Amid the noise of an election season, one person's vote can seem insignificant—like a trickle of skateboarder's urine in a 38-million-gallon reservoir.
If only each voter had an immediate impact—like the city's absurd decision two weeks ago to drain Mount Tabor Reservoir No. 5 because some teen might have peed in it.
We vote not because we expect an immediate response, but because we owe it to our community to raise our collective voice.
What follows are our recommendations for how we think you should cast your vote—it's our 2014 primary endorsement issue.
As we do every election cycle, we invite candidates in competitive races to a joint appearance in our office, where we turn on the video camera and ask them tough (we hope) questions. We also asked one question of all candidates we hope will entertain, if not illuminate: If you could be any other person, living or dead, who would you be? You can see video of these endorsement interviews throughout this issue.
The primary election May 20 allows Democrats and Republicans to choose among their own tribes. In two of the biggest elections, GOP voters will select candidates to take on two of the state's most prominent Democratic incumbents, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and Gov. John Kitzhaber.
That may be why turnout for primary elections is usually low—it seems as if nothing really gets decided until November.
Not so this year.
Voters may also choose the executive who will oversee the health-care and public-safety colossus known as Multnomah County, as well as decide whether to send two long-term incumbents back to their seats on the Portland City Council.
Without question, however, the most important question in front of Portland voters is Measure 26-156, which if passed would create an independent public utility to control Portland's water and sewer services.
For more than a century, the city has relied on the pristine waters of Bull Run Lake on the shoulder of Mount Hood for drinking water. Portland's water supply is rightfully the envy of the nation.
A handful of corporations put this question on the ballot after years of City Hall mismanagement of water and sewer funds. And now control of the city's water supply hangs in the balance.
So cast your vote. Let it fly. You might not see the waters rise, nor can we promise complete relief when you're done.
But your contribution to the tide of democracy in your community will make a difference.
Endorsements, May 2014 Elections:
Jason Conger • Republican Primary
Wehby supports marriage equality and Conger does not. Wehby's position on abortion is a moving target but is certainly to the left of Conger, who is the Oregon Right to Life candidate in this race. And yet Conger is our choice.
Both candidates have compelling bios: Wehby fixes juvenile spines, and Conger was briefly homeless growing up and worked his way through community college to Harvard Law School.
But when it comes to preparation, knowledge of the issues and an ability to express the results of clear thinking, there's no contest.
We asked all five candidates in this race a fairly simple question: which U.S. Supreme Court justice most closely mirrors your values? After one candidate named Justice Anthony Kennedy, Wehby piggybacked on the answer. After Conger gave a ringing endorsement of arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, Wehby awkwardly changed her answer to Scalia as well. (Outside the interview, she told us she really meant to say Chief Justice John Roberts, but that she actually likes Justice Samuel Alito best of all.)
A candidate is certainly entitled to change her mind. But watching Wehby fumble her way through a 90-minute job interview convinced us that, however skilled she may be with a scalpel, she could use a lot more training than her out-of-state political consultants have provided.
Republicans are using Obamacare as a major wedge this year. On this question, Wehby is all over the map. She touted the value of some provisions of the Affordable Care Act, such as those on pre-existing conditions.
A former Oregon Medical Association president, Wehby waffled endlessly when she tried to describe which parts of major health-care reform she might have supported in the past. When pressed, Wehby acknowledged she'd vote to repeal the entire ACA if the question was put to her in the U.S. Senate.
Conger, who clearly dislikes Obamacare, nonetheless had the common sense to support bills in the Oregon Legislature that would leverage its benefits to Oregonians. Wehby is trying to appeal to right wingers while preserving campaign rhetoric for the general election. Given her knowledge of the health-care system, and the stakes for Oregonians, her befuddling answers were at times disingenuous.
In two terms in the Oregon House, Conger has produced a conservative record that—as noted above—is often out of step with our views. But at least he has clear, consistent positions. He's shown strong support for charter schools but also crossed the aisle to push for legislation calling for toxic-chemical labeling and criticizing corporate welfare. He's tough and sometimes too enamored of the sound of his own voice. But he's far more prepared than Wehby to stand up to incumbent Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and give Merkley a serious challenge.
Also running: IT consultant Mark Callahan, lawyer Tim Crawley and former Linn County Republican Chairwoman Jo Rae Perkins.
Who Conger would be if not himself: "George Washington. He turned down the chance to be king."
