Dan Saltzman, the longest tenured elected official in Porltand City Hall, is calling it quits.
In an announcement that's caught City Hall staff and a political opponent off guard, Saltzman announced this afternoon he won't run for re-election next year as planned, meaning his career in city governance is over at the end of 2018.
"Over the last few weeks I have reflected on that record of nearly 25 years of public service as a commissioner at Multnomah County and at the City of Portland," the statement read. "As satisfying as it might be to look back at accomplishments, what really counts is what comes next. That reflection has led me to the conclusion that I can have the greatest impact on the issues that truly motivate me outside of City Hall."
It's a hugely surprising about-face for an official who's been collecting money hand-over-fist in preparation for a race next year, and who's office had guaranteed "110 percent" that Saltzman would be running. The commissioner, who'd been accepting campaign contributions as recently as last Wednesday, has raised $65,850 in cash so far this year, and been accepting in-kind donations for office space, records show. He'd also been paying influential campaign adviser and long-time ally Mark Wiener for support.
There's little doubt the decision was influenced by the announcement last month by local NAACP president and former state lawmaker Jo Ann Hardesty that she would challenge Saltzman for his seat. As I reported at the time, Hardesty's candidacy has had people in Saltzman's corner bracing for his toughest race since 1998.
Hardesty first heard news of Saltzman's announcement when the Mercury called her for reaction.
"Oh really?" she said. "I expected that in January. I didn't expect that now."
Asked to elaborate, Hardesty says she figured Saltzman would decide after the holiday season he "wasn't going to be up for a tough race."
She says Saltzman's exit might actually make things tougher for her. "I thought he was the perfect opponent—an 18-year incumbant," she says. "Nice guy, but 18 years in office."
Saltzman currently oversees the city's fire and transportation bureaus, along with the police and fire disability and pension fund. Until earlier this year, he'd been at the helm of the city's housing bureau, where he helped push for a $258 million affordable housing levy.
The commissioner was also conspicuously absent last week when—following a week-long planned absence for vacation—he didn't show up for a hearing that touched on a plan to widen Interstate 5. As transportation commissioner, Saltzman had indicated he'd take an active role in that discussion, but his staff said he was out with an illness. His office released a letter on the matter instead.
Update, 5:02 pm: It did not take long for Saltzman's decision to attract another candidate. Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith has announced she'll run for the seat, meaning the only two declared candidates at this point are women of color. Electing a woman of color to city council would be a first for Portland.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Nick Fish tells the Mercury he was caught completely off guard by Saltzman's decision. "I'm as shocked as anybody," Fish said earlier today, adding he'd put in a call to Saltzman. "I will tell you what Im gonna tell him, which is it's been an honor to serve with him. He’s been the council champion for children and families, for victims of domestic violence and many other causes for both the county and city."
We've reached out to Saltzman for comment.
His full announcement is after the jump:
As I have been talking to community members about campaigning for another term as City Commissioner, I have been humbled by the deep support and encouragement I have received. Indeed, that support has far exceeded what I have experienced in any of my past races. I believe that is because of progress made together on so many issues that have a real impact on the people and community we all care so much about. Just a few of these accomplishments include:
•The initial passage and two subsequent renewals of the Portland Children’s Levy, which has over the past 15 years improved the lives of thousands of kids and families.
•Passage of Portland’s first Affordable Housing Bond and leading an unprecedented response to Portland’s affordable housing crisis as Housing Commissioner. We made record investments, reforms and commitments that will result in thousands of units of desperately needed new homes.
•The opening of the Gateway Center for Domestic Violence Services, a one-stop resource for survivors of domestic violence. I was also proud to have led new initiatives for combating gang violence and the continuing effort to improve police accountability.
•Improvements to fire and ambulance services that will save money and lives.
•Reordering transportation priorities to focus on the basics, including accelerating the repair of potholes and other damage done by the winter storms of 2017.
•Delivering the Big Pipe on-time and on-budget, fixing the Water Bureau billing system and reforming the Fire &Police Disability and Retirement system.
•Always pursuing these and other goals with a sharp eye on protecting taxpayer’s dollars, while striving to make Portland a more just, equitable, sustainable place that provides opportunity for all.
Over the last few weeks I have reflected on that record of nearly 25 years of public service as a commissioner at Multnomah County and at the City of Portland. As satisfying as it might be to look back at accomplishments, what really counts is what comes next.
That reflection has led me to the conclusion that I can have the greatest impact on the issues that truly motivate me outside of City Hall.
I have enjoyed the myriad duties of City Commissioner, and I am very proud of my accomplishments and the relationships I have built while achieving them. But with respect to things I am passionate about, the items on my “to do” list largely have check marks next to them. Meanwhile, there is much more I wish to do in areas such as child welfare, foster care and domestic violence. I have come to the conclusion that I can accomplish more on those issues if they become my primary focus, instead of their having to share my attention. And I would enjoy working on those causes in a less scheduled life.
Therefore, I will not file for a sixth term as City Commissioner and will complete my term at the end of 2018. I will also lead the renewal of the Portland Children’s Levy in 2018.
It is my hope that an open seat will encourage a number of people to consider running: this is a great opportunity for a new generation of leadership in City Hall. I want to deeply thank all my staff members, supporters and community members that I have had the privilege of working with over these many years. I eagerly look forward to continuing to work together as we strive to make Portland an even greater place for all the people who share it – today and tomorrow.