Dave Lister: Working the left or two Katz in the yard

Working the left or two Katz in the yard
By Dave Lister, The Eastside Guy
of BrainstormNW Magazine

My first “Eastside Guy” column, which appeared in this magazine nearly four years ago, took a whimsical look at the two main contenders in Portland’s last mayoral race, Jim Francesconi and Tom Potter. I wrote about Francesconi’s attempt to woo Portland liberals with a hard turn to the left after pocketing a million bucks for his campaign from the downtown business establishment, while Potter promised only to listen and didn’t worry much about fundraising. In the end, of course, voters who saw Francesconi as disingenuous handed the reins of the city to the ex-police chief.

That race, as well as my own quest for a council seat two years later, bears stark testimony to the basic reality of Portland politics: We are in the minority. Those of us who advocate for global competitiveness, good jobs and more roads are, at best, only a third of Portland voters. The other two thirds lean hard left. They love “smart growth.” They love light rail. They believe in peak oil and human-caused global warming. In order to be electable, candidates must embrace these views, and, to be successful, business people must go along to get along.

Recently, the Portland Mercury, an alternative weekly, asked the city council and mayoral candidates what they would do to facilitate the recommendations of the city’s “Peak Oil Taskforce.” Their responses underscore Portland’s political reality.

City council candidate Chris Smith, who is known as a transportation activist and serves on Portland’s streetcar board, notes that “more than a third of our carbon footprint is from transportation and another third is from buildings. Cities have significant control over both.” He notes that Portland “is already a leader in smart growth, alternative transportation and sustainable construction.” Smith urges that these efforts be taken “to the next level” so that “we can build a green industry cluster in our region.” He goes on to say that we will accommodate growth “by adding more housing and jobs along the transit corridors, building additional transit capacity, and making all of our city more friendly to walking and biking.”

Attorney Nick Fish, a New York transplant in his third quest for a council seat, notes that “carbon dioxide does not respect city boundaries. Every citizen is connected to the air we breathe and the water we drink.” Fish asserts that this is why he supports Metro’s 2040 growth plan. I wrote about this plan a couple years back “” the one that envisions quaint, Bohemian urban centers where people rent studio apartments above the local strudel haus. In addition to dense housing development along the streetcar lines, Fish supports “financial incentives to non-drivers and car sharing.” Fish assures us that embracing these sustainable practices will “diversify the city’s job base” and make Portland “the logical first place to apply practices and technologies.”

If the fact that these credible candidates buy into the “smart growth” myth hook, line and sinker isn’t scary enough for you, consider the comments of Vladislav Davidzon, a 24-year-old who has filed for the mayoral race.

Davidzon asserts he is “the only candidate running on a platform focused entirely on sustainability,” and he wants to localize our economy by switching to our own “Cascadia” currency, and he would like to see “a localized food system modeled on that of Cuba.” As mayor, Davidzon would ban automobiles from one fifth of Portland’s streets and convert that space to community gardens. In his opinion, “most public space is simply utterly wasted today by being paved.”

Fringe? Sure. Electable? Not a chance. But let’s remember this: That is the type of hard left zealousness exhibited by the likes of Neil Goldschmidt and Vera Katz a scant four decades ago. Over the years the rhetoric is tempered, but the ideals remain.

Successfully navigating Portland’s liberal political waters will be a key component of the campaigns of the two leading contenders in the mayoral race, City Commissioner Sam Adams and businessman Sho Dozono, who will have at their helm political strategist Mark Wiener and lobbyist Len Bergstein respectively.

There is probably no one more adept at reading Portland’s left than Wiener, who calls his firm “Winning Mark” for a very good reason. Of the current city council, Wiener worked for all the sitting members except Mayor Potter. Wiener worked for the campaign in opposition to Potter’s strong mayor reform of commissioner government. His strategy in that campaign was brilliantly simple: He put a picture of President George W. Bush on every mail piece that said “strong mayor.” Potter vainly protested that the message “strong mayor equals George Bush” wasn’t kosher, but in the end the proposal was trounced.

For his part, Bergstein goes way back as a successful Portland lobbyist and influence peddler. Recently, he has been working with the Warm Springs Tribe to promote building a casino in Cascade Locks. Bergstein also did some lobbying for Hayden Island businesses that were stymied in their expansion plans by Sam Adams’ development moratorium. As reported recently in the Portland Tribune, Bergstein commissioned a poll in December that tested Dozono’s electability, which Dozono personally repaid in the wake of a campaign finance disclosure brouhaha.

When Dozono threw in, I had to chuckle at Bergstein’s adeptness at working the left by Dozono’s declaring as a publicly-financed candidate. That program, wildly popular with Portland liberals, was the brainchild of retiring Commissioner Erik Sten and City Auditor Gary Blackmer. Consistent with Sten’s record of lofty ideals followed by bungled execution, trying to game the loopholes in the system resulted in the conviction of one signature gatherer and the near indictment of three candidates participating the first time around. This time, scads of candidates have submitted qualifying signatures, including Dozono, who turned in nearly 4,000 “” 2,000 more than the requisite. The city will drop about two million bucks on campaigns this year, more if there are runoffs. By declaring with public funding, Dozono rides a populist wave and shows that he hasn’t been bought by the business establishment. Point Dozono. Adams is privately financed, although he has declared a contribution cap of $500.

Both Adams and Dozono also responded to the Mercury’s peak oil question, but don’t hold your breath for either of them to speak for us. Adams says the task force “has instigated real action in reducing our dependence on oil.” He believes that “Congressman Earl Blumenauer rightly calls the bicycle the most sustainable and efficient urban travel tool every created” and touts the city’s investment in bike lanes. Dozono puts a top priority on “controlling growth to ensure a sustainable future” and wants to promote “walkability” as we “bolster our mass transit system.” He promises to “serve as a tireless advocate for reducing our energy consumption.”

Even as I write these words, the Dozono-Adams conflict begins to spin negative. Dozono’s public financing is called into question over Bergstein’s poll, and the Adams camp just conducted their own poll that was promptly denounced as push-polling by the Dozono camp. Adams carries the baggage of a personal bankruptcy; Dozono carries the baggage of questionable business loans from a minor’s trust fund. Wiener and Bergstein will determine how to spin it all to the left.

And we on the right, the other third, will sit and watch. We are the minority and none of these candidates are going to take the time to throw much meat our way. Wiener and Bergstein know better.

But what the heck do I know? I’m just an Eastside Guy.

By Dave Lister, The Eastside Guy
of BrainstormNW Magazine