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December 28th, 2011 WW Editorial Staff | Cover Story
 

2011: The Costume Party

You didn’t need a funny outfit to make news this year, but it sure helped.

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David Wu’s tiger suit was the tip-off that 2011 was going to be a strange one.

The year opened with a sitting congressman posing in a child’s orange-and-black striped costume. It ended with angry protestors and their vinegar-soaked bandanas, gas masks and hand-lettered signs of dissent facing down a black wall of riot police.

As we looked back over the year, a theme emerged: The people making big news all seemed to want to dress up to do it.

It wasn’t just Wu and Occupiers in our parks. Portland Timbers fans painted their faces and draped themselves in green scarves. A band that walked out of a Dickens novel and claims to travel by dirigible scored Portland’s first No. 1 album in a long time. Stumptown’s baristas kept muttering “nothing’s changed” as their iconic local coffee company got swallowed by a buyout firm.

Given this parade of, shall we say, “interesting” wardrobes, we decided to organize our year-in-review issue around the strange outfits and eccentric attire that might populate a party celebrating 2011.

Here’s what the party might look like. As you walk in, Rebecca Black’s “Friday” rattles the speakers. There’s someone dressed as a pile of food waste drinking a flute of Champagne, talking to a 1-percenter who looks like he just popped off a Chance card in Monopoly. Is that the girl from Sleater-Kinney in the corner?

All in good fun, yes, but the costumes we saw in the news drew attention to the underlying anger and anxiety that marked 2011.

Oregon’s jobless rate remains one of the worst in the nation. But our attention to the economy deepened to consider issues of basic fairness. Income inequality—a growing problem for decades—has become front-page news and the commerce of debate about our future. The Occupy movement—disorganized and diffuse, but posing a challenge to Portland’s comfy posture—has made it happen in a way we couldn’t have predicted last year.

Frustration toward government has intensified, as had the city’s search for leadership. Mayor Sam Adams—who foresaw little hope of re-election next year—surprised most people by quitting his campaign before it started. City Commissioner Randy Leonard, who many believe has really been running City Hall, is also leaving office.

Meanwhile, Portland Police Chief Mike Reese, whose bureau is under federal investigation for civil-rights issues, had a fling with the idea of running for mayor—but sat back down at his desk after he couldn’t get his story straight. 

It all makes for an odd crosscurrent, a city in search of leadership and economic hope, at a time Portland continues to ascend as a culture factory. The city, it seems, has never been cooler.

We’re the stars of our own TV series, a show created by a local rock grrrl that lovingly mocks our unique foibles while holding us out as the ultimate example of all that’s hip. New Yorkers line up to drink the coffee we’ve been sipping for years. People fly to town for a box of our bacon-topped doughnuts. 

So get your costume on. Welcome to the party.


PORTLAND OCCUPIED

Costume: Bandanna, gas mask, kitten on shoulder, cardboard sign expressing personal status and solidarity (“Snotty journalists are the 99%”).

What happened in 2011: The people rose up, then settled in. For 39 days, the anti-Wall Street protest turned Chapman and Lownsdale squares into a tent city, home to hand-twinkling activists, warring street kids and one shivering WW reporter (“Notes from the Occupation,” Oct. 26). When Mayor Sam Adams set a Nov. 12 midnight eviction deadline, at least 4,000 people flooded downtown streets. The crowds went home at dawn, the cops strolled in and—with some tough tactics on the holdouts—cleared the parks (“Chaos to Checkmate” and “The Fall of the 420 Hotel,” Nov. 16).

Update: For several weeks after the eviction, Occupy Portland continued its marches through the streets, debuting a Bat Signal projector and provoking police to deploy pepper spray.

The most practical effect of these protests was to derail Police Chief Mike Reese’s political ambitions. His nascent mayoral campaign died somewhere between the moment a cop pepper-sprayed a bank protester in the mouth, and when the chief opened his mouth to falsely claim the protests had kept police from responding to a rape victim.

In December, Occupy Portland held events—which felt as much like camp reunions as protests—at the Port of Portland and Shemanski Fountain on the South Park Blocks, each blocking roads until wee hours, then dissipating. One protester was arrested Dec. 16 at the world’s smallest park, 452-square-inch Mill Ends Park.

