Thin field of candidates for Portland mayor; time for Saltzman?

by Dave Lister

When Portland Mayor Sam Adams announced he would not seek a second term, you could have knocked me over with a feather. It seemed totally out of character for the man who had won a City Council seat with a come-from-behind victory and had promoted himself as mayor from that point on to simply call it quits. Adams insists that the tough race indicated by the polls would distract him from his mayoral goals, but there has to have been more. Adams thrives on politics; it’s all he’s ever known.

Did the fact that two of his bureaus, Transportation and Police, are currently under federal investigation sway his reasoning? Did he think that parking manager Ellis McCoy’s scandal could expand and go higher up? Was there even something more, yet uncovered, that was likely to surface? We’ll probably never know. But Adams is keeping good to his word. He’ll spend his last 18 months putting his stamp on Portland, as evidenced by the council’s approval of reduced trash pickup in favor of food waste composting and a future bicycle-sharing facility downtown.

Equally surprising as the mayor’s announcement itself was what didn’t happen in the fallout. One by one, potential candidates from Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen to former Commissioner Jim Francesconi announced they would not be entering the fray. That leaves only Charlie Hales, Eileen Brady and Jefferson Smith, who recently joined the race, vying for the job in what should be a wide-open and attractive opportunity for a myriad of local politicians. Frankly, that’s disappointing.

Hales is a known quantity. Smith is a legislator with little management experience. Brady, so far, is an unknown quantity. Short on specifics, the Brady campaign is beginning to look a lot like the Chris Dudley campaign. The key to stanching the flow of jobs from Portland to Washington and Clackamas counties is to engage the business leaders who are standing on the sidelines because they don’t want to play Portland games. If Brady sees a way to do that, she needs to start talking about it. Portland games might buy a lot of votes, but they won’t buy a single job.

City Commissioner Dan Saltzman has said he would enter the mayor’s race if the field were thin. Well, it is. And it’s time Saltzman admitted it. He has more experience than any other member of the council. From the water billing fiasco to the Big Pipe, he’s been the cleanup man on several civic fiascoes and has performed well. He’s proved himself an efficient manager, and he looks out for the taxpayer.

During council consideration of the bike-sharing proposal, Saltzman was the only commissioner to try to pin down the details of the nebulous business plan, looking for hard assurance that no city money would be spent on operations. Saltzman is thoughtful, deliberate and principled. He’s not afraid to take political lumps for doing what he thinks is right, as evidenced by his vote against withdrawing from the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. He wasn’t afraid to stand by Chief Rosie Sizer when she went public over the mayor’s cuts to the police budget, even though he probably knew the mayor would fire him as police commissioner.

I have plenty of disagreements with Saltzman. I think he takes his environmentalism too far. I don’t agree with bag bans and food composting. But this is Portland, after all. And despite the fact that talk radio had fun with his “trees have rights” statement, in context, I agree with him. Historically significant trees do, and should, have rights.

Dave Lister is a small-business owner who served on Portland’s Small Business Advisory Council.