Jeff Merkley • Democratic Primary
For Jeff Merkley, a rookie senator from a small state, the easiest move in the world would be to go along with his party's president. After all, President Obama's big victory in Oregon in 2008 helped sweep Merkley into office and oust the incumbent, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.).
But instead, Merkley pushed back in early 2010 when Obama wanted to reappoint Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Merkley saw Bernanke as part of the problem that led to the U.S. economy's meltdown in 2008.
Merkley lost that battle but prevailed last year, when he led the fight against Obama's plans to name former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers to replace Bernanke. Merkley and his allies made clear they wouldn't stand for Summers, and the job eventually went to Janet Yellen. It wasn't just a winning fight for Merkley, but the right one for the rest of us.
His attention to the nation's financial system extends to looking out for consumers' best interests. His legislation ended practices of home buyers being steered to "teaser"-rate mortgages that have low initial interest rates but balloon in costs later. He also authored the ban that stopped lenders paying what amounted to kickbacks to financial institutions that originate mortgages. He's called for an end to payday loans, something that as a state legislator he helped end in Oregon.
Perhap Merkley's top achievement, however, was helping pull off one of the most important reforms the Senate has seen in years.
A single senator can bring the entire chamber to a halt with a filibuster—or just the threat of one. This parliamentary move has been on the rise in recent years as a stalling tactic responsible for gridlock in the Senate, where provincial traditions hold sway.
Merkley helped lead the winning fight last fall to limit when the filibuster can be used. It's a wonky topic, but Merkley is a wonky guy, and his reform has meant meaningful change.
We're less impressed with Merkley's election-year pitch for raising cost-of-living increases for seniors collecting Social Security. Merkley argues the current increases aren't enough and that tax hikes on incomes of over $250,000 would cover the costs. We'll see if he's as hot for the idea if he gets re-elected.
Merkley has only token primary opposition—William Bryk and perennial candidate Pavel Goberman.
That said, Merkley has had an impressive first term, yet he will attract major national money to oppose him because he is a freshman senator and he is running for re-election in a year that could be tough for Democrats, even in a blue state like Oregon.
We're always in favor of a vigorous general-election debate, and we think Merkley will get one whether his GOP rival is state Rep. Jason Conger (R-Bend) or Dr. Monica Wehby.
Vulnerable or not, we think Merkley has had a first term of which he can be proud.
Who Merkley would be if not himself: Former Oregon Gov. Tom McCall.
U.S. House of Representatives
1st Congressional District
Delinda Delgado Morgan • Republican Primary
In a 2012 special election to fill the seat, vacated by U.S. Rep. David Wu, the Republican National Committee backed a solid candidate, businessman Rob Cornilles, to grab the opening. Cornilles couldn't break 40 percent against Bonamici.
Two years later, the GOP power structure isn't even trying.
So Republican 1st District voters instead have three candidates whose odd rhetoric would be scary if any ever had a snowball's chance of winning. Bob Niemeyer, a mechanical engineer, says his top goal is defending the U.S. Constitution—and would do so by rewriting it to create a fourth branch of the federal government, an executive called "the principal." In Niemeyer's redesign of the Constitution, the principal could veto any financial decision by the president or Congress. Niemeyer's choice for the job: Donald Trump.
Jason Yates, a service manager at a pest-control company, entered the race after being inspired by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) during Cruz's speechifying during the U.S. government shutdown last year. Yates is the most articulate candidate in the primary and speaks passionately about the perils of student debt. He's a graduate of Portland State University's film studies program, where he produced a comedic Web series titled Awkward Moments With Jesus. He played the title role. (In one episode, Jesus does speed dating.)
That leaves Morgan, a Yamhill County heavy-equipment operator, vintner and martial arts instructor. WW endorsed her in the 2012 primary election, and she was trounced by Bonamici in the general election. Morgan doesn't seem to have deepened her campaign much: Her website is the same, as are her pro-life, pro-logging speeches. But she has a stronger connection to the people of her district, and a clearer message, than either of her opponents.
Who Morgan would be if not herself: "I wouldn't want to be a man. But I would be Benjamin Franklin."
5th Congressional District
Kurt Schrader • Democratic Primary
He's been part of the so-called Blue Dog Democrats who see themselves as budget and deficit hawks. Schrader is also part of a plan to change the way the former Oregon and California railroad lands are managed. Many Oregon counties rely on timber payments from these federal lands, and decreasing harvests have left many strapped.
