I never thought I’d admit it, but I sort of miss Vera Katz. Not the Vera who just left office, but the Vera we knew 12 years ago when the mayor felt like one of the people.
Maybe it’s that I’m getting older and nostalgia seems to be the shortcoming of age, or maybe it’s the new face in City Hall that reminds me of the days when Vera was exciting. It’s the face my daughter and I saw huffing past as we intently watched Critical Mass roll by a month ago. The one giving the finger to the absurd Joint Terrorism Task Force and the one fighting to lower electricity rates rather than fight for high-profile professional sports teams. I may miss the old Vera Katz, but I love the new Tom Potter.
At his 100-day mark in office, Potter has to be feeling pretty good. After all, Potsie has been a busy boy. Besides riding in Critical Mass, he again endeared himself to the gay and lesbian community by refusing to endorse the Mrs. Oregon pageant because of a rule stipulating that contestants must be married to a man. He brought activists and developers to the table in the fight for Southwest waterfront, resulting in the closest thing to a balanced compromise we’ve seen in a long time. Sure, the developers got their tall, obstructive buildings, but the community finally has a say in their design and function.
Granted, these are all examples of ultimately empty gestures, carefully designed to cement local activist ties built during his campaign. But it’s only been a few months and it’s apparent to me the new mayor intends to effect some real change.
First and foremost, there’s this whole Joint Terrorism Task Force scrap. Potter’s brave stance that the city will pull out of the task force if he doesn’t get top clearance so he can monitor Portland police officers working with it has been met with more than its fair share of criticism. He received public resistance from Police Chief Derrick Foxworth and repeated warnings from the FBI’s Robert Jordan that he may not want to subject himself to the intensive and invasive background check required for special clearance.
Everyone knows Potsie has a past. He loves the ladies and, like any good Portlander, he can find his way to the bottom of a six-pack. The mayor’s not pretending the past isn’t out there, but it’s apparent he feels his responsibility to Portland out weighs any confidential personal information. In the city that spawned Packwood and Goldschmidt, as long as there aren’t any 14-year-old babysitters living in that closet you’ll be fine.
And what about the PGE deal in the wake of the Texas Pacific Group fall out? I’m amazed and pleased that in a day and age when it’s hopeless to think anyone would give the populace a break when it comes to utilities, Potter is standing up for public interest. Interim Enron CEO Stephen Cooper is coming to town this week to have a sit down with Potsie about a plan to turn PGE into a municipal utility – a plan that would save ratepayers about $100 million a year. That’s only a 10 percent rate drop, but when you’re paying $2.50 at the pump any sort of break sounds good.
Speaking of the populace, Potter is taking a stance against the single professional aesthetic our urban developers are pushing. According to the New York Times, young families are emigrating from Portland at the highest rate anywhere in the U.S. right now, driven out by the high price of new “revitalized” housing. Potsie is actively working against this trend, trying to find a balance between becoming a vertical retirement community or a sprawling suburb. He may not stand a chance in making any real change, but he’s brought the issue to public light, something past bureaucrats have been sluggish to do.
Empty gestures or not, what Potter’s really accomplishing is bringing a sense of hope and community back to Portlanders. Vera was a good mayor when she started. There’s no denying that, but Portland has been changing rapidly and with it so did she. It became about leaving her mark. Baseball stadiums and high-rise condos took precedence over schools and crosswalks. The result? A vicious disparity among Portlanders who want growth and Portlanders who want to retain the quality of life to which we have become accustomed. Potsie has a long road ahead of him to find a balance between business and community.
The first 100 days is one thing, but what happens next is what counts. No one can fix everything that’s wrong with Portland, but Tom Potter seems intent on trying. It’s a daunting proposal to say the least, but as long as Potsie keeps things on the up and up I’d be down for a beer and bike ride any time.
Dylan Tanner can be reached at [email protected]