For aspiring wonks and politicos, city hall can be a hard nut to crack. Elected leaders are extremely persnickety about who they'll hire on to be part of their staff—after all, if a staffer does a bad job or pisses off the public, the only person who'll be held responsible is the politician, who can get booted out of office.
Because of that, potential staffers typically need to meet a wide range of criteria—they've got to be politically savvy, well educated, experienced in dealing with the public and the press, ambitious, and, typically, connected to local political establishment.
In a town like Portland, this laundry list applies to, oh, about 80 percent of the population, which is why—sometimes—it's the small things that make a difference for applicants.
When Lisa Leddy was applying for the receptionist position in City Commissioner Randy Leonard's office a couple months ago, her prospects apparently hinged on one question.
"Who's your favorite comedian?" Leonard asked during her interview.
"Andy Kaufman," Leddy replied.
It takes a special kind of person to enjoy the antics of a dead comedian who became famous by wrasslin' women, and it's no surprise that Leonard's office would become a haven for such likeminded people. He is, after all, the kind of person who will jump at the opportunity to surround himself in butter and have his picture taken for the cover of an alternative weekly.
There was even a little bit of a Kaufman parallel when Leonard faced off against suburban Rose Parade crashers earlier this year. Leonard, lashing out against people who tape off their spaces at the expense of families who actually show up to wait for the parade, indirectly maligned some residents of neighboring cities, calling them a mixture of "Lars Larson and Tony Soprano." When Andy Kaufman faced down pro wrestler Jerry Lawler, he dragged Southerners into the mess, badmouthing them as uneducated, unsophisticated nitwits. But that's where the similarities end—Leonard resolved his dispute with an apology and a ride in Gresham's Teddy Bear Parade; Kaufman resolved his by getting his neck snapped in the wrestling ring.
Speaking of wrasslin', Mayor Tom Potter has signaled that he may be ready to step into the ring for his last year as mayor—over putting fluoride in Portland's water! During an otherwise mind-numbingly council work session with the Public Utility Review Board, Potter asked, almost naively, "Have you guys ever considered the issue of fluoridation?" It immediately garnered chuckles; the city and state have been arguing about fluoride for decades. The board nervously agreed to look into it.