Occupy is still conducting its meticulously bureaucratic general assemblies twice a week in Director Park. It’s also become an established interest lobbying City Hall, testifying on issues like police oversight and homelessness. “They’re still here,” says Jim Blackwood, a staffer for Commissioner Nick Fish. “But they seem to be focusing on issues differently.”

They’re also looking to collect their stuff. A former Occupier sent a tweet from Florida on Dec. 21: “Anyone who knows the whereabouts of the white Medics tent of the former Beta Camp plz call Laura.” AARON MESH.


STUMPTOWN SELLS

Costume: Flannel, skinny jeans, Clark Kent glasses, temporary tattoos for arms, neck and knuckles, liberal arts degree.

What happened in 2011: Duane Sorenson, founder of Portland’s iconic coffee roaster Stumptown, sold a majority share in the company to a San Francisco investment firm. Sorenson and Stumptown repeatedly denied the deal, only backing away and reverting to a “no comment” after a number of coffee industry executives confirmed to WW that TSG Consumer Partners told them it owned a 90 percent stake in the company (“The Selling of Stumptown,” June 8).

Update: Stumptown has, on its face, so far bucked predictions that it would become more “corporate.” The coffee hasn’t changed, nor have the employees, and they’re still blaring heavy metal. Selling branded mugs and travel cups at the counter are the only whiffs of Starbucks-ization.

But it’s hard to know what’s really going on at Stumptown given all the corporate secrecy.

In a rare interview with Entrepreneur magazine in June, Sorenson said critics were just “haters” and that the sale would allow the company to “move into markets like Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Europe.” He told the magazine he continues to “run and operate” the business.

More recently, Sorenson opened a 56-seat restaurant called the Woodsman Tavern, with an adjoining specialty food market, next to the Stumptown on Southeast Division Street.

TSG, which typically buys brands, ups their value and sells them off for big profits, raised $1.3 billion for a new fund in October. Its typical MO is to flip brands after five to seven years, so we don’t expect to see anything dramatic happen soon. RUTH BROWN.


THE OTHER PORTLAND

Costume: Sweatpants, trucker hat (un-ironic), Old Gold cigarettes, fast-food wrappers, $2.10 bus fare in small change.

What happened in 2011: East Portland, a fast-growing and underserved part of Portland that many Portlanders don’t even know falls within the city limits—the 50 square miles between Interstate 205 and Gresham—got new attention from local officials and City Hall candidates. WW shed light on East Portland’s problems and challenges in an Oct. 12 cover story, “The Other Portland.”

Update: The three top mayoral candidates—Charlie Hales, Eileen Brady and Jefferson Smith—continue to stump for East Portland’s issues. The City Council focused on East Portlanders in its annual Spirit of Portland Awards, honoring, among others, Centennial Community Association president Tom Lewis, who was featured in WW’s story. 

And the Rosewood Initiative, a shoestring volunteer group that had opened a new community space in a vacant storefront on rough-and-tumble Northeast 162nd Avenue, received a $10,000 grant this month from the Portland Development Commission. The grant will allow the Rosewood Cafe to stay open at least through January.

Much of the news from East Portland was bad, including the Nov. 7 shooting death of 13-year-old Julio Cesar Marquez. He died in an alley off Northeast 107th Avenue near Halsey Street from what police called multiple gunshot wounds and blunt-force trauma. 

The boy’s brutal death brought renewed attention to the crime and gang problems east of I-205—and exposed tensions just beneath the surface. East PDX News, a website covering the area, headlined its story “Teen gangster murdered in Gateway.” 

On Dec. 2, local AM radio talker Lars Larson harangued Mayor Sam Adams about a proposal to lower the flags in honor of youth shooting victims. Larson demanded to know why the city was honoring a dead gangbanger. Adams grew increasingly livid, then hung up on Larson. COREY PEIN.


THE TAX CODE BENEFITS THE RICH—WHO KNEW?

The Costume: Gentlemen should wear a Huntsman bespoke suit, Brooks Brothers shirt, Hermes tie and Edward Green shoes. Women should simply choose whatever Vogue is currently featuring, accessorizing with a Pucci scarf and jewelry from Tiffany.

