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