POLICE COMMISSIONER Dan Saltzman appears to be employing a "Rose Garden strategy" on police issues in the run up to his reelection battle in May.
The phrase refers to presidents who stay inside the grounds of the White House, hoping to rely on the impression of power created by their incumbency to win reelection. At least, that's how Saltzman's campaign looks to opponent Jesse Cornett—who is the frontrunner among eight people on the ballot running for Saltzman's seat. Cornett is also the only candidate to collect 1,000 $5 campaign contributions, which qualifies him for a total of $150,000 in public campaign financing.
Saltzman, who has so far cast himself in the race as a self-effacing but effective bureaucrat, is likely to feel the pinch as he heads into a grueling primary. For example, Cornett challenged Saltzman to a public debate on police issues on Tuesday, March 30, following the controversial police shootings of Aaron Campbell on January 29 and Jack Dale Collins on March 22.
Saltzman's campaign manager, Emerald Bogue, sent a response letter from Saltzman to local reporters the following day.
"The community is not served by using the tragic deaths of Aaron Campbell and others to forward a political campaign," the letter read. "Or even more distastefully, a political career. We should honor their memories by making change, not demean them by trying to use their deaths to score political points."
Cornett hit back at a council session on police oversight later that evening, testifying about having to pick up the "bloody gloves" of his friend and roommate, Raymond Gwerder, who was shot in the back by a police sniper while on the phone to a hostage negotiator on Cornett's back porch in 2005. In that case, the city settled a lawsuit brought by Gwerder's family for $500,000.
Saltzman said nothing in response, but instead spent time in the session's intermission chatting with Marva Campbell-Davis—the mother of the man shot by police in January.
The next morning, Cornett renewed his criticism of Saltzman in an interview with the Mercury, describing the police commissioner as "unwilling to do anything to save future lives."
"As somebody who's been a full-time paid professional politician for what, 17 years now, seeing if he can get his fourth term in city hall, it smacked of desperation to me," said Cornett of Saltzman's accusations of grandstanding. "And I think [it] gives me a good opportunity to highlight the very successful career that I put on hold in order to make an improvement in our city.
"The real crime is that you and I were in elementary school when Jack Collins first started living on the streets in Portland," Cornett continued. "Regardless of whether I get elected, that is where Portland needs to focus its attention."
Cornett plans to continue bringing up police accountability between now and the election, but feels Saltzman is also vulnerable on other issues. Cornett says his campaign's polling shows that voters are outraged by Saltzman's support for diverting $20 million of sewer money to spend on bike infrastructure, for example. And that they are unhappy with Saltzman for "making a rich family richer," by using public money to pay for Merritt Paulson's Major League Soccer (MLS) renovations at PGE Park.
Cornett also contends that "fat cat" donors who want to preserve Portland's "status quo" are supporting Saltzman. Indeed, the commissioner's donors include Paulson's Peregrine Sports, parking-lot owner Greg Goodman, developers Homer Williams and Mark Edlen, the Portland Trail Blazers, and even the Gallatin Group, which does public relations for the Portland Police Association.
In last week's letter to Cornett, Saltzman said his calls for FBI and US Department of Justice investigations, along with releasing all documents associated with the Campbell shooting, underlined his desire for transparency. He also plans to unveil a plan in the coming weeks for mental health workers to respond in tandem to crisis calls with police officers.
Saltzman says that it's "simply not true" to say he voted to divert money from the sewer budget for the bike plan.
"What I voted for... is to ensure that when we rip up a street for a sewer project, we put it back together in a way that matches the bike plan," he wrote in a written response to this article issued through his campaign office.
On MLS, Saltzman says the Paulson family is assuming the financial risk if projections don't pan out, and that "having an MLS team in Portland is a good thing."
As for fat cats, Saltzman says he has limited his campaign contributions to $500, and that his support comes "from people who are glad that I never settle for the status quo."
Saltzman had no comment on his alleged "Rose Garden strategy."
There are also plans for the two candidates to appear at several other public debates before the election—starting this Thursday, April 8, with a debate in front of the Buckman Community Association at Central Catholic High School on SE Stark, at 7 pm.