Demo Fregosi

This Thursday, March 30, when the deadline for signatures passes, the first chapter in Portland's experiment with public campaign funding will draw to a close, and observers can begin passing judgment on the system's success.

Out of an original 11 city council candidates who attempted to qualify for $150,000 in public money (by gathering 1,000 signatures and $5 contributions), it appears that the number of qualified candidates will be—at most—four.

According to city elections officials, Lucinda Tate is expecting to file her signatures on the last possible day. (Tate didn't return the Mercury's phone calls by press time.) From there, the city auditor's office will examine the signature list for validity—if it passes, the city will begin dispersing the money to Tate, and she'll have a little more than a month to convince voters to elect her to the seat currently occupied by City Commissioner Dan Saltzman.

Another Saltzman challenger, Amanda Fritz, was the first candidate to qualify in December—with her background in neighborhood activism plus her public war chest, Fritz has been considered the strongest threat to Saltzman and, thus far, the two have been the only candidates given much attention. Tate's entry into the field will only help Fritz; a third viable candidate increases the chances that Saltzman won't receive more than 50 percent of the vote, forcing him into a run-off in the general election.

Yet another Saltzman challenger, Chris Iverson, has officially backed out of the Voter-Owned Election (VOE) qualification process, citing a lack of time as the reason for his failed bid (he started collecting signatures in February, most other candidates began last year). He'll still be running for Saltzman's seat without the funds, and he's continuing to gather signatures for a citywide November ballot measure that would make marijuana offenses the city's lowest law enforcement priority. In the course of two weeks, Iverson says, he's gathered more than 5,000 signatures for the pot initiative—the petition needs at least 26,691 valid signatures by July 7.

"We fully expect [the initiative] to qualify for the ballot," he told the Mercury, adding, "I will be as much of an active candidate as is possible while still working over 60 hours every week on the initiative."

The field for incumbent Erik Sten's seat is slightly more crowded. Sten—one of the authors and chief proponents of the VOE system—has qualified for public funds, as has one of his opponents, nonprofit consultant Emilie Boyles. Unlike Saltzman, Sten also has traditionally funded, business-friendly opposition trying to unseat him: State Senator Ginny Burdick and small business owner Dave Lister. (Check below to see what a face-off between all four of them looks like.)