CITY COMMISSIONER Amanda Fritz has been on my mind over the past week, ever since she almost broke down into tears during her heartfelt, well-reasoned—and clearly agonizing—decision in favor of fluoridating Portland's water supply.
She said yes, making the decision surprisingly unanimous, despite serious beefs with the rushed public process propelling the fluoride push. In the end, while Fritz acknowledged the concerns raised by fluoride opponents, she said she had no choice but to honor the community groups and people of color who told her that refusing fluoride would be a blow to her cherished mantra of "equity."
By all accounts, it was one of the most political decisions she's made in her nearly four years on the council.
But this time, she had no choice. Fritz is in a tight runoff against Mary Nolan, the much-better-funded state representative who came out very early in favor of fluoride. The starkest question for Fritz was which stance would cost her the most votes.
Saying yes to fluoride, something she did with as much nuance and decency as possible, has already lost Fritz some of the supporters who helped her squeak ahead of Nolan in May, political observers note. The speech justifying her stance was exactly the kind you'd want an elected official to give—whether you agreed or not. But some of Portland's most die-hard fluoride opponents have told Fritz they're compelled to send a message to the only city commissioner up for reelection. Nothing personal. They won't vote for Nolan; they'll just sit the race out.
But as costly as her yes vote may have been, Fritz seemed to figure out that saying no to fluoride in favor of a public vote (which I get the sense she might have done if the decision were purely personal) would have been much worse. She would have betrayed the trust of groups like the Urban League of Portland, and also given Nolan an extremely large club to wield in what promises to be another blitz of campaign ads this fall.
Imagine a melodramatic commercial selectively showing the angriest of the fluoride opponents, pulled by cops from the city council chambers, followed by the sneering words: "Are these the people Amanda Fritz represents?" That would have been devastating to the skeptics in the West Hills and Laurelhurst and even the far Eastside whom Fritz desperately needs to join her bandwagon.
The whole thing was unseemly for Fritz, who (in)famously loathes relying on the brutal calculus of politics when making up her mind.
I can't help but wonder if that's part of what Randy Leonard, fluoride's chief backer, had in mind. Leonard is a client of Mark Wiener, the political consultant who's also advising the fluoride push. Mary Nolan is also a client. I asked Leonard about that long before the vote. He scoffed. Fritz "should be thanking me," he said, for the chance to vote in favor of something so beneficial to our kids.
Maybe she would, if she'd won outright in the spring. But not now.