Dave Lister: Portland Mayor Election Re-cap

Sho’s over
By Dave Lister
The Eastside Guy, http://www.brainstormnw.com/

There are a lot of things I hate about vote by mail, but one of the worst is how it affects election night. It used to be that when you were gathered at your election night party of choice, the results came in slowly. You could cheer your candidate when a new precinct report gave them a bump up or boo when another precinct bumped their opponent. The suspense of the reporting was tantalizing. You could continue to hope, sometimes against hope, that late results might change the outcome.

Now election night is like going to the electric chair. With so many of the mailed in ballots already tabulated, the networks can call the race 10 minutes after the polls close. That first flash of results on the TV screen is a little like 40,000 volts of electricity coursing through your body and stopping your heart. Zap. Bam. It’s over. You lost.

That’s how it was for me at my own election night party two years ago, and that’s how it was for me the night of last month’s Oregon primary. And the next morning, with a bad hangover and a mood of complete dejection, I sadly pulled up my Sho Dozono lawn signs and consigned them to the growing scrap heap of all the others who had tried, but failed, to change our political culture. Lister. Piccolo. Kremer. Schopp. Flynn. I’m not sure why I keep them. Maybe I can put them on eBay someday.

The evening had started upbeat enough. There was a gathering throng of optimistic supporters from all walks of life “” Ds and Rs, gays and straights, blacks, whites and Asians. Wine, beer and liquor were flowing freely, and the buzz was all about a runoff. More than one stranger came up to tell me they’d heard me at Candidates Gone Wild two years before play harmonica, a talent that I am convinced was the only thing that got this self-confessed George Bush voter out of the concert hall alive. One of the high points was when I was out front having a smoke and Tom Potter and his wife Karin showed up.

“Well, Dave,” he greeted me. “It’s nice to see we’re on the same side for once.”

“Us Cleveland High guys have gotta stick together,” I replied. Potter was ’62, Dozono was ’63, and I was ’72.

At about 8:15 it all changed. That first flash on the TV showing Sam Adams with more than 50 percent right out of the gate ended my evening. I didn’t stick around for the concession speech. I cursed, caught a cab home, and staggered off to my bed.

During the following days, the media trumpeted Adams’ “amazing” victory. I don’t think it was amazing at all. What was really amazing was how well Dozono’s campaign did when the humble political novice decided to throw down with the toughest political knife fighter we’ve seen since Frank Ivancie.

When Dozono declared his run for mayor and announced that he was going to run as a publicly funded candidate, I thought he was nuts. Portland’s voter-owned election system ensures an even-money race, and I knew he couldn’t beat Adams without out-spending him. But when I saw more than 4,000 voters, including myself, sign his qualifying petition in just a couple weeks, I thought he might be on to something. The anybody-but-Sam sentiment was running high, and it looked like Dozono had a huge groundswell of support. As it turned out, however, that decision doomed his campaign.

A succession of challenges from the vanity mayoral candidates held up Dozono’s funding. The issue was a poll, conducted before he was a candidate, and whether it exceeded the allowable “in kind” contribution amount. Not content to rely on his surrogates, Adams finally filed his own challenge, dumping $10,000 of his campaign kitty into the effort.

As I watched March roll into April with still no resolution, I knew we were in trouble. Dozono was hobbled. He couldn’t buy lawn signs. He couldn’t do mailers. He couldn’t buy media. When the judge ultimately ruled against him, Dozono performed another amazing feat: He raised more than $200,000 in just a couple weeks. But then he stopped when he reached his self-imposed cap, still ensuring an even money race. That was a bad decision.

Of course Adams wasn’t content to leave it at that. He wanted to seal the deal. He spent more money on investigators to dig up anything they could on Dozono. What they found was that the Bush Garden Restaurant, in which Dozono had a majority interest, was in arrears with its landlord, the City of Portland. This issue, a legitimate tenant-landlord dispute, hit the front pages of the papers. The polls that had shown the two neck-and-neck during the financing brouhaha, began to widen. The Dozono camp tried to spin it as another example of Portland’s unfriendliness toward business, which it was, but it didn’t take.

In the debates, the contrast between the two was stark. Adams described himself as a “policy wonk” and had a commanding mastery of budget figures, ordinances and regulations. Dozono’s habit of dropping verbs and articles from his sentences, which he blamed on his growing up with English as his second language, was endearing to me, but not to others. Talk show hosts were all over him saying “the guy can’t even talk.” They also insisted that, policy-wise, there was no difference between the two liberal candidates. They missed the critical difference: Adams believes government can create private sector jobs. Dozono knows it can’t.

Dozono’s humble demeanor reminded me of Mr. Miyagi in the movie “The Karate Kid.” I was hoping that just once Dozono would look over to Adams and say, “Okay Sami-san, show me “˜sand the floor.'” I guess he came kind of close to that at Candidates Gone Wild, but I wasn’t there.

Adams put the final fork in when, in explaining the widening gap in the polls, he declared that Dozono was “the conservative candidate.” Dozono, of course, is and always has been a liberal Democrat. But that didn’t matter. And it probably didn’t help that he accepted the endorsement of the Multnomah County Republicans “” all 27 of them.

Finally, Dozono’s campaign team was out-classed. Adams’ strategist, “Winning Mark” Wiener, has never lost a Portland race. His campaign manager, Jennifer Yocom, is unrivalled when it comes to getting out the vote. I learned that firsthand two years ago when Yocom was campaign manager for my rival, Erik Sten.

