ONCE UPON A TIME, Portland's mayor lied about his relationship with a young legislative intern. Now a group of citizens demanding honesty in government has formed a coalition to recall him. But will they have the time and support to get the job done?
On July 7, the city auditor's office gave Jasun Wurster and his recall campaign, Community to Recall Sam Adams, 90 days to gather over 32,000 signatures. On Monday, August 10, the campaign was 34 days into its collection efforts, with just 6,000 signatures turned in so far, according to Wurster. That's an average of 176 a day. In order to launch a recall election, the campaign needs 50,000 signatures (the 18,000 extra signatures provide a standard cushion against screw-ups) by the October 5 deadline. That means the recall campaign now needs to gather 786 signatures a day every day for the next 56 days—an increase in its collection rate of 345 percent. At what point do the recall's prospects begin to look bleak?
"Never," Wurster says. "It's going to be close, but we're seeing exponential growth as new volunteers, 10-15 a day, are trained." Yet he recognizes the challenge, saying, "I know people will be very cynical of the numbers this first month."
Wurster's foot soldiers seem equally unfazed. Teresa McGuire, the campaign's treasurer—and a star volunteer, according to Wurster—spent the last two weekends at local farmers markets gathering signatures. "[This weekend] was above what I expected for the number of signatures gathered. I'm really pleased because I see an increase in the number of volunteers out there," says McGuire.
Many people sought out McGuire, who stationed herself at the entrance of the Hollywood Farmers' Market on Saturday, August 1, and at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market the following day. Excited signers greeted her with cries of "I was wondering where I could find you guys!" and "There you are!"
"I used to be a supporter of Sam," said one petition signer, Amy Wilson. But with the Breedlove scandal, "things started to go downhill. Then the stadium and the bridge issues—I cannot forgive him for those two things," said Wilson, referring to the mayor's support for a 12-lane bridge across the Columbia River and for a plan to renovate PGE Park for Major League Soccer using taxpayer dollars. Others cited the mayor's apparent lack of judgment and alleged abuse of power as primary reasons for signing the petition.
Wilson's partner, on the other hand, felt differently. "I just want to move forward," said Sherri Opiel. "I feel like there can be more progress made for Portland with Sam in office."
Opiel's response was typical of those opting not to sign at the Hollywood and Hillsdale markets, echoing many others' arguments that Portland needs to move on. Most shoppers simply responded to McGuire's request to sign with a passive "no thanks."
"I'm not all convinced [the campaign] will work," said one signer at the Hillsdale Farmers Market. "But it sends a message that we don't want liars in office."
Occasionally, Adams supporters have shown their anger at the recall efforts. Last Thursday, August 6, for example, Hollywood Star News reporter Lee Perlman took a petition from volunteer Gaye Harris at the Albina Community Bank and scribbled across the page, invalidating eight signatures. Perlman declined comment on the incident, saying, "I think it best I don't talk about it."
As the Hillsdale market began closing up shop, McGuire counted her signatures—49 signers, just over 16 an hour. At the Hollywood market, she batted an average of 12 signatures an hour, gathering a total of 54.
With hopes of mobilizing more volunteers to hit the streets, the recall campaign celebrated the opening of its first official office space on Monday, August 3, at a NE Broadway storefront American Property Management (APM) donated to the campaign for just $5 a month.
"This office definitely legitimizes us," Wurster told the Mercury. "Now we're getting backing from business leaders, too."
Joe Weston, big-time developer and owner of APM, which manages scores of commercial and apartment buildings in Portland, stated his support for the recall early on. While Weston and the Portland Business Journal back the recall, other business owners in town feel differently. The Portland Business Alliance's diplomatic press release on the issue states, "We cannot afford further distractions."
Big-name recall supporters include the Oregonian editorial board, former Mayor Tom Potter, and former State Senator Avel Gordly. Last week, County Commissioner Jeff Cogen said he would sign a petition if asked, too.
"I don't believe there's going to be a recall, and I'm not certain, if there was a vote, how I would vote on it," says Cogen. "And I'm not cheerleading to recall Sam or anything like that, but I do feel like in the context of everything that's gone on, I don't think it's unreasonable to give people that say."
Next on the campaign's to-do list is a set of 50,000 robocalls as well as investing in some print media advertising. The robocalls will target Portland citizens in the 45-65-year-old age bracket because "that age group has disposable time to become volunteers, and that's what this message is about," says Wurster. "We will win this with volunteers."
The Mercury arranged to go door-to-door canvassing with the recall campaign this past Saturday morning, August 8, but Wurster canceled at the last minute. "It's difficult to do canvassing with a reporter," he explained. "I've learned that people just don't sign and they get turned off a lot."