Portland’s new politics

Jay “Boss” Rubin is not your typical City Council candidate. This doughnut-making Swahili instructor is also an occasional PSU student and organizer of an event that dares members to cross the Willamette River without using money, motors or bridges.

Rubin describes himself as an active Portlander, and his campaign for the second seat on the City Commission revolves around getting Portlanders more involved in community life.

Born and raised in Portland, Rubin has also spent time in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Living in a large, poverty-stricken city in Tanzania gave him a new perspective on Portland. Rubin’s platform revolves around his enthusiasm for his hometown.

“If Portland is so great,” he said, “why is there a continual drive to change it?”

Among his chief concerns is the proposal to change Burnside Street from a two-way street to a one-way couplet with Couch Street. As an employee of Voodoo Doughnut, Rubin spends a lot of time near Burnside, a historical street he said works fine the way it is.

“From a transportation perspective and symbolically, Burnside Street connects all the disparate aspects and districts of downtown Portland,” he said.

Rubin also feels strongly about empowering Portlanders to come up with creative solutions to school funding. More people should create community-based education initiatives, he said, rather than throwing money into government schools that do not encourage independent, lifetime learning. “I teach Swahili with no funding and no initiative,” Rubin said, referring to his free Monday class at Voodoo Doughnut. “People just come down and learn.”

Like many candidates running for City Council, Rubin is participating in the Campaign Finance Fund, a program that allows citizens to run for office if they can collect signatures and $5 from 1,000 people. He said he is excited about the way that “voter-owned” elections have opened up local politics to average citizens. “It bridges the gap between politics and life,” he said.

Dave Lister, another candidate for City Council Seat 2, wants to bridge a different kind of gap. Lister wants to link the world of local politics to the small business community.

Lister first became interested in local politics when he learned about Eric Sten’s attempt to reform the water bureau’s billing system to reflect his vision of sustainability. In 1996, Commissioner Sten wanted to change the way Portland’s water bureau billed its customers by charging its heavy users the most. In order to change the way customers were billed, the city needed new billing software.

Computer software is an area Lister is very familiar with. He co-founded Integrated Data Systems, a local software development company 20 years ago. When Lister read that the city planned to scrap the water bureau’s new billing system after losing an estimated $30 million on the project, he devoted himself to researching what went wrong. “I predicted that the city was going to repeat some mistakes,” Lister said.

He said the water bureau issue and his subsequent attempts to offer free advice to the City Council convinced him to run for the commissioner seat. Although he stressed his friendly relationship with the current City Council members, Lister said he feels that many are out of touch with the needs of local small businesses. “One thing that is conspicuously absent is good, solid private-sector management experience,” Lister said.

Unlike many candidates, Lister is not participating in the Campaign Finance Fund, opting instead for more traditional fundraising. Lister says he is reaching out to his constituency of small business owners for financial support. “I’m out there for the guy who runs the hardware store. I’m there for the insurance agent,” he said.

In addition to the experience he brings as a business owner and software developer, Lister is also a columnist for Brainstorm NW, a statewide publication that he laughingly said has a reputation as a “right-wing whack rag.”

He was quick to point out the magazine’s real mission is to be a pro-business publication that speaks to decision makers.

Lister emphasized that he is not a career politician and has no past history of fundraising. “Our founding fathers believed in serving as a duty. I have no interest in going down to City Hall and being there term after term,” he said.

Former PSU student Lucinda Tate felt compelled to run for Commissioner Seat 3 on the Portland City Council because she noticed a lack of representation from minorities and women on the council.

“The City Council needs some diversity on it. There are no women or people of color on the council,” she said. “I decided that if no one else in my community was going to do it, then I would step forward.”

Tate has worked in the City of Portland’s affirmative action department for seven years. At the time she was hired, she said, the city was in non-compliance with its affirmative action plan. Tate quickly turned things around, and within three years, the city was exceeding the requirement for hiring women and minorities.

These results are exactly what Tate wants to be known for. “I have a lot of innovative methods for getting things done. I’m a doer, I’m not just a talker,” she said.

Topping Tate’s list of concerns for Portland are the rising costs of healthcare and housing. She wants to see more jobs created in North, Northeast and outer Southeast Portland. She worries that many Portlander’s are struggling to afford housing and are being pushed out of the city and into the surrounding areas where public transportation and services are less available.

Although Tate praised the Campaign Finance Fund for opening up the race to grassroots candidates like herself, she’s having trouble meeting the goal of 1,000 signatures and $5 donations. Tate knows that most of her support comes from the nonprofit community, but she quickly realized that this presented a problem for her. Federal tax laws prevent nonprofit organizations from endorsing a particular candidate.

“I know hundreds of thousands of people who are all interconnected. The question is, how do I get to them outside of their organization?” Tate said.

Tate says she wants to be known as a no-nonsense, common sense type of person. In keeping with her sensibilities, Tate urges voters to remember that she and other first-time candidates don’t have the benefit of experience that the incumbents rely on. “Give us a break,” she said. “You’ve got to give me a chance to get in there before I can tell you specifically what can be done.”