Recently, after the Portland City Council shot down an extremely popular antiwar resolution, the Mercury's Phil Busse broke a story ["The Alliance," Feb 6] which raised the question of whether the Downtown Business Alliance was meddling too much in city politics. In the story, it was said that Council Member Francesconi's "no" vote suspiciously mirrored an Alliance memo calling the resolution a waste of time which "diminished the credibility of Portland City Council."
When Busse attempted to follow up on the story, and allow Francesconi to explain his actions, he was told by the council member's Chief of Staff Michael Harrison that after reading "The Alliance," Francesconi would not answer any of the Mercury's questions. Harrison then went on to slight our readers by saying that the Mercury "isn't the forum where [Francesconi's] perspective on the resolution would be taken seriously."
So what's a poor newspaper to do? We printed the questions Francesconi refused to answer in last week's issue ["Who Owns Francesconi's Tongue?" Feb 20], and asked our readers to contact the council member in hopes he might explain why he voted against the antiwar resolution. And happily, somebody did just that!
Michelle (not her real name, she wishes to remain anonymous) called Francesconi's office, asked the question, and the next day received the following voice mail on her answering machine:
"Hi, this is Michael Harrison from Jim Francesconi's office. You left a message asking why Jim didn't answer questions on Iraq. I'm assuming you're talking about the Mercury article. Jim was all set to answer those questions, but I guess Phil Busse decided he kinda knew the answers to all those questions based on the article he wrote the week before. And so Jim figured, 'Well, you know, Phil's made up his mind, so good for him.' That's the long and short of it.
When constituents call, like yourself, we are giving people answers to whatever questions they have. But, we're kind of done with the Mercury on this topic, because the Mercury's made up their mind, much the way Lars Larson usually makes up his mind when he asks questions of people.
To answer your question, Jim made up his mind in October, and the letter the Mercury keeps pointing at that supposedly influenced Jim was written, I think, in January or December, or something like that. Jim made up his mind not to bring a resolution to council in October because he thought it wasn't something city hall could effectively make change on, and that it was distracting from the things that maybe we can have influence on. I guess during the '80s--I've always been told--city hall spent a lot of time on debates about foreign policy. Debates that city hall had didn't really actually change anything, but took us away from our ability to affect change locally on different things. And so, Jim realizes that not everybody agrees with the position he took, but that was why. Any more questions, phone 823-3008."
Naturally, as soon as she received this message, Michelle did the right thing--she ratted Jim out to the Mercury! As Mr. Francesconi can plainly see, the Mercury is more than happy to print his side of the story. At the same time, it doesn't mean we're stupid enough to buy it, hook, line, and sinker.
But let's take a moment to give Council Member Francesconi the benefit of the doubt. Let's say it was simply a bizarre coincidence that his opinion practically mirrored that of the Portland Business Alliance, and we're crazy for thinking such jaded un-American thoughts. If this is the case, then it brings up another perhaps even more disturbing question: Why did Francesconi make up his mind on this important topic way back in October--a good three months before the public hearing? And were the 5000 people who sent in postcards favoring the resolution simply ignored? And what about the three hours of public testimony in January? Did Francesconi think they weren't worth listening to?
It would seem that Francesconi accusing the Mercury of making up its mind in haste is a case of "the pot calling the kettle black." It's a newspaper's job to be opinionated and to ask questions. It's a council member's job to listen to his constituents and to be accountable for his or her actions.
Anyway, so what if he won't answer our questions? That's where YOU come in. As Francesconi's office clearly states in the above voice mail, "When constituents call, like yourself, we are giving people answers to whatever questions they have." Since Francesconi doesn't consider Mercury employees as "constituents," we need YOU to ask our questions for us! Call Francesconi's office at 823-3008, or email him at "email@example.com", and ask him ONE of the following questions.
1) Mr. Francesconi: After reading your response in the Mercury, I'm still confused. Wouldn't a war against Iraq further tax an already weakened Portland economy? And if so, how is that not the business of the city council?
2) Council Member Erik Sten says that the Portland Business Alliance doesn't have clear boundaries and limitations when it comes to intermingling with city hall. Do you agree or disagree, and why?
3) As one of the 5000 who sent in a postcard favoring the antiwar resolution in January, I think it sucks you made up your mind three months earlier. Why should we elect you to any position if you're going to ignore public imput?
Or 4) Make up your own question!
And here's the great part: When he calls back--and he will call you back because he PROMISED--whoever gets the best response from Francesconi's office will receive 200 dollars cash! Simply keep the voice or email, and notify us when you get a response at
firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're a winner, you'll also get a Junior Mercury Reporter Kit™, which includes an authentic laminated press pass, a Mercury "Somebody Needs a Spanking!" T-shirt, and a bottle of whiskey.
The fine print: The winning entry must be verified by Phil Busse as an actual Francesconi answer--so no cheatin'. If Francesconi tries to trick everyone by sending out a mass email or voicemail response to your questions, these entries will be tossed into a hat, and the winner will be chosen at random. Non-constituents (people who work at news gathering organizations), employees of city hall, and "Francesconi Cronies" are ineligible. And to prove once and for all that the Mercury plays things fair and square, we'll even print Francesconi's response--hey, that's all we wanted in the first place.
Here at the Mercury, we believe our representatives should be held accountable for their actions. So come on, Democracy lovers, get the answers you deserve today! (And who knows? You may even win 200 bucks!)