From both Dozono’s effort and my own race two years ago, I’ve learned a couple things. Any business candidate in Portland, despite their actual leanings, will be branded “conservative.” I’ve also learned that it’s not enough to present to the voters that you’ve balanced a budget, met a payroll, and created jobs. In their endorsement of Adams, the Oregonian basically said he was the right choice because he was the better politician. The voters, it seems, prefer politicans to business people as their leaders.

The other thing I’ve learned is that the political figure most closely resembling Richard Nixon in my lifetime is a gay bicycle advocate.

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

BrainstormNW June 2008

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Posted by at 06:16 | Posted in Measure 37 | 17 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • dean

    Dave….Bud Clark, a businessman, defeated incumbant Frank Ivancie, a professional pol. Tom Potter, a retired cop, was elected mayor. There is little evidence here that voters “prefer politicians.” Voting is more complicated than that. And anyway…most politicians started asult life as something else. For example, is Kurt Schrader a politician or a Veterenarian or a farmer? He is all three.

    Bush was a “businessman” wasn’t he? Didn’t we hear about his MBA from Harvard and his years as an oil man and baseball team executive….that this experience was going to serve him in the White House? Yes we went from healthy budget surplus to a return of Republican deficits in short order. Why should voters trust businessmen after this experience? Perhaps political philosophy and competence also matter.

    Sho is a family busnessman and nice guy. I don’t live in Portlnad, but suspect voters looked him over and doubted his ability to run a large city that deals with multiple complex issues. End of story.

    And do you really mean to reduce Sam Adams to being nothing more than a “gay bicycle advocate?” What does that remark say about you?

  • David

    What is Sam Adams other than a “Gay” bicycle advocate?
    I have seen nothing on his to do list that wasn’t about bicycles and the homosexual agenda… Have you seen any pot holes repaired or streets widened??

    • Bo

      I think the media ran away with a few choice issues that was beyond what Sam may have wanted. You know how some reporters are.

      Nice review Dave.

  • Martha

    Sam Adams is gay? Wow, I didn’t care about it so much I didn’t even notice. Really, I’m not joking. I didn’t like him for other reasons like the greasy politician answers and a completely different set of priorities from my own. Hearing how the play with Dozono worked out reaffirms my opinion.

  • Jerry

    At least vote by mail makes it much, much easier to vote often.

    • David

      Yep and that was the point same with motor voter and others,Even people that die can vote…

  • Crawdude

    I think Sho’s run showed that a motivated outsider can beat the political insiders in this town. Sho was a novice and it was easy to spot but a savvy , experienced person surrounded by a good team could have a chance.

    57% isn’t bad, if you are running against a major challenger, Sam wasn’t.

    I’m hoping Sho’s run has given heart to citizens who are willing to run, ones whose thought are to help the city not line their developer buddies pockets. We’ll see in time I guess.

  • Joey Link

    My hope is that Fish and Fritz or Lewis will bring some sanity to the council and try to keep their stupid pet projects in check. We need to start the search now for strong candidates of the future, none of this last minute stuff.

  • Dave Lister

    Anyone who knows me knows I am the farthest thing from homophobic. I was also one of Portland’s first bicycle activists (circa 1971).

    I just thought it was interesting to contrast Adams’ Nixon-esque, dirty tricks style of politics with his social liberalism.

  • Don

    Dozono dug his own grave honestly. Both the certification issue and restuarant bill were easily avoidable. For example, pay the restuarant bill and make sure the poll done for you cost less than $10k. If he does that, I think we’d be in a runoff now.

  • Dave Lister

    It was interesting that the polls were very tight when Adams was challenging his financing. People didn’t that. Sho’s numbers started to slide quite a bit after the Bush Garden story hit.

  • Richard brown

    If had a chance, I vote with my feet. Boise ID or Dallas Texas, (I prefer Huston but no tech jobs) or go the ex pat route.

    Still I disagree with you on one thing, elections results. This is why I do not want to attend election parties I rather get it over quickly rather than agonizing over what might be a false hope.
    My election day ritual is ignore the news all day and put on some classical music.

  • Bob Clark


    I heard you say at the end of your briefing at last month’s exec club you might be moving to Tigard from Portland. Was this a momentary reaction or something serious?

    I’ve been thinking of moving to a surrounding burb outside the proper confines of PDX cityhall jurisdiction. It’s too much work to try to fight back against this cityhall. You plug one hole and three more appear just as fast.

    • Dave Lister

      Yes, I am contemplating a move. We moved our business to Tigard three years ago. Our license fees went from $3500.00 per year to $100.00 per year. Now I am left with commuting from the Hollywood district to Tigard. It’s only 12 miles, but on a bad evening it can take as long as an hour and fifteen minutes to get home. It would be nice to be closer to work.

  • Dave A.

    Nice reporting Dave! I followed the Sho Dozono race closely; and have to admit that some of his gaffes about the outstanding rent on Bush Garden and the entire public financing fiasco really scuttled his chances to win the election. Very inept; and I’m sure that an experienced politcian would be sure that those “skeletons in the closet” were dead and buried long before the election started.

  • Bob Clark

    Wow that’s quite a difference in license fees, $3500 in PDX versus $100 in Tigard. I bet other costs in Portland are higher too like rent and perhaps property taxes. I guess if you want a whole of government services you should live in Portland but if you really don’t want much but protection from local government you really shouldn’t be living in Portland proper. I find myself in the latter camp.

    • Dave Lister

      You know what’s interesting Bob is that we seem to get more services in Tigard. They take good care of the infrastructure; they even vacuum out the store drains regularly. There are plenty of police and the streets are well maintained. I’ve not yet seen a roadside panhandler. They have a fantastic library.

      When a municipality spends their tax money on core services, rather than social engineering, you wind up with a pretty good situation.

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