Schrader favors shelving half the lands for preservation and harvesting from the rest. The proposal has drawn the ire of environmentalists and a veto threat from the White House. This stance allows Schrader to talk bluntly about how President Obama shouldn't "meddle" in Oregon's efforts to help local counties.
Undoubtedly, that plays well in rural areas of the district (which stretches across the Willamette Valley from the Oregon Coast to the Cascades) with independents and Democrats who have drifted away from Obama.
Schrader has left himself open for tough questioning from the more progressive wing of his party, if he'd drawn an opponent who is up to the task. Anita Brown is not that person. A former U.S. Army medical specialist, Brown lacks the experience and knowledge to pose a serious challenge to Schrader.
Who Schrader would be if not himself: James Madison, because of his ability to work people on all sides.
5th Congressional District
Ben Pollock • Republican Primary
Her time on the commission has otherwise been unremarkable, as was her stint in the Oregon House from 2001 to 2005, where she was perhaps best known for loosening state rules so professional wrestling could return to Oregon. While in Salem, she showed a ridiculous degree of insensitivity to ethics when she invited lobbyists to buy Christmas wreaths from her family's tree farm.
Such thickness was exceeded only by her 2012 campaign fundraising ploy: a raffle where the winner got to take home a Glock pistol.
GOP voters in the 5th Congressional District have to ask whether Smith even has the required nerve to challenge a brawler like Kurt Schrader in the general election. Smith refused to come to WW's offices and be interviewed alongside her primary opponent, newcomer Ben Pollock.
Pollock, 29, is a former political consultant who helps run his family business, a Canby company that makes custom interiors for classic cars. He grew up in Portland and went on to work for such conservative stalwarts as Texas Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Pollock calls himself a "liberty-minded Republican" who would return control of federal timberlands back to the states and would (like many GOP candidates) undo Obamacare.
He squirmed when asked how he would vote on a ballot measure to end Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage, complained the issue would make it difficult for him to win the primary and then—to his credit—said he would vote for it because it fit with his belief that the government has no business interfering in people's private lives. (Notably, he's opposed to abortion.)
Pollock may be overreaching by running for Congress in his first political campaign, and he may well be too green to give Schrader a serious challenge, but we see him as far more substantive and serious than Smith.
Who Pollock would be if not himself: The assistant linesman who Pollock, an ardent Timbers fan, says blew a controversial call in the Timbers' 2-1 loss to FC Dallas on March 29—"so I could change the call."
Governor of Oregon
It's not as if the Republicans seeking the Oregon governorship have stuck with the same formula. The past three GOP gubernatorial nominees have embodied three different approaches.
Chris Dudley in 2010 was a political neophyte but a celebrity, thanks to his NBA career that included a stint with the Portland Trail Blazers; Ron Saxton in 2006 was a well-connected moderate insider from the Democratic stronghold of Portland; and Kevin Mannix in 2002 was a fire-breathing conservative from Salem with a strong legislative record.
Three different approaches, one common result: failure.
This year, the nominee will emerge from a crowded field of seven candidates: Portland businessman Tim Carr, retired Medford concrete contractor Gordon Challstrom, Lyons Realtor Bruce Cuff, Douglas County timber merchant Mae Rafferty, West Linn property manager Darren Karr, and Rep. Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point).
During our endorsement interview, Carr, who noted he once was a star tennis player, made reforming the Public Employees Retirement System a top priority but couldn't list a single step he'd take in doing so. Challstrom, enraged about government spending, says he would cut taxes. Rafferty had few specific ideas to offer. As for Karr, his campaign slogan, "Crazy for Oregon," is about as apt as we've seen in many years.
Among the long-shots, Cuff is the only one who bears even the faintest resemblance to a serious candidate. He offered a proposal for a local sales tax (with the rates set by each county) to fund schools. His idea fell apart when he admitted he had no idea of its fiscal impact.
Richardson is the clear choice as the Republican nominee to take on Gov. John Kitzhaber.
He served as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and afterward, went to law school and moved to Oregon. He and his wife raised nine children, he ran a successful law practice in Central Point and he entered politics relatively late, winning election to the House in 2002 at age 52.
In Salem, he's earned a reputation for diligence and integrity. He served as co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee in 2013, an honor caucuses reserve for their most capable members.
Richardson is a smart, thoughtful lawmaker who will easily win this primary with his message of downsizing government and making what's left more efficient.
His challenge, however, is appealing to voters in the suburbs, where Republicans must do well to counteract the Portland area's heavy Democratic vote.
