This year is going to be a wild ride for Portland politics. The mayor’s seat and two commissioners’ seats are up for grabs. In normal times, this would be no big deal. The sitting officials would simply use the power of incumbency to coast to easy victories. But these are not normal times.
Mayor Sam Adams, besieged by scandal and two attempted recalls, may face several high-profile challengers. It’s unlikely any of them will bring up the Beau Breedlove affair; they won’t have to. What they’re likely to bring up is that Adams’ major initiatives have been ill-conceived, controversial and ineffective. Adams was in charge of the bureau that botched the city’s latest attempt at a computer system upgrade. Adams was in charge of the bureau that tried to levy a leaf-removal fee on property owners, generating a backlash so intense that a hastily crafted opt-out program was concocted. As a result, the costs of the program may well exceed the revenue. Adams avoided the hot potato of being police commissioner until a public throw-down by then Chief Rosie Sizer forced him to take the post. Now gang violence and police shootings are on the increase.
Meanwhile, neither Commissioners Randy Leonard nor Amanda Fritz have announced whether they will seek re-election. Fritz, an unabashed advocate for the public-financing scheme that voters tossed out, probably cringes at the thought of traditional fund-raising. The scuttlebutt out of Leonard’s office is that he’s advised his staffers to update their resumes. If either of them decide not to run, there won’t be another publicly funded free-for-all like we saw in 2008. Without public financing, only credible candidates with solid resumes will be able to raise money.
I can think of two reasons why Leonard, who has nearly always allied himself with Adams, would hang it up. One is that he might just be tired of it all. He’s in good health, has a new bride and will enjoy two good pensions. The other is that he might just know something. He might know that a high-profile challenger is going to emerge to take on Adams. I think it’s the latter, and I think that challenger will be U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer. And let’s face it: If Blumenauer runs, he wins.
Even though he has tolerated airport pat-downs better than some of his colleagues, Blumenauer has to be getting tired of the cross-country commute. His accomplishments have been largely eclipsed by some other members of Oregon’s delegation. His most recent claim to fame was setting himself up for the crosshairs of Sarah Palin’s “death panel” claims. Now that Republicans have taken the House, who could blame him for coming back to seize a ready-made opportunity close to home?
And to him I say, come on back.
Our bow-tied, bicycling congressman has done everything he could in Washington to fund Portland’s brand of sustainability, and I think he should come back to enjoy it. He should ride the light-rail lines alone at night and see how safe he feels. He should take a stroll though downtown to admire the boarded-up storefronts and see how many times he’s aggressively panhandled. He should talk with unemployed Portlanders and explain how everything here is sustainable — everything, that is, except business, jobs, per capita income, the police and fire pension fund, the public employee pension system and the state budget. Blumenauer has been such an admirable ambassador for Portlandia, both the real and the fictional, it’s only fitting that he lead what he’s helped create.
Then, when he’s mayor, he can either help us fix Portland, or he can help finish it off.
Dave Lister is a small-business owner who served on Portland’s Small Business Advisory Council.