Mayor’s race tepid at best

Portland Mayor Vera Katz’s decision not to run for re-election in 2004 was supposed to be the cue for undeclared candidates to throw their hats into the ring.

More than a week after Katz’s announcement, however, no new candidates have joined the race, and at PSU, the campaign has sparked all the interest of a warm $8 beer.

“I’m unaware of who the mayors [sic] are,” said Lauren Crutcher, a senior social sciences major.

At a school were cynicism runs rampant, Dimitri Labunsky, a freshman computer science major, summed up the likely PSU vote. “Anything liberal – the students will support,” he said.

As of yet, however, there are no liberals in the race. The only declared candidate, City Commissioner Jim Francesconi, voted against a city of Portland resolution to oppose the war in Iraq.

That could change soon.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Portland’s bowtie-wearing Democratic representative in Washington, is widely expected to declare his candidacy after Labor Day. Blumenauer, who has been holding “town meetings” around Portland to explore public opinion, would bring with him considerable campaign money. Last week, the Oregonian reported that he has amassed more than $380,000 that he could take with him to the Portland mayor’s race.

Erik Sten, a left-leaning city commissioner who in 1998, at 29, became the youngest Portlander ever to hold that office, has long been mulling a run. He likely won’t oppose Blumenauer, who shares many of his political goals.

The most intriguing candidate may be Pink Martini front man Thomas Lauderdale. The Harvard-educated musician has long been rumored to have his sights set on the mayor’s office. While it is hard to believe he would have a shot at winning, his candidacy would add some much-needed levity to a race that seemingly holds little interest for PSU students.

While the mayor’s office has no direct control over the operation of state universities (responsibility is split between the State Board of Higher Education and the legislative branch of the Oregon government), the election comes at a time when local politics could greatly affect the future of PSU.

As PSU races toward its goal of enrolling 35,000 students within a decade, the mayor’s office may hold considerable clout with the Portland Development Commission, the powerful body that approves new developments in Portland.

A mayor’s office amenable to helping PSU’s cause of separating from the Oregon University System could bring a new spark to the effort.

The idea, which backers believe would help PSU’s financial situation, was recently recommended to PSU President Daniel Bernstine by the Budget and Priorities Committee, a group convened specifically to think through navigating the waters of enormous state debt.

When asked his opinion on the matter, however, potential candidate Blumenauer deferred. Any stance, he said, would have to wait until he declared his candidacy.