Hello, I'm Wm. Steven Humphrey, editor of the Portland Mercury. In the past weeks, our little tabloid has been engaged in a pissing match with Portland City Commissioner Jim Francesconi over his refusal to support an anti-war resolution. He says he has better things to do than get involved with "foreign affairs," and we say he bent over for the Portland Business Alliance, who's been trying to drive all anti-war protesters and other anti-American activities out of downtown. When we asked the good council member for his take on the subject, he clammed up tighter than a Sunday school teacher at a gigolo convention. The only thing he would say is that he was "through" speaking with the Mercury on the subject.
Happily, Mercury readers are just as nosy and annoying as we are--especially when there's money (and alcohol) involved. We asked our readership to accomplish what we could not: Email Jim Francesconi and get him to explain his curious behavior. The readers would then send his explanation to us, we'd print it, and one lucky person would win $200, a bottle of whiskey, and a Mercury Junior Reporter™ kit.
DUCK AND COVER
While Mr. Francesconi had previously promised to answer any concerned citizen's question on the subject, many of our readers hit a dead end. For example, when Mercury reader Albert Kaufman wrote the council member to say he was "saddened" by his vote and to ask what he "had done personally to protest this war," Francesconi shot back with, "I hope you are not part of this contest. I have done some things which I will share with you if you swear you are not part of the contest."
Kaufman sagely replied, "What contest?" Unfortunately, Francesconi never responded to Kaufman's query.
Many others who wrote in asking particular questions received only a "mass email" in return. This email reiterated that Francesconi decided in October that the resolution was merely a "symbolic" measure that would not "effectively change [President Bush's] policies." He also noted that the council "must stay focused on high priority issues."
Once again Francesconi ducks the question of why he made his decision way back in October, three months before the public hearing on the subject. Is it because he hates public hearings? Impossible! It was Francesconi himself who spoke out in December on the importance of public hearings. In a memo to Commissioner Dan Saltzman on the Mt. Tabor Reservoir Project, Francesconi was (at the time, at least) leading the charge in regards to public input, saying "up to this point, citizens have not had the opportunity to speak to the council directly. I believe that we must hear directly from those who have questions."
Okay here's a question: Whatever happened to those 5000 postcards that were sent in from citizens who supported the resolution? It would seem that at city hall, the opinion of one council member is worth more than 5000 citizens.
(Unfortunately, Francesconi has steered clear of this question, as well.)
Thank god, then, for Mercury readers like Kenan Ginsberg. Through sheer force of will, Kenan pounded the Francesconi office with logical, well-thought out arguments until the council member (or at least his "handler" Michael Harrison) was needled into responding. Kenan hit on three very important reasons why an anti-war resolution makes sense:
• Peace activists "would be invigorated, enthused, and heartened," Kenan said. "How could supporting our citizens be understood as merely symbolic? I believe that supporting our citizens is the very essence of democracy."
• Kenan then noted that voting for the resolution would "make a statewide resolution that much more possible. Resolutions are creating news, raising doubts, and gaining support for peaceful alternatives to Bush's plan. True, a grain of sand does not make a beach, but there is power in the number of American citizens who want peace. And if by voting against this resolution you censor or silence this valid avenue for these voices to be heard, then you are ensuring that a beach is never formed."
• "Finally," Kenan concluded, "I wish to assert that within your stated mission of providing quality jobs, great schools, and great services in the Portland area lies a direct connection to opposing this war plan which is anticipated to cost the U.S. billions. If you are truly and fully committed to ensuring the quality and quantity of these services in the Portland area, then how can you NOT stand publicly in opposition to this planned attack?"
What follows is the unedited response from council member Francesconi's office:
"It seems to me your question mostly centers on the notion that a city council resolution would have had some impact, and then therefore should have been supported. In talking with Jim, he feels that 20,000 people marching in the street makes a much stronger statement than council resolutions. To use your analogy, he believes that a city council action would have added so few grains of sand to the 'Iraq resolution' beach, and that it would have taken a great deal of city focus away from issues where we can build a beach ourselves, that he couldn't support it. Bottom line, Jim is worried that we will have a return to the '80s, when (as it has been explained to me), the city council was very focused on foreign affairs, and less focused on things they can accomplish.
Given that I have probably spent three or four days engaged in conversations with constituents and/or press on this issue, it has made it more difficult for me to work on local transportation issues, like pedestrian safety, etc. Jim has likewise been distracted from other city issues.
That being said, it wasn't an easy decision for Jim, because on point of policy, he agrees with those who wrote the resolution--he thinks a preemptive, unilateral war would be a serious mistake."
THE LIP UNZIPPER
As you can plainly see, all the great minds in Francesconi's office were unable to put together a sufficient argument to counter Kenan's brilliant logic. And that is why Kenan wins the "Unzip Francesconi's Lip" contest and the 200 smackeroos! Congratulations, Kenan!
However, while Kenan is $200 richer, Portland is still stuck with a lifeless, self-absorbed city council that flees into their offices at the first sign of criticism. Blame who you will; an overbearing downtown business association, apathetic liberals, or a local press that enables the cowardice of city hall with cronyism and softball questions. The result is a gutless gang of prestige politicians who are more intent on pushing paper around than standing up for what our citizens know is right.
By all indications, Jim Francesconi will be running for mayor in next year's election. So here's one last question for the council member (and by this point, we really don't expect an answer): After turning your back on the thousands who support peace, after all your evasiveness, why in the world do you deserve our vote?