What happened in 2011: In April, when the words “Occupy Wall Street” had yet to be uttered, WW published “9 Things the Rich Don’t Want You to Know About Taxes.” The story, reported by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, was picked up by 39 other weeklies around the country and became WW’s most read story of the year.

Update: The increasing number of Americans who are seething at the growing gulf between the rich and the rest of us has informed both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement. And with good reason—the richest 1 percent of Americans now control 35 percent of the wealth in this country. It is this development—along with a recession that is soon to enter year five, and a Congress that reaffirmed “In God We Trust” as the official national motto but can’t bring itself to balance the budget—that has some wondering if America is headed for an Arab Spring of it own.

How does Johnston feel about the reaction to his story? He tells WW by email: “After many years of writing about these issues, and often feeling I was holding up a hand of truth against a tsunami of misinformation, it was wonderful to discover a huge new audience eager to learn how the few manipulate our tax system at the expense of the many. [It’s] part of the awakening of democratic values that now fuels the Occupy movement and offers the first chance in more than three decades that we will get a government responsive to the people and not just the oligarchs.” MARK ZUSMAN.


THE KING IS NO. 1

Costume: Gentlemen should don a musty top hat, silk cravat and freshly waxed mustache. Ladies should wear a woolen dress with petticoat.

What happened in 2011: The King Is Dead, the sixth album from Portland indie-folk outfit the Decemberists, (see "10 Different Takes on the New Decemberists Album's 10 Songs," Jan. 3) took the top spot on the Billboard chart in February by selling 94,000 copies in its first week. The Decemberists became the first Oregon-based group to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in recent memory—unless you count Washington-bred Modest Mouse.

Update: The Decemberists decided to follow up their huge hit with a hiatus.

Multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk isn’t fond of that description. “There has been quite a bit of press on a ‘hiatus,’ which kind of makes me cringe,” he says.

The band is, he says, “taking a break from recording and touring.” Not a total break—the Decemberists recently recorded a track for The Chieftains’ 50th anniversary album—but they’re all pursuing other projects.

“I think we played less shows on this record than we ever have on an album,” Funk says. “Don’t ask me why we aren’t seizing our moment. I guess we are complex.”

In the meantime, singer Colin Meloy is promoting his book, Wildwood, and writing a new one. Jenny Conlee continues to recover from cancer and is opening a teaching studio. She’s also part of bluegrass outfit Black Prairie with bassist Nate Query and Funk. Black Prairie is scoring a play for the Oregon Children’s Theater called “The Storm in the Barn,” which will be out in April, around the time the band releases a record. Drummer John Moen is working on a record for his band, Perhapst.

“I think we all are in a period of trying to just live in Portland, have community and focus on other music and family, so when we come back to the band it will feel fresh again,” Funk says. “We had been hitting it—promoting and touring, then coming home for two, three months off, then start another record, then the entire process starts again—for over 10 years.” MARTIN CIZMAR.


POLICING PORTLAND’S POLICE

Costume: Aviator glasses, badge, Taser, fake mustache, get-out-of-jail card.

What happened in 2011: The U.S. Justice Department’s top civil rights enforcer, Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, came to town in July to announce a federal investigation of the Portland Police Bureau. Perez said the investigation would seek to determine whether the Portland police had engaged in a “pattern or practice” of civil rights violations, especially in cases involving the mentally ill. Flanked by Mayor Sam Adams, Police Chief Mike Reese and interim U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton, Perez promised a “collaborative” investigation, and welcomed tips from the public. (Send tips to community.portland@usdoj.gov or call 877-218-5228.)

Update: Many activists say the Justice Department’s investigation has barely been a presence in the city, as far as they can tell.

Jo Ann Hardesty (née Bowman) of the Albina Ministerial Alliance says she’s concerned federal investigators haven’t spoken to enough people. “They were only here for a few days in August, and they interviewed a few people in 20-minute time slots,” Hardesty says. “One of our concerns was that they only talked to people the Police Bureau told them to talk to.” 