Richardson is charisma-free, pro-life and on record as having voted for the creation of Cover Oregon, the failed health-insurance exchange that is Kitzhaber's greatest weakness. In our endorsement interview, Richardson was cautiously vague about his priorities if he somehow were elected governor.
He'll have to do better in the general election. But Richardson can worry about that after the primary.
Who Richardson would be if not himself: Steve Jobs. "He wasn't willing to accept things as they were. But I'd be nicer."
Oregon House of Representatives
District 34 (Washington County, including Cedar Hills, Tanasbourne and Rock Creek)
Ken Helm • Democratic Primary
Brian Tosky, who works for an educational consulting firm, brings a strong schools background. Jason Yurgel, who runs a private investigations firm, has deep roots in the district, offers a long record of civic engagement and brings a thoughtful perspective on criminal justice issues.
Yurgel is plenty independent—he's a rare Democrat who speaks favorably about Oregon's property tax limits—and in many races would get our endorsement.
Unfortunately for Yurgel, land-use lawyer Ken Helm is an even better candidate. Land use will continue to be one of highest-stakes and most divisive issues with which Oregonians grapple. Helm has represented developers, worked as a staff lawyer for Metro for six years and now serves as a land-use hearings officer all over the state. He's calm, balanced and brings a particular skill (his expertise in land-use law) the Legislature needs.
Who Helm would be if not himself: The late British historian Tony Judt, whom Helm says was one of the great thinkers and writers of the 20th century.
District 41 (Milwaukie, Oak Grove, Eastmoreland and Sellwood)
Deborah Barnes • Democratic Primary
Ted Roe is a labor lawyer passionate about defending injured workers. Kathleen Taylor brings valuable experience as a management auditor who has dug deeply into state agencies as well as local government bureaucracies.
But we're going with Deborah Barnes, a teacher and union leader in the North Clackamas School District.
Admittedly, we're nervous about giving the already powerful Oregon Education Association another voice in Salem. But Barnes is an excellent fit for this district. Barnes was a longtime radio reporter who served two terms on the Milwaukie City Council.
She displays a far stronger grasp of her district and its economic base and, frankly, is far more in tune with what Milwaukie needs than her two opponents from Southeast Portland. Her experience teaching in North Clackamas' skills center has given her a deep knowledge of career-technical education and school funding that could make a big difference in Salem.
Who Barnes would be if not herself: Hillary Clinton. "She never gives up, no matter what happens."
District 42 (Inner Southeast and Northeast Portland)
Rob Nosse • Democratic Primary
In his wake, a glut of candidates have piled up like the line for beer and popcorn at the district's Bagdad Theater. The six-way race presents perhaps the most difficult choice in this election.
Let's start with the easy eliminations. Dan Shaw, a video-game designer and left-wing political activist, is obnoxious and needlessly combative. John Sweeney, a former Portland Parks & Recreation supervisor, is too conservative for his district. Kathleen O'Brien, an adoption lawyer, has big ideas—especially about using legalized weed to fund transportation—but spent more time in our endorsement interview asserting that she was a viable candidate.
That leaves three viable candidates.
Teddy Keizer, a private tutor, is independently wealthy and running a campaign with posters featuring a silhouette of him hiking. He's eager to tell you about his world records for climbing peaks, a hint of narcissism that troubles us. But more troubling was his difficulty offering specific answers to policy questions.
Don Gavitte is a teacher at Grant High School who has campaigned against cuts to school funding. He's a welcome addition to election season, and consistently intrigued us with his policy suggestions, such as getting Oregon to adopt a consumption tax and reforming education in the juvenile-justice system. But we worry he's still too much of a single-issue candidate.
Then there's Rob Nosse—whose role as an organizer with the Oregon Nurses Association gives him access to union money, making his candidacy almost entirely funded by a single source. That financial advantage clearly rankles his opponents, and gives us pause as well. But while he can be glib and pushy to the point of annoyance, Nosse brings a broad range of experience and greater readiness to hit the ground in Salem.
It's a tough decision. And while we'd happily vote for Gavitte, teachers are well represented in Salem. It's Nosse by a nose.
Who Nosse would be if not himself: John Lennon. "He was really trying to do something differently in the early '70s."
