This post co-authored by the Mercury's editorial board: Matt Davis, Wm.Steven Humphrey and Sarah Mirk

[Here's the first of the Mercury's 2010 election endorsements. We're going to be endorsing right here on Blogtown in the big races, and gathering all our endorsements together in a special endorsement issue out May 6.]

This election has been the toughest-fought of all the races on the ballot this year. Making an endorsement is made harder by the fact that the incumbent, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, seems to have been doing the best job he can with an impossible assignment: Controlling the Portland Police Bureau.


In the past, Saltzman has been effective as, in his words, an “independent leader who understands the needs of Portland’s families and keeps an eye on the bottom line.”

Leaving aside his unfortunate decision to support Major League Soccer, Saltzman took over the water bureau in the midst of a billing crisis in 2002, and turned it around.

Saltzman also led the effort to reform the fire and police disability system, standing strong against the likes of chef and former firefighter Tom Hurley, who went to culinary school on his city disability check. Saltzman has successfully managed the massive big pipe project, and he’s twice led the effort to get a children’s levy on the ballot. Good work.

“But all this pales in comparison to the recent assignment as police commissioner,” he admits. “It’s been full of challenges, many of which you’ve chronicled [at the Mercury].”

Damn right. And frankly, this election comes down to Mayor Sam Adams’ foolish decision, before he took office last year, to hand his most important responsibility over to Saltzman—controlling our cops.

“Dan landed in a big cesspool and has done the best he could given the circumstances,” says Ed Garren, who has also run an outspoken, if unfocused, campaign for this seat. Still, at least he hasn’t suggested buying the homeless bus tickets, like Mary Volm.

It’s been painful and frustrating to watch as the Portland Police Association has stepped into the power void. Rallying on City Hall last November, for example, following Saltzman’s decision to suspend Christopher Humphreys for beanbagging a 12-year old girl. Saltzman capitulated, reinstating Humphreys, and we wouldn’t have caved in his position. Neither would Cornett.

“Not with the threat of a no-confidence vote, or a parade in the park,” Cornett says with hindsight.

The only person who should take responsibility for our police bureau in Portland is Mayor Sam Adams. But, in his own words, he’d rather focus on other issues. So the question becomes: Should Saltzman be scapegoated for the Mayor’s bad decision?

The answer, unequivocally, is yes he should. While Saltzman didn’t ask for the police bureau, he didn’t turn it down, either. Saltzman got passed a turd, and now he’s running for reelection, holding that turd. Are we supposed to react as though he isn’t holding a giant, enormous turd? We don’t think so. More after the jump.

“If I were mayor I’d keep the police bureau,” says Saltzman. “Having said that I was asked to take it, so I did that. It’s a challenge. But part of this job is about rising to challenges and not just simply cruising.”

Agreed. Saltzman has made some mistakes in the face of these challenges, but the real mistake was not turning the mayor down when he was offered the bureau. He could have said to Adams, “you do it,” and he didn’t.

Cornett, meanwhile, has shown in his election campaign that he has no reservations about taking on entrenched political interests—like political consultant Mark Wiener, for example, who works for both Mayor Adams and Saltzman. Yes, that may not seem like a big deal, but in this town, it amounts to political courage, and we’ll take it.

Cornett says he will give the police bureau back to the mayor, and we support that. He also makes the right noises on using taxpayer dollars to fund pet projects.

“All we did with this deal is make a rich family richer,” he says of Major League Soccer.

As a leader, Cornett is hardly as inspirational as Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth. But he has credible government experience, having worked for a US Senator, Oregon’s former Secretary of State, Bill Bradbury, and Congressman Earl Blumenauer. He knows how to get things done—take, for example, his ability to collect a whopping 1,200 $5 donations from the public in a tough economy, when his opponents couldn’t even reach the 1,000 required to qualify for public campaign financing.

As someone who had a close friend, Raymond Gwerder, killed by the Portland police while he was on the phone to a hostage negotiator, there’s no doubt that Cornett will bring a key human experience to abstract questions about what should be funded first: Treatment and prevention for those with mental health issues.

Saltzman was lukewarm on the idea of a mental health levy during our interview. Instead, he kept pushing his experience with the Children’s levy as an example of a levy that works.

“It’s not just easy to slap something on the ballot and assume it would be passed, especially these days,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cornett said he would be in Salem every week, using the contacts he made while he was a lobbyist for Portland State University, trying to push for mental health funding at the state level.

“I’d be very much in support of some type of a mental health levy before many other levies that could come before voters,” he said. “To make sure that we’re taking care of the neediest.”

Cornett also makes a good point about Saltzman: The commissioner has been in the current office for 12 years, and has “had plenty of time to figure this stuff out.”

“Insanity is continuing to elect the same leaders over and over, and expecting something to be different,” he said, at a recent forum.

Cornett is the candidate to vote for to voice your dissatisfaction with the direction that city hall has taken—to upset the entrenched power structure on funding and police issues. He brings an honest, common sense view to government and we think it’s time for a change. Vote for him. He’s the best choice in the race.