Here's the thing about the leaders we Portlanders elect to make decisions for us: When it comes to blue sky, hand-holding yuppie issues like recycling, planting trees, and biodiesel, they'd trample their own mothers to let TV news cameras know how liberal they are.
That's especially true for issues over which they have exactly zero jurisdiction, like opposing the Iraq War, supporting same-sex marriage, reforming immigration laws, letting gays and lesbians serve in the military, etc.
But when it comes to issues like "livability" and "public safety," Portland's city council quickly becomes less Dennis Kucinich, and frighteningly more Rudy Giuliani. Last week's vote on the new sit-lie law is a perfect example. With a 3-1 vote, city council decided to begin enforcing a law that bans (homeless) people from sitting or lying on the sidewalk downtown. Brilliantly, the proponents of the law (cough, the Portland Business Alliance) ensured that the public debate steered clear of the morality or constitutionality of the policy, and focused solely on whether the law is worth one public restroom, or two (providing benches and public restrooms was the trade off for the Sit-Lie ordinance). The one "no" vote—Commissioner Randy Leonard—wasn't because the policy is draconian, but because he thought the public restroom should be closer to Old Town.
But then, that's the political genius of the Street Access for Everyone committee, which Mayor Tom Potter convened last year in order to get his sit-lie law. The committee included the PBA as well as homeless advocates, and their recommendations were required to be unanimous. In tying homeless services to the sit-lie law, they all but guaranteed the law's success. Who on city council is going to vote against funding for homeless services, even if it's tied to a draconian law?
The bottom line: The PBA paid the city a lot of money—to pay for many of those services—in order to get its law, which the organization believes will bring more shoppers downtown.
We could all decry the ease with which our trusted, progressive leaders sold out their principles... or we could learn how to capitalize on it. For instance! The controversial, and seemingly racist, Drug-Free Zones will be up for a vote again at the end of September. Instead of fighting them, maybe we should see how much the PBA will pay to buy off the necessary votes.
How much is a barely constitutional law that disproportionately targets African Americans worth? A new skatepark? A bike path? A lifetime supply of cigars for city council?
Come on, Portland—we've got at least five or six amendments in the Bill of Rights that haven't been sold off yet... and the price is right!