COMMISSIONER DAN SALTZMAN is not known as the most dynamic or unpredictable member of the Portland City Council, but on Tuesday, September 13, he had one hell of a surprise in store.
In a reversal that shocked City Hall staffers and appeared to amuse a political rival, Saltzman sent out a news release just before 2 pm announcing he was hanging it up. As of December 2018, after a quarter century in politics, Portland City Hall’s longest-serving current elected official is apparently re-joining private life.
“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.”
I was as shocked as anyone—until I realized just how much I shouldn’t be.
Yes, Saltzman has been raising money with obscene ease from a cast of supporters he’s amassed over those 25 years. He’d been collecting checks as recently as September 6, state records show, and had amassed $65,850 in cash this year alone.
With that money, Saltzman had once again employed the services of veteran campaign consultant and long-time ally Mark Wiener. He’d been accepting contributions of free office space for the campaign. The Saltzman machine, which hasn’t once lost a race for city office, was chugging along.
Then Jo Ann Hardesty lobbed a wrench.
In early August Hardesty paid a visit to Saltzman, telling him she was gunning for his job and asking him not to put up a fight.
Saltzman rebuffed her, but even as the commissioner’s office hyperbolically guaranteed he was committed to the race, aides privately worried that Hardesty—a local NAACP president, former state lawmaker, and Saltzman’s outspoken opposite in many ways—might sap a lot of energy.
Saltzman took the entire week ahead of Labor Day off, with his staff insisting he not be disturbed. He was reflecting on his future at the city, and evidently not finding much reason for there to be a future at the city.
“I expected that in January,” Hardesty deadpanned when I broke the news to her of Saltzman’s announcement. “I didn’t expect that now.”
Her race for office might now become more difficult, she suggested—an 18-year incumbent is the “perfect opponent.”
In the weeks and months to come, the race to replace Saltzman is likely to become a feeding frenzy of candidates. County Commissioner Loretta Smith has already said she’ll run, and with Saltzman out of the picture, seasoned state legislators and past also-rans might also come running.
It should yield a compelling debate about the future of our city.
But as much as this newspaper has been at odds with his sleepy style (the Mercury didn’t endorse his last run) it should also include a nod to Saltzman’s service as an effective bureau manager and dedicated policy maker.