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October 17th, 2012 WW Editorial Staff | Cover Story
 

Risky Business

There’s a time for playing it safe... and our 2012 Endorsement Issue says this is one of them.

City of Portland

Mayor of Portland

Charlie Hales (Nonpartisan)

Jefferson Smith has the trappings of a great candidate.

He’s a gifted speaker and nimble thinker, able to connect the dots in a way that many politicians cannot. His founding and subsequent leadership of the Bus Project inspired voters and many talented young politicos.

And Smith, who has represented East Portland in the Oregon House for two terms, deserves credit for a courageous, early opposition to the Columbia River Crossing project.

His magnetism and potential are considerable. His performance is another matter. 

His legislative record is like a spilled milkshake—shallow and messy. Few of the achievements he touts, from fighting human trafficking to increasing voter registration, hold up under scrutiny. His efforts in these areas are either not actually accomplishments or small in scale (his human-trafficking fight amounts to asking taverns to post stickers with toll-free help numbers).

His votes against gun control, in favor of hiding the names of people with concealed-handgun permits, and his fights with Planned Parenthood over sex education show a politician who was busy preparing to run for governor someday by creating the record of a political moderate. His efforts to hastily recast himself in the past year for a more liberal Portland electorate don’t wash.

One of Smith’s favorite stump-speech themes is that you govern how you campaign. Voters can make up their own minds about Smith having his driver’s license revoked seven times, failing to pay his state bar dues, mismanaging paperwork at the Bus Project and losing his temper—whether it’s in his 1993 criminal charge for hitting a woman in college or punching a player last year in a pick-up basketball game.

But if voters think Smith’s Oct. 1 visit to the woman’s house hours before he held a press conference to answer questions about the assault was anything other than an attempt to shut her up, they deserve to have him as their next mayor.

Smith’s opponent, Charlie Hales, likes to say he isn’t without flaws. That’s an understatement. We’re still troubled by the fact Hales ducked Oregon taxes while living in Washington and yet kept voting in Oregon—in part, we suspect, to keep up the appearance of unbroken Portland fealty in case he ever wanted to run for office again.

Character matters—that’s why this newspaper has spent time examining these candidates’ backgrounds. 

But our pages have also been filled with stories about Portland’s present and future. And as we step back from it all, we see a city that needs an experienced leader.

Our police bureau shames the city when it brings its Tasers down on the mentally ill. The U.S. Department of Justice report on the bureau—showing a pattern of unconstitutional brutality the police union refuses to acknowledge—barely gets to the heart of the problem.

Our fire bureau, protected by City Commissioner Randy Leonard, is inefficient and wasteful. And we need a candid assessment of the complaints of business leaders that the city is unfriendly to those who want to create jobs here. Where they are right, the next mayor needs to work to strengthen the region’s economy.

Hales served as city commissioner from 1993 to 2002. As fire commissioner, Hales did something virtually unseen in Portland: He took on a powerful union and made a tradition-bound group add more women and minorities.

Hales also played a key role in developing the streetcar, which has become a signature part of the city (albeit a pokey one). He was instrumental in the development of South Waterfront, which has not turned out as planned but was a blighted nothingness for decades. He played a key role in getting light rail to the airport. He pressed forcefully for a dense urban center—a key to business and livability. He’s a builder who has changed the face of the city for the better.

We have found that when Hales makes mistakes—like quitting his job on the City Council mid-term—he takes his lumps like a grown-up. That maturity will matter in the next four years so the next mayor won’t be fooled by bureau chiefs, intimidated by developers (Hales knows their business; Smith does not) or pushed around by unions.

The city has gone through two consecutive failed experiments with once-promising mayors: Tom Potter, who never understood politics, and Sam Adams, whose personal shortcomings gutted his tenure. 

The mayor’s office needs someone with experience, foresight and the ability to listen.

City Hall needs adult supervision.

Portland needs Charlie Hales.

The one word Hales would use to describe himself: “Fix-it.”


City Council, Position No. 1

Amanda Fritz (Nonpartisan)

In the May primary, we endorsed Rep. Mary Nolan (D-Portland) over Amanda Fritz, the incumbent in this race. We’ve changed our minds.

This newspaper often criticizes politicians for flip-flopping. And we accept that this endorsement opens us up for the same criticism.

So let’s step right up to it. “We wanted to be able to endorse her for a second term,” we wrote about Fritz in the primary. “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.”

But events since then, and our growing concerns with Nolan, have led us to endorse Fritz.

One of those developments was the U.S. Department of Justice’s conclusion that the police bureau acted unconstitutionally in its abusive approach to dealing with the mentally ill.

We were not surprised by this finding, given the police bureau’s history. But we were taken aback by the response of the police union, which said it found no evidence of excessive force in the DOJ’s report.

We’ve also taken a hard look at Portland Fire & Rescue recently (“Burning Money,” WW, Sept. 26, 2012) and see more clearly than before how that bureau’s inefficient and wasteful ways—including responding to every medical call with a full fire crew—need reform.

In both cases, our next mayor will need all the help he can get to bring about real change. We believe Fritz, more than Nolan, is better suited to help a new mayor steer a different course.

Fritz has positioned herself as a City Hall iconoclast, and her outsider status often reduces her effectiveness. She struggled managing the few bureau assignments she got, and had trouble installing a new 911 system.

But Fritz has also proven to be a true citizen’s representative on a Council buffeted by conflicting agendas. She remains an important, independent voice, unafraid to challenge the status quo.

After a close primary race with Nolan, the threat of losing her job has reinvigorated Fritz. She’s the only commissioner to challenge Commisioner Randy Leonard’s secretive fluoridation putsch, and she’s taken a firm stand alongside Adams to draw the line on the police bureau and joined Commissioner Dan Saltzman in scrutinizing the fire bureau.

Her penny-pinching appears more admirable as Portland’s budget gets closer to being swallowed by urban renewal areas and fire and police pensions.

In WW’s endorsement interview, Fritz made a compelling case that her background as a psychiatric nurse is an important tool in helping cops change their approach to public safety.

Nolan, in the Oregon House since 2001, has earned a reputation for getting things done.

But she has also demonstrated during this campaign that she marches in lockstep with the public employee unions—especially fire and police—who are backing her.

In our endorsement interview, Nolan offered few specifics about how she’d rein in an inefficient fire bureau, while Fritz offered clear and innovative ideas. Nolan was unpersuasive in claims she would be an independent thinker when it comes to reforms.

Last month, the City Council voted unanimously to challenge at the Oregon Court of Appeals an arbitrator’s decision that ruled against the city’s efforts to fire Officer Ron Frashour, a police sniper who shot and killed an unarmed Aaron Campbell in 2010. 

It’s a case that epitomizes the police bureau’s lack of accountability.

Nolan told us she opposed the city’s decision to continue to pursue Frashour’s firing. If she had been on the council, she would have voted to drop the whole thing.

That was one of the most disturbing answers we’ve received from a candidate this election cycle.

Nolan’s reasoning—that the city will look weak if it loses on appeal, and the community needs to heal from the Campbell case—looked wan in comparison to Fritz’s response.

It’s not a matter of political tactics, but a moral choice—as Fritz put it, it’s about justice.

The choice has become clear: Vote for Amanda Fritz.

What would Fritz change about herself? “Have hair that would behave.”


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