Four years after beginning his journey to city hall, Mayor Tom Potter has announced that after a single term in office, he's calling it quits. Within minutes of his announcement, all eyes turned to the candidates who've now been handed a major opportunity to run for office.
When the 67-year-old Potter returned from a two-week vacation last week sporting a scraggly beard, many believed that it signaled a nod to retirement—the former police chief had never before been spotted without a clean-shaven face and perfectly coiffed hair. And their prognostications were correct; on Monday, September 10, with his wife at his side, Potter announced that he'd be leaving office in order to spend more time with his grandchildren.
His wife, Karin Hansen, joked that she was looking forward to going on camping trips without having to worry about being in cell phone range. It was a ha-ha moment during the emotionally loaded mid-morning press conference, but on the heels of the anniversary of the in-custody death of James Chasse, her comment took on a darker meaning. Potter was in Europe when Chasse was killed during a run-in with Portland police, and his then-chief of staff, Nancy Hamilton, never bothered to call the mayor to tell him of the tragedy. It also harkened back to the death of 12-year-old Nathan Thomas in 1992, when Potter was the police chief. The boy was accidentally shot by police; Potter was vacationing in Mexico at the time and claimed to not be near a phone.
But those stories didn't get much play during Potter's retirement announcement. Instead, he ticked off a list of accomplishments: creating a Human Rights Commission, building a day laborer access center, drafting the Youth Bill of Rights, etc. His victories, he said, were in opening the doors of city hall wider to all people, "particularly those who have been marginalized in the past because of class or color."
But that victory appears to stop at the electoral process. So far, most of the potential candidates for mayor and city council are white men, including the two men likely to seek the mayor's office—real estate developer Bob Ball and City Commissioner Sam Adams.
Ball was visibly excited after Potter's announcement. He says he'll be making an announcement on whether to run sometime in the next month, and in the meantime, he's meeting potential supporters around the city.
Adams, on the other hand, was conspicuously absent. He had a day off planned before Potter scheduled his announcement, but the press conference was noticeably devoid even of Adams' staffers. Through his chief of staff, Tom Miller, Adams says he won't be making a decision on his future plans for at least another week.
"The mayor's decision, and the timeline for that decision, is his own," Miller says. "When Sam has a decision, he will certainly share it immediately. Today's decision certainly opens up an opportunity—not just for Sam, but for anybody who might want to run."
Conventional wisdom held that if Potter ran for reelection, no serious contenders were going to stand in his way. After his press conference, though, that theory was revealed to be somewhat less than sound. Commissioner Randy Leonard said that he would have considered running against Potter.
"I think Portland needed a break from the Vera [Katz] years, and Potter provided that break," Leonard said. "His term came at the perfect time for the city and was exactly what we needed. But after four years, Portland needs to wake up. I don't think the city could have afforded another four years of slumber."
This Thursday, September 13, is the first day for candidates to file with the city—even though there are as many as six candidates waiting in the wings, they'll most likely keep waiting until Adams makes a decision.