Chris O’Connor, a public defender who works with the Mental Health Association of Portland, says the feds’ communication with the group ended when it made it clear the group would attend only public, not private, meetings. Both groups sent letters to the Justice Department following Perez’s visit; he says neither group got a reply. 

“The hope was these outsiders would come in without all the political baggage, but so far, it hasn’t happen,” O’Connor says. “For all we know, they’re sitting there typing away furiously, coming up with this amazing report. Or they’re just doing nothing.” A Justice Department civil rights division spokesperson did not return WW’s messages. COREY PEIN.


DAVID WU QUITS

Costume: A too-small tiger suit with hoodie, and mittens for paws.

What happened in 2011: U.S. Rep. David Wu (D-Portland) should have quit while he was ahead. The only Taiwanese-born person ever to serve in Congress, the Stanford-, Harvard- and Yale-educated lawyer put in his time without distinction from 1999 through his resignation in early August. In February, WW reported that Wu, during the 2010 general election, evaded security at PDX, sought pain medication from a campaign supporter and required two “interventions” from staff before disappearing from the campaign trail.  Wu’s increasingly erratic behavior led to nonstop media scrutiny during the first half of 2011, and an Oregonian story in July about Wu’s alleged unwanted sexual encounter with a supporter’s daughter forced him to quit.

Update: Wu is living in Washington, D.C., with his two children and looking for work, says his Portland-based divorce lawyer, Jody Stahancyk. Given his 12-year Congressional career and his unique position in the Taiwanese-American political community, Wu should be able to land a lobbying gig. He’s got $325,000 left in his campaign account, and while he cannot spend that money on himself, strategic contributions could ease his re-entry into the working world. 

He’s beginning to get back out in public. Dressed in a dark suit and red tie, Wu rose from the audience at a Dec. 12 televised panel discussion at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, and asked why Chinese Internet censors are allowing online discussion of Taiwanese politics when they blocked coverage of the “Arab Spring.”

He is, however, playing no role in the Jan. 31 special election to fill his seat. NIGEL JAQUISS.


ONE MAN’S TRASH...

Costume: Hop in a big green cart and cover yourself in banana peels, old lettuce and rancid lunch meats.

What happened in 2011: By 2015, Portland wants to recycle or compost 75 percent of its trash. To that end, the city encouraged residents to start putting food scraps, tea bags and coffee filters in green compost bins. The bins are now collected every week, while the city only picks up the remaining 25 percent of regular garbage every other week. Despite an elaborate PR campaign leading up to the Oct. 31 switch, this move angered and confused Portlanders who had nothing better to bitch about.

Update: The city’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability hasn’t yet analyzed the percentage increase in compost loads—yes, it’s going to hire people to dig through piles of garbage to see how many people are tossing food in the trash and trash in the food—but Solid Waste and Recycling Manager Bruce Walker says the angry calls and questions have gone back down to normal in the two months since the program began.

“It’s close to regular levels of about 400 calls a week, and it was up to about 1,400 above that,” Walker says. “We certainly [still] get calls from people who are not happy about garbage being picked up every other week.”

So how are Portlanders doing with their compost? Feedback from facilities like Nature’s Needs has been positive. “The residential material is really clean,” Walker says. “Well, maybe that’s not how most people would describe food scraps, but people are doing a really good job.”

The next step is expanding the city’s commercial composting program, which works with about 700 small businesses, though Walker says the city is making up its strategy as it goes along. 

“There has been no federal leadership on this,” he says. “But in Portland, we’re not going to wait around for the federal government, or we probably wouldn’t even have traditional curbside recyclables.” CASEY JARMAN.


MARCH OF THE TIMBERS ARMY

Costume: Timbers Army scarf, green-and-yellow face paint, muttonchops (not paste-ons—grow real ones, because authenticity matters). Timbers T-shirt, preferably with the old team logo, circa 1975.

What happened in 2011: The unofficial supporters’ group of the Portland Timbers soccer team (never call the Army a “fan club”) demonstrated its growing clout as a force in Oregon sports. It got a financial stake as well, thanks to a special ticket sales deal the Army cut with team owner Merritt Paulson. WW looked at the Army’s evolution in its cover story, “Gang Green,” which ran. Aug. 31.

