public workshop to be attended by the mayor and city council. The workshop would be an opportunity for residents to voice off about PDC's pending Burnside Bridgehead development.

This subject is clearly the hottest political ticket in town: Hundreds of residents have packed recent workshops (sponsored by PDC) to object to a proposed Home Depot. Potter's intention to host another workshop gets mixed reviews: First, it's redundant; and second, city council has limited say on PDC's decision-making process. They do control zoning issues, but how Burnside gets developed is largely PDC's job.

Public Listening Skills: A-

When Dan Handelman from Copwatch objected at city council's decision to send 20 police officers to DC to patrol the president's inauguration, he was surprised by the tone of the new mayor.

"(Potter) was actually listening to me," Handelman said, who has testified dozens of times in front of ex-mayor Vera Katz. With Katz, his suggestions were often brushed off and Katz would shuffle papers or otherwise send the message that she simply wasn't interested. Potter's biggest accomplishment to date is changing the tone at city council meetings.

Decision Making: C-

But the biggest question that remains is whether Potter can provide substance to back up his open and candid style.

He has all but ignored the highest profile vote pending for city council: Whether to reauthorize the Joint Terrorism Task Force. And, last week, when cornered by a no-win vote over plans for South Waterfront Development, Potter offered up his trademark phrase, "I think we should have more discussion," to a packed council chamber.

The vote last week was his toughest decision yet--and Potter balked. The matter concerns gripes by residents in the southwest hills that the pending development of 250-foot tall lofts will block their views of Mt Hood and the river. (At one point, Potter asked if the residents were simply being "crybabies.")

After clearly stating his support for local businesses as well as neighbors' concerns, the mayor found himself in a no-win situation. Voting against the project is a slap to developers; voting in favor will piss off SW residents.

To save the day, Randy Leonard stepped forward with a compromise on the issue--spread the buildings further apart. While not an ideal solution, it should be noted that Potter has been allowing other commissioners, like Leonard, to exert more leadership.

So far it seems Potter plays well with others, but still has a way to go before making the honor roll.

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