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April 25th, 2012 12:01 am WW Editorial Staff | Cover Story

Election is Coming

For the City Hall throne and other races, we reveal our picks for the 2012 primary.

City of Portland

Portland City Council Position 1

MARY NOLAN (Nonpartisan)

The incumbent, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, is in many ways a deserving role model for activists of all causes in Portland.

She entered the city’s political scene as a nurse and working mother who became known for her persistence, attention to detail, and commitment to neighborhood issues while on the city planning commission. Fritz was the first candidate to qualify for public campaign financing when she ran unsuccessfully against Commissioner Dan Saltzman in 2006. In 2008, again with public financing, she won Adams’ open Council seat.

We wanted to be able to endorse her for a second term. We admire her tenacity and her principled stand on campaign finance—she’s refusing contributions over $50.

But we found ourselves liking the idea of Amanda Fritz more than the commissioner who’s held office for 3½ years. Fritz has proven too great a disappointment.

She’s had some victories. Fritz takes credit for saving utility ratepayers $500 million on a Water Bureau sand-filtration system—one case in which her dogged, read-every-footnote, hyper-frugal approach may have saved taxpayers more than a few pennies.

Overall, though, Fritz has been less than effective. At times she acts as if she’s above engaging in politics. Unfortunately, politics is part of the job, and she hasn’t learned how to navigate City Hall.

Adams, who has the power to make bureau assignments, has given Fritz the smallest portfolio of any commissioner in recent history. Day to day, she has little control over large budgets or high-priority projects. Instead, she handles her own correspondence and blogs.

Assigned the city office in charge of cable and franchise communications (it has only nine employees), Fritz created an unnecessary and futile public process that caused at least one telecom to roll back its plans for increased wireless coverage and left neighborhood activists—who wanted the Council to stop all new antennas—dissatisfied.

Adams took the bureau away from Fritz, she says, to allow her to focus on developing the new Office of Equity.

Fritz alienated leaders on the city’s existing human rights commission—a strange outcome for a process-focused citizen politician with a volunteer’s background. Members of the city’s charter review commission say Fritz, among all the commissioners, did the most to undermine their mission to reform city government.

We might have argued in favor of Fritz had there not been a viable alternative: Mary Nolan, the former Oregon House majority leader.

Before joining the Legislature in 2001, Nolan worked in the private sector (she and her husband run an aviation company) and as a director of two city bureaus, Maintenance and Environmental Services.

WW has called Nolan the anti-Fritz, an insider with many well-heeled backers, a profligate spender who’d rather raise taxes than find government efficiencies. She’s a mercilessly ambitious pol who doesn’t hesitate to bring out the knives against her opponents—including the genteel Fritz. (It actually hurts to watch Nolan flay Fritz alive on the campaign trail, and Fritz may prevail out of sheer sympathy.)

Make no mistake: We’re concerned by Nolan’s closeness to special interests, particularly the public-employee unions she will be asked to negotiate with in City Hall.

But we have no doubts about her ability to lead and her track record of accomplishment. And leadership is what has been lacking here.

Worst thing Nolan has done for money: The humiliation of being the target in a dunk-tank fundraiser long ago for her Bureau of Environmental Services employees.

City Council Position 4

STEVE NOVICK (Nonpartisan)

Portlanders were introduced to Steve Novick, the Harvard-educated environmental lawyer, during his 2008 run against Jeff Merkley in the Democratic primary to decide who would face then-U.S. Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon).

Novick lost that race, but his campaign was unlike anything anyone had seen. He was an outsider to the Democratic establishment. His slogan, “Vote Hook,” played on the fact Novick has a metal hook in place of his left hand, one of the physical disabilities he was born with. In one ad still popular on YouTube, Novick uses the prosthesis as a beer opener.

Despite his loss, Novick swept much of Portland, setting him up for a future run. Now, with the early endorsement of the departing incumbent, Commissioner Randy Leonard, Novick is the odds-on favorite to take a seat on the City Council.

Frankly, Novick is a lot more likable as the underdog. 

He’s used to being the smartest guy in any room; he can hardly hide his impatience with challengers. He’s barely campaigning beyond showing up to forums, where he hams it up, often at the expense of serious debate. 

Novick appears to have taken the wrong lessons from his 2008 loss to a big-money candidate. Novick has raised about $250,000. He doesn’t need the money: None of his challengers has raised more than $3,000. Meanwhile, the former environmental lawyer is pocketing checks from Willamette River waterfront companies that like the fact he’s chatted up a cheap solution to cleaning the Portland Harbor Superfund site.

We’re endorsing Novick because we like his ideas. One of his proposals to lower citywide health-care costs by supporting direct care for the highest-cost workers is borrowed from McAllen, Texas, where it was featured in The New Yorker. We also appreciate his political savvy, intelligence and sense of humor. We think he’ll challenge his City Council colleagues to do better and think bigger.

But he should show more class and not treat this race as a gimme. 

Among his opponents, we like Mark White, president of East Portland’s Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association, co-chair of the city’s charter review commission, and a three-time failed City Council candidate. He’s Novick’s most qualified challenger, and we praise his commitment to public service, but he doesn’t seem prepared for elected office. 

Scott McAlpine hates light rail and seemingly everyone who’s come near Portland City Hall. Sports promoter Brian Parrott wants to bring the Winter Olympics to Mount Hood and not one but two riverboat casinos to the Willamette River. Jeri Williams is a city employee with a powerful personal story of escaping a life of forced prostitution. She skipped her WW endorsement interview. 

Worst thing Novick has done for money: Representing a company during a stint in labor law, Novick helped deny unemployment benefits to laid-off workers. 

City of Portland Charter Amendments

Ballot Measures 26-126 through 26-134

Vote NO

In 2007, voters approved a measure requiring the City Council to convene a charter review commission at least every decade. The charter had not been updated in nearly 80 years, and some believe its out-of-date approaches to governing Portland are obstacles to meaningful city government reform. 

But leaders of the 19-member commission say the City Council asked them to focus only on “housekeeping” matters, leaving a future panel to look at real change. This pressure from an undermining Council has meant such ideas as district-based elections and an independent utility-rate commission fell off the table. 

The nine amendments the commission did propose seek to delete offensive, unconstitutional or unenforceable language from the charter. The measures would, for example, revoke the City Council’s power to ban “obscene matter, including books” and regulate “begging upon the streets,” and the requirement that the Council find jobs for “vagrants and paupers.” 

Other changes are more substantive. One would remove a $2,000 “secret service” mayoral slush fund that requires “no supporting documentation of expenditures.” OK, that one clearly shouldn’t be on the books. 

But even if the next mayor spends that $2,000 on bacon sandwiches, cocaine and pay-per-view UFC matches, it won’t be as big a waste of time or money as the hamstrung charter commission. We deserve a real debate on the charter. We say vote “no” on all of these measures as a loud message to the Council: Don’t come back until you have something meaningful.

More endorsements


U.S. House of Representatives 

Oregon House of Representatives


Multnomah County Commission

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