Update: The Army broke onto the national stage this year as soccer fans around the world tuned in to televised Timbers games as much to soak up the atmosphere as watch an expansion team struggle against far better teams. The Army’s opening-night rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”—a cappella, 3,000-plus voices strong—got 123,000 YouTube hits. (Major League Soccer has nominated the national-anthem performance as one of its moments of the year.)

The Army’s sold-out sections at the north end of Jeld-Wen Field guaranteed a sonically dominating experience for the rest of the fans (there’s no drowning out the Army, whether you like it or not). The Army’s Operation Pitch Invasion has donated tens of thousands of dollars to build fields and renovate playgrounds in the Portland area. 

Meanwhile, the Timbers won over Portland in their inaugural MLS season with inspired moments (a 3-0 wipeout of the eventual league-champion Los Angeles Galaxy), and despite habitual mediocrity (a leaky defense, erratic strikers, and winning only two road games). BRENT WALTH.


THE COLUMBIA RIVER CROSSING

The Costume: The emperor’s new clothes: Go naked and see if anyone has the courage to point out your flaws.

What happened in 2011: WW revealed serious problems with the proposed $3.6 billion highway project linking Portland and Vancouver. (See “A Bridge Too False,” June 1). The project won’t fix many problems it claims it will address, and the plan for paying for it is filled with bogus numbers.

Update: The CRC, as this project is known, won all of its local approvals late this year, after spending more than $130 million without building a single foot of the project (and continuing to burn through cash provided by the states of Oregon and Washington). On Dec. 7, the Federal Highway Administration issued a “record of decision” for the project, which means proponents have satisfied federal planning requirements.

There’s still no money for the project, however, either at the federal or state levels. The project’s backers couldn’t even muster enough votes in the 2011 Legislature to pass a toothless feel-good measure exhorting Congress to bankroll the proposed project. Oregon lawmakers didn’t consider raising the $450 million in new gas taxes intended for the project. In Olympia, Wash., lawmakers didn’t authorize tolling for the project or approve their state’s $450 million contribution. 

Meanwhile, experts hired by Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler found the Oregon and Washington transportation departments have overestimated traffic projections (as WW had earlier reported). That means the revenue available from tolling was off $500 to $600 million. NIGEL JAQUISS.


BIRDS EVERYWHERE!

Costume: Bedeck clothes with fabric birds then stare at yourself in a mirror until you are sick of your own face.

What happened in 2011: Carrie Brownstein happened. In January, the former Sleater-Kinney axewoman premiered Portlandia, her sketch-comedy mockery of the city “where young people go to retire” on the Independent Film Channel. Lines to watch Portlandia at the Mission Theater and Pub stretched around the block. National Nielsen ratings showed 725,000 people saw the premiere, stellar numbers by IFC standards, and the show was renewed. Meanwhile, local business guilds devoted entire afternoons to studying bullshit concepts like “the Portlandia effect.”

Update: Other than the 10-episode second season and the live stage show (launched in Portland on Tuesday)? Well, there’s reason to believe Portlandia, like everything it skewers, is about to become a sensation across the country the year after it was a sensation in Portland. 

The New Yorker sent Margaret Talbot to profile Brownstein and co-creator Fred Armisen, who is the subject of a three-page interview in January’s Esquire. Portlandia: The Tour hits Los Angeles and Chicago in January, culminating in a Brooklyn show (say hello to Adrianne Jeffries!) on Jan. 20. That’s the same day Brownstein, costar Armisen and YACHT’s Claire Evans will host a panel at WebVisions’ “Oregon Day”—an online-business recruiting event hosted in New York City by the cities of Gresham, Hillsboro and Beaverton.

As for the show itself, Brownstein tells WW the second season will consider “living in a place that caters to one’s sense of entitlement and uniqueness. It’s the inverse of the norm, wherein special needs are no longer fringe needs; not only are they addressed, they are also celebrated.” So the second episode features an “Allergy Pride Parade.”

Season 2’s first episode premieres Jan. 6, so we guess it’s OK to tell you one secret—but please heed our MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT—Bryce Shivers and Lisa Eversman, the enthusiastic artisans who coined the phrase “put a bird on it,” have discovered pickling. AARON MESH. 

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