On Tuesday night, as expected, Potter was elected as Portland's new mayor, and will be sworn in on January 3. While Potter may have crushed opponent Jim Francesconi by twice as many votes, the final weeks of the campaign revealed a decrease in public and media support for Potter.
One possible reason for the slip in Potter approval? Lack of specifics. Potter had centered his campaign on the premise that he is a "change agent" who plans on running his administration primarily on "community input." But as the campaign wore on, Potter's promises and professed vision for the city appeared increasingly flimsy. Pressed repeatedly for specifics, Potter was unable to sufficiently address the programs or projects he wished to champion once in office.
At the Mercury's endorsement interview, Potter refused to stand steadfast by any specific idea. Instead Potter once again said: "I wouldn't make any decision without the involvement of the community."
Perhaps the biggest question dogging Potter's pledges for "community input" is exactly how he plans on soliciting this wide-reaching public comment. Will he host townhall forums? Will his office conduct polls looking for public input? Will he walk the streets asking for suggestions? No word from the Potter camp.
During the campaign, candidates routinely complained and joked that no one shows up to political events. There were dozens of forums hosted by nearly every civic organization--and most were poorly attended.
During his endorsement interview with the Mercury, city council candidate Nick Fish commented, "Once you subtract campaign staff, there are often only one or two people there. It's depressing." (Dog and pony shows like the Oregon Bus Project's "Candidates Gone Wild"--in which mayoral candidates were asked to show off juggling skills rather than discuss issues--is a sad testament to what organizations are lowered to when trying to attract an audience.)
Potter has never explained how he plans to change that lackluster involvement in local politics or exactly what channels he will open for public dialogue. Yes, townhall forums can solicit ideas, but is it a correct assumption that the group who attends represents the community? Is Potter going to conduct a poll every time he votes to make certain the majority will support him? Exactly how will this public dialogue occur?
Moreover, Potter has routinely dismissed city hall's existing channels of communication. At the Mercury's You Promised! forum concerning park uses, Potter repeated his persistent assertion that he will do a better job of communicating with the public.
Council member and mayoral candidate Jim Francesconi bristled at the suggestion, retorting that Potter's insinuations "insult hundreds of city employees and the thousands of hours they spend listening to public input." For the past fours years, for example, the Planning Bureau has been soliciting public comment on the River Renascence Plan--a far-reaching project to restore and reinvigorate the Willamette River.
Potter also recently criticized a downtown tax zone that would raise revenue for an expansive mass transit project connecting light rail to outlying neighborhoods. (The $16 million in local taxes would be matched by $20 million in federal expenditures.) This proposal has been the subject of 14 months of public input and enjoys support from more than three-quarters of downtown business owners. However, without any apparent public input, Potter quickly objected to the expansion, noting that it may not be a priority for the city.
For more than a year, Potter has promised to reinvigorate community policing and shore up community support for city hall. And come January, it will be time to deliver. The Mercury congratulates Mr. Potter as he takes office--but forgive us if we remain skeptical as to how he plans on translating lofty campaign platitudes into real life solutions.