Forecast on Potter, Adams and Leonard

Forecast on Potter, Adams and Leonard
Eastside Guy, featured in Brainstorm Magazine

With less than a year to go until the next primary election, Portland city officials facing re-election campaigns, along with the hopefuls who may challenge them, are busy attempting to get their faces and names in front of the electorate by any means necessary. Their attempts to do so range from the ridiculous to the sublime and it would be wonderful comedy if it weren’t for the fact that it plays well in Portland.

The biggest headline grabber, of course, has been city commissioner Randy Leonard.

For some time now Leonard has been pandering to Portland’s progressives through the themes of taking on big oil by his bio-diesel initiatives and taking on the big developers and the PDC by successfully wresting control of their budget through a voter endorsed initiative. Leonard also was a prominent figure in the defeat of Tom Potter’s “strong mayor” proposal. But Leonard’s biggest headline grabber came from a debate over, get this, duct tape.

Leonard probably didn’t know that his casual remark on Bob Miller’s morning radio show on KPAM would ignite a firestorm of controversy, but once it did he was able to capitalize on it masterfully. The so called “tradition” of applying duct tape to Portland’s streets to stake out a spot for the Grand Floral Parade was called into question. Leonard painted the picture of some guy “in a Hummer, with a pinky ring, Washington plates and a short case” booting out innocent, early rising, parade-goers from the viewing spot he had “reserved”. His comments resonated with Portlanders unlike anything in recent memory. His office was literally flooded with e-mails, overwhelmingly in support of banning the practice. Media weblogs were likewise flooded with comments. The duct tape controversy generated more interest than the Tram cost overruns, public campaign financing fraud a the solution for the crumbling Sellwood bridge. The elevation of Leonard’s public profile from the controversy resulted in a laudatory missive by the Oregonian’s Anna Griffin, describing Leonard as a plain talking, hard driving man of the people. His re-election seems assured. With the exception of the usual scattering of lunatic fringers who like to see their photo in the voter’s pamphlet, I doubt if he will face any opposition.

The other commissioner whose term will expire in 2008 is Sam Adams. Adams, if you recall, served as Vera Katz chief of staff for a decade and barely beat out Nick Fish for his council seat in a nail biting race in 2004. Adams has racked up several successes during his first term including bringing the beleagurred Tram project to conclusion and beginning the process of bringing serious reform to Portland’s onerous business license fee. Adams, who is widely rumored to be the most serious contender for the Mayor’s office should Tom Potter not seek re-election, has put himself back into the news recently by suggesting that dealing with a decades old backlog of road maintenance in Portland will require more taxes.

I asked Adams to share his views on additional funding to fix the long-neglected transportation infrastructure.

“The easiest option is to do nothing,” Adams told me, “but if I can muster enough political support I am looking at a three or four-legged stool. That way the pain is spread among all the stakeholders.” Among the options are local gas taxes, street maintenance fees and commercial parking fees.

Adams has been holding town hall meetings to inform the public as to the scope of the problem and the dollars needed.

“Our current backlog is 422 million,” Adams said, “and it’s growing at nine million per year.”

Adams describes the forums as often starting out on a contentious note with attendees complaining about transportation dollars spent on streetcars, bike lanes and the aerial tram, but after discussion, Adams says, the response becomes one of “sober acknowledgement”.

“I know raising this issue is not popular,” Adams told me. “But we can save lives and money by dealing with these issues now. Waiting will not make it easier or cheaper.”

Adams, of course, is a politician, and on the surface it seems to be a risky political move to suggest higher taxes less than a year from his name being on a ballot. But it could be otherwise. In the light of Tom Potter’s abysmal record as mayor, Adams may be positioning himself as a leader who can acknowledge unpleasant realities and make tough choices. I asked Adams about his future political hands, but, so far, he’s not tipping his hand.

“I love the job I have now and am focused on doing it well,” he said. “I will think about my political future at a later date.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Potter, whose charter reform initiative was soundly trounced at the ballot box and whose “visioning project” has cost over a million dollars and only received ten percent of the expected participation, continues to refuse to announce his intentions until September. Despite his record of losses, a recent Riley poll shows the mayor continues to have a fifty percent approval with Portland voters. Council hopefuls, possibly including street car advocate Chris Smith, former publicly financed candidate Amanda Fritz, and two time loser Nick Fish, wait on the sidelines until Potter makes up his mind. There is little doubt they will jump at Adams seat if it becomes available. All these folks, in their own way, continue to keep their presence before the public. Fish, of course, with his popular Sunday morning T.V. show, Outlook Portland and Chris Smith with the recent “Citizen Smith” bio in the Portland Tribune. For her part, Amanda Fritz, who still believes that the misguided public campaign financing system will open up council seats to the downtrodden, posts wonkish diatribes on her blog and testifies before city council ad nauseam.

One candidate, Charles Lewis, has already announced for Adams seat. Like Fritz, Lewis is a fan of the public financing system. In the great tradition of “keep Portland weird” Lewis kicked off his campaign by driving his amphibious tour bus across the Willamette and up to city hall to file his paperwork.

As far as Potter is concerned, it’s anybody’s guess. City Hall insiders describe him as discouraged, disengaged and disinterested. Many of them say there is no chance he will run again. But I’m not so sure.

I’ve only noticed one thing that has animated Tom Potter during his term as mayor: the Federal government. From pulling out of the JTTF, to having his office swept for bugs when he thought the local FBI was snooping around city hall, the mayor has gone out of his way to stay on the outs with the federal authority. His reaction to the recent arrests of illegal workers at the Fresh DelMonte plant was no exception. The mayor sent one of his office mouthpieces to protest with a bullhorn in front of the Federal building, a la La Raza, and he issued an angry statement that making the arrests was wrong. His comments set off a controversy almost as large as Leonard’s comments over duct tape. On the media blogs, overwhelmingly, citizens derided the mayor for being in favor of “selective” law enforcement. One east Portland business leader told me that Potter’s reaction was political suicide and the death knell for any future campaign.

I’m not so sure. A planned protest by Oregonian’s for Immigration Reform on the steps of city hall attracted three times as many Potter supporters as Potter deriders. Rather than being political suicide, I have to wonder if Potter’s comments weren’t the opening salvo of his bid for re-election.

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