Last Thursday, the Mercury kicked off "You Promised!," its series of townhall meetings for local candidates. Held in front of a packed room of 200 attendees at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, the first in the three-part series focused entirely on the candidates' pledges to bolster Portland's arts. The instructions were simple: Each candidate--mayoral candidates Jim Francesconi and Tom Potter, and city council candidates Sam Adams and Nick Fish--was asked to prepare five specific plans he would implement during his first year in office.

Francesconi talked about loosening zoning requirements to allow more live/work space, and then drew a surprise round of applause for saying that he would change the sign code to once again allow murals.

Potter brought up converting Centennial Mills, an abandoned city-owned building on the westside riverfront, into an arts center. He went on to talk somewhat elusively about making arts a "core value" for the city.

Adams provided the most detailed plan of the evening, putting forward specific ideas about funding sources and where that money should be directed. The anchor of his argument was a pledge to locate $15 million from private and public sources for the arts over five years.

"That is what we need to do to prevent Portland from becoming a has-been arts and culture city," he said.

Fish's list included supporting school art programs, setting up artist sanctuaries in industrial areas, and creating affordable housing (since artists are, as a rule, really, really poor).

The mayoral candidates differed the most. Potter emerged as the candidate pushing for large capital projects. Along with championing Centennial Mills, Potter also said he would help PSU build and develop a performing arts center to replace their current Cold War-era auditorium.

Meanwhile, Francesconi spent much of his energy describing the nitty-gritty details. One audience member took him to task, saying we should start by dreaming big, then figure out the details later. Francesconi stood his ground.

"The concern is spending that kind of money [$60 million on Centennial Mills] and then having to maintain it at a time when our [existing] facilities are struggling," he said.

The next "You Promised!" townhall will focus on environmental issues and park usage. Again, each candidate will provide five pledges. It will be held on Thursday, September 9, outdoors at the Mt Tabor Amphitheater, 6:30 pm.

Promises for Arts & Culture

Adams' promises:

- $15 million in five years for arts funding

- Deriving arts funding from conveyance of street easements and workplace matching contributions, and develop specific endowment funds (i.e., for independent film and video producers)

- Public and private partnerships to build 100 new affordable live/work rental spaces

- Develop arts as a tourism magnet

Potter's promises:

- Consider Centennial Mill as an arts center

- Promote arts and culture as a core value

- Increase "Percent for Arts" to 2%

- New performing arts center for PSU

- Dedicated funding sources

Fish's promises:

- Restore the ArtCard program

- Increase "Percent for Arts" to 2%

- Preserve Central Eastside as an Industrial Sanctuary

- Help PSU create an "urban design" school

- Work to expand affordable housing

Francesconi's promises:

- Loosen zoning requirements to allow more flex space for artists

- Provide more economic development loans to artists

- Place artists on city commissions

- Support the film and video industry by offering free use of city facilities and one-stop permitting

- Change the sign code to allow for murals

and the winner of the "you promised!" arts and culture forum is…

GOLD: Sam Adams The most specific and passionate.

SILVER: Nick Fish Strong ideas, but watered them down with "engaging" anecdotes.

BRONZE: Jim Francesconi Knows his stuff and roots his ideas in realistic terms, but still scares small children with his hyperactivity and depresses adults with his pessimism.

TIN: Tom Potter Seemed to be asleep most of the evening. When he did talk, he told us what we wanted to hear, but not necessarily what we needed to hear--specifics.