Victim of his own success

It’s well known that obscene amounts of money go into thefunding of a national political campaign. Campaign finance reformis an issue that has pretty much fallen off of the political radar,despite being a popular buzzword in the 1990s, and everyone seemsto accept it as a fact of life that the zeros following the dollarsign are going to keep getting bigger. Local elections here insleepy little P-town are a different story, though. At least theyhave been up until now.

Candidate Jim Francesconi raised a record $1 million plus in hisbid to replace Vera Katz (aka Janet Reno’s Mini Me) as mayor ofPortland. Local rags like Willamette Week and the Mercury (theMercury’s conflict of interest over employee Phil Bussenotwithstanding) have brought to light multiple instances of whatthey consider to be shady deals with the business community enroute to amassing this war chest, but now that the state primary isover it looks like Francesconi’s high-powered fundraising hasn’tquite had its intended effect. There may be such a thing as beingtoo successful in the fundraising business.

Francesconi just came in second in the mayoral primary behindformer police chief Tom Potter, despite being the runaway favoritewith the endorsement of The Oregonian and lots of flashy TVadvertising. Potter got about 41 percent of the vote toFrancesconi’s 37 percent. Extremo the Clown hung in there with 0.93percent – slightly over 1,000 votes. In other words, nobody got amajority and there will be a runoff election in November, whichmeans Francesconi will have plenty of time to spend the rest of hiswad. He’s definitely going to need it.

Tom Potter raised $63,000 with a $25-per-donation limit,demonstrating to the voters that he did not have large businessinterests pulling his strings. And he has managed to come out ontop for the time being. The simplest conclusion to draw from thiswould be that money isn’t everything in local politics and thatPortland voters can see past a spending blitz to the true substanceof a candidate. But that isn’t necessarily the case.

I suspect Francesconi could have come out ahead if he had notoutspent everybody else by such a large margin. If he’d raised,say, 200 grand, that still would have been more than any of hisrivals, but since he made it to the magic $1 million mark, thatcame across as a bit … over the top. It smacks of trying to buyan election outright. Portland loves an underdog (witness RalphNader’s strong showing in 2000 and Dennis Kucinich’s 16 percent ofthe Democratic primary vote last Tuesday) and Francesconi is theanti-underdog to the nth degree. He could also stand to be a bitmore vocal about the current 600-pound gorilla in Portland’s livingroom: the issue of police accountability.

Despite being the ex-police chief, Potter is not well liked bythe city’s power-bloated police union. He butted heads with them ona number of occasions in the past. As a result, anyone who getsworked up about police corruption issues and feels that the enemyof their enemy is their friend is going to be tempted to vote forPotter. Police issues undoubtedly played some role in Vera Katz’sdecision not to seek a fourth term. She may be controversial butshe’s not stupid. It’s hard to imagine that she wouldn’t realizehow much of a symbol she’s become for everything that’s wrong withthe city, and after three terms she’s probably sick of serving as adartboard for activists of every stripe. The cops’ botched handlingof protests and riots over the last few years and theirtrigger-happiness in regard to the black community all occurredunder her watch. She is the poster child for the out-of-touch”establishment” in Portland.

Francesconi, by virtue of his megabucks campaign and hisprevious City Council experience as the lap dog of the PortlandBusiness Alliance, is on that same roster and it’s obvious now thatit hurt him in the election. Despite this week’s setback, he canstill win in November (although many people, this writer included,would prefer that he didn’t). He just needs to lower his profile.As it stands, he’s the political equivalent of a new Starbuckstrying to muscle its way into your quiet little neighborhood. AndPortland isn’t going to go for that.