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April 18th, 2007 Nicholas Deshais | News Stories
 

Charter-house five

Portland's time-traveling, rhetoric-thieving pols.

     
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Feeling unstuck in time in the election debate over strengthening the mayor's job?

It's true, the May 15 ballot marks the eighth time Portland voters have faced a request to change the city's nearly century-old governing charter.

But when City Commissioner Randy Leonard says "we cannot afford to put Portland's future in the hands of one person," as he did Monday night when debating Mayor Tom Potter, the parallels with a failed charter effort in 1966 are just plain weird.

Then as now, a very vocal opponent of a stronger mayor sat on the five-member City Council. Forty-plus years ago, it was then-Commissioner William Bowes who said efforts to change the charter exhibited "the kind of thinking that put Hitler in power and Mussolini in temporary glory for a short time and much of the world in war."

At least Leonard didn't go quite that far when the Portland Tribune quoted him in February saying of Potter, an ex-police chief, "His professional experience is exclusively in a paramilitary organization."

But the kooky parallels with 1966 don't end with the martial rhetoric of a commissioner. In 1966, one of charter change's' most ardent advocates was a former woman mayor.

"In this day and age, with the problems that face a big city such as Portland, we need unified executive leadership in one position," said Portland's first female mayor, Dorothy McCullough Lee.

Flash forward to 2007 and it's ex-Mayor Vera Katz uttering similar pronouncements.

"If you want a government that's responsive and manageable, you can't continue to govern with a commission," Katz told WW in January. "Every one of the commissioners sees themselves as mayor."

Alas, the band of time-traveling city officials ends when it comes to the actual occupant of the mayor's chair. Then-Mayor Terry Schrunk opposed the change in 1966. Potter wants change. As he said Monday night in the debate with Leonard at Parkrose High School, "This system has been around 94 years. It's tired, outmoded, and it's inefficient."

 
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