You were expecting...?
I've been thinking about Portland's new mayor, Tom Potter, and what his administration will mean for our fair city. Specifically, what were the voters saying when they overwhelmingly put him in the mayor's office? And is he likely to deliver?
I'm having a hard time coming up with a simple answer to either of those questions.
What was the message of Potter's election? "Change" is the word you'll most likely hear. The voters clearly didn't like Jim Francesconi, a two-term city commissioner who thought the path to the mayoralty was amassing the largest war chest in municipal history from the rich and powerful interests who run the city. His attitude was all wrong -- Mr. Political Hardball -- and the record he had to run on was singularly unimpressive. And so it was out with Francesconi, and in with the best of the other candidates, which Potter was.
But what was so good about Potter, other than his being the Anti-Scone? His policy of taking only small campaign contributions was a brilliant stroke, and clearly the right thing to do. But aside from that, what made people like the guy?
It's hard to tell, since he never promised much by way of specifics. He vowed to foster a new attitude among city bureaus, and to reopen a dialogue between the city's government and its residents. Moreover, his credentials as former police chief implicitly promised to improve the performance of the police bureau, which was not well run under former Mayor Vera Katz. And as a proven advocate of gay rights, Potter wil no doubt represent that sizeable segment of his constituency as well as a straight white guy can.
So that's what I can come up with in terms of a voters' message: "change," attitude, dialogue, better policing, and gay rights. However his administration will finally be judged, when the talk turns to promises kept, these will be the tests for Potter.
Will he deliver on "change"? Of course, it's too soon to tell, but already the new mayor has given me reason to be less than wildly optimistic. Look at his newly appointed staff. Are they fresh faces who will bring new ideas that wil change the City Hall culture? From media accounts of his appointments, it surely doesn't look like it.
Among his staff members are four members of Katz's office crew; the head of the Southeast Uplift neighborhood association bureaucracy; an ex-aide to commissioner Erik Sten; a former staffer of Multnomah County commissioner Serena Cruz; and a former member of the staffs of ex-city commissioners Earl Blumenauer and Margaret Strachan. As for folks coming from nongovernmental positions, one is an ex-lobbyist for Portland General Electric. The rest were workers on Potter's campaign.
They will take charge, all right, but will they bring about change? If they do, it likely won't be because of their career paths. It will be because their boss really is committed to, and capable of, making it happen.
It will be interesting to watch, but with Sten and born-again insider Sam Adams whispering sweet trams in everyone's ears, I'm not expecting too much real change from the Potter administration. Dumb ideas that grab headlines, yes. But real and lasting change, no.
Hopes, yes. Expectations, no.