"It's time," a clearly emotional Leonard said on his way into the council chambers this morning. "I'll have worked for the city for 35 years.... It's time for me to focus my energy on things that are important in my personal life."
Leonard's decision comes during a very difficult time in his personal life—his daughter committed suicide this spring; and now Leonard will help raise her 12-year-old son—but it was on his mind long before that tragedy occurred. It also comes during a period of protracted professional criticism, from his handling of the city's emergency communication systems to the water bureau to his time running the city's development services bureau.
And it leaves a giant hole on the city council. Leonard has been outspoken and controversial, a staunch defender of Mayor Sam Adams, even after a period of disappointment following the Breedlove scandal. He's been called a shadow mayor by some, and certainly has been the most powerful of the four city commissioners.
What's left of that power remains to be seen. But Leonard insists he's done with politics, not just taking a break. "I'm never sure why people aren't sure about that," he said, insisting he's "not burned out," just done with the job. He also insists he's not going to step down before his term ends in 18 months, even if someone wins a majority vote in the May primary.
"I'd have to be more incapacitated than I am now," he said, before making a dig at past commissioners Erik Sten and Charlie Hales (a current mayoral candidate): "I don't take kindly to people who get elected and resign."
The Oregonian, which was told of Leonard's decision yesterday, has a good summation of Leonard's record, both its controversies and its achievements (among those, the Portland Loo and an improved police oversight program.)
Leonard says he wanted to give his potential successors time to start running and raising money. Sources told me months ago he and Novick were discussing a succession plan of sorts, although Leonard declined to clearly endorse Novick this morning, before the nascent council race can fully take shape.
Judging by the polish of Novick's website, launched today, he was clearly in the loop regarding Leonard's decision. He had reportedly been eyeing an open council seat—and with Amanda Fritz declaring her intent to win re-election, that left Leonard's seat. He's already racked up some heavy-hitting endorsers, according to his campaign.
Because of his longtime work on behalf of schools, Portland School Board member Bobbie Regan and Parkrose School Board member Guy Crawford have endorsed Novick. Other early endorsers include Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo, former 1,000 Friends of Oregon leader Bob Stacey and former City Commissioner Mike Lindberg.
Although he is a well-known progressive—remember when he promised to
"give the right hook" "give a left hook" to politics?—if Novick gets Leonard's seat, it will actually be the first election he's won. Novick ran for Senate in 2008 and Multnomah County Chair last year. Most of his time, though, is spent more behind-the-scenes in Oregon politics, emerging to do things like rip into conservative anti-tax ads.
Update 1:25 PM: In other election-related news, apparently former mayoral candidate Jim Francesconi, rumored at one point to be considering a run for mayor but largely forgotten once actual candidates started declaring, has decided to make it official. He told the Oregonian that, in fact, he won't be running again. Yawn.