Last Wednesday, November 11, the Willamette Week ran investigative reporter Nigel Jaquiss' first part of a two-part feature on City Commissioner Randy Leonard, which inspired some soul searching here in the Mercury newsroom.
Jaquiss' bosses, Editor Mark Zusman and Publisher Richard Meeker, have been struggling to keep Willamette Week relevant and profitable, with a 16 percent drop in revenues over the last year. Still, I'm not sure that's justification for running a hit piece on Leonard. To me, "Randyland" read like an opportunity to unload everything the paper has heard about Leonard over the years that didn't make the grade to be an actual story.
The basic premise, "Leonard has sidelined Mayor Sam Adams," is nonsense to anyone who's been inside city hall in the last year. However, we will agree that Leonard likes attention: In a recent roundup in this column, he emerged as city hall's biggest windbag. And he can get carried away with well-intentioned but half-baked ideas like the infamous secret list that need more scrutiny and public attention.
While Adams has busied himself pursuing an economic development strategy and bicycle master plan for the city, Leonard, with respect, has been buying neon roses for the top of waterfront buildings and toying with the idea of arming water bureau security guards. Not exactly "mayoral," is it?
From there, Jaquiss seemed intent on implying that Leonard is an alcoholic wife-beater and bad father (yes, he dredged up details of a 1980s restraining order first reported by the Oregonian four years ago, forcing Leonard, who no longer drinks, to again deny having touched his ex-wife). Unforgivably, Jaquiss quoted a letter from Leonard's daughter to a circuit court judge, describing the perils of her drug addiction. How is this relevant to the theme that Leonard is the de facto mayor? How does it prove Leonard is a hypocrite, or incompetent at his job?
City Commissioners Amanda Fritz, Nick Fish, Dan Saltzman, and the mayor himself have all declined comment on the article. Maybe they're frightened of the kind of vindictive journalism Leonard may be experiencing right now. But for all of Meeker and Zusman's crowing about "accountability journalism," who holds WW accountable?
Willamette Week was out of order and should apologize−but "Randyland" did remind me of one important thing: to always listen to my conscience, and deliver the news that makes a difference to you, not just the bottom line.