District 44 (North and Northeast Portland)
Tina Kotek • Democratic Primary
Rep. Tina Kotek is one of the most powerful women in Oregon politics, and that would normally mean she's completely unassailable in a dark-blue district. Except Kotek had to eat her words too often. She presided over larger cuts to public-employee retirement benefits than she originally said she would allow, irking her union friends and undercutting her credibility. She also invested enormous political capital in the Columbia River Crossing, only to see that mega-project founder after the expenditure of nearly $200 million.
Both of those issues could provide ammunition for Rowe, but the first-time candidate, a teacher, lacks the political chops and institutional support to give Kotek a serious challenge.
We haven't always agreed with Kotek, but she's smart, hard-working and an easy choice to continue to represent District 44.
Who Kotek would be if not herself: An aide to the Dalai Lama. "I'd get to listen to him talk every day, and he meets with a lot of interesting people."
District 45 (Northeast Portland)
Barbara Smith Warner • Democratic Primary
Sincic is earnest and a longtime activist on public health issues. But he displays a naivete—he told us he'd fill the K-12 funding hole in part by cranking up hemp production and taxing it. He then twisted himself into a pretzel trying to explain why he believes fluoride to be effective but voted last year against adding it to Portland's drinking water.
Smith Warner showed her political savvy in December, when she legally packed a meeting of the county Democratic party with supporters to ensure she'd be the leading candidate to replace Rep. Michael Dembrow, who moved up to the Senate.
During our interview, Smith Warner struggled to find an example of how she thinks independently of the Democratic Party line and offered an unconvincing defense of her caucus' heavy-handed attempt in February to exclude the Oregon Supreme Court from its role in reviewing ballot titles. She's a better option than Sincic but needs to elevate her game.
Who Smith Warner would be if not herself: Oprah Winfrey: She started with two strikes against her—being a woman and African-American—and she's created an empire that helps others.
District 50 (Gresham)
Carla Piluso • Democratic Primary
Piluso brings a strong public safety background to the job, having served 30 years as a Gresham police officer, the last six as chief.
It takes a tough woman to rise to the top of a paramilitary organization, but Piluso has also distinguished herself in other policy areas, serving on the board of Human Solutions and other nonprofits. She's also served six years on the Gresham-Barlow School board.
She's an unusually strong candidate who would be a great addition to a Democratic caucus thinned by attrition. Beatrice Cochran, a medical language specialist at Providence Hospital, is also running but declined to show up for our endorsement interview.
Who Piluso would be if not herself: Eleanor Roosevelt. "She created a serious role for women in government."
District 51 (Clackamas, Happy Valley, Damascus and portions of Southeast Portland)
Jodi Bailey • Republican Primary
That bailout taught her some Clintonian compassion—she actually said of voters in her endorsement interview that she "felt their pain." But she can't identify a single business regulation in Oregon that she'd like to see changed. Instead, she leans on a platform favoring more government subsidy for manufacturing, which feels like a talking point recycled from local chambers of commerce.
Bailey deserves credit, however, for bucking her party on same-sex marriage: She says she would probably vote to legalize it.
Her opponent, Brandon Miles, didn't show up for our endorsement interview. His campaign's Facebook page shows him standing in front of the Oregon State Capitol with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.
Shudder, then vote for Bailey.
Who Bailey would be if not herself: "I don't know that I would want to be anybody else."
Tom Hughes • Nonpartisan
When Tom Hughes, a retired Beaverton teacher and former two-term Hillsboro mayor, ran for council president four years ago, his goal was to make Metro's sometimes esoteric work more relevant to constituents. By a couple of measures, he's succeeded.
He's moved the proposed Convention Center Hotel closer to reality than it's been in 40 years. We're still not sure the $200 million project, which includes $80 million in government subsidy, is worthwhile, but give him credit for progress.
He also successfully promoted a ballot measure to raise operating funds for 16,000 acres of green space Metro has acquired. The money will help restore and open up those lands.
Hughes has also re-engineered Metro to gear it more toward economic development. Other than his efforts with the hotel project, we haven't seen a lot of results. We've noted Hughes' affection for taxpayer-funded travel in these pages, but if our region is to have an ambassador, a friendly grandfather with a record of success in Hillsboro, Hughes is the right guy.
His opponent, Jeremiah William Johnson, a self-described community advocate, has only a rudimentary sense of what Metro actually does.
Who Hughes would be if not himself: Actor Mickey Rooney, who died recently at age 93. "I envy people who've had long lives and lots of fun."
Multnomah County Board of Commissioners
Deborah Kafoury • Nonpartisan
The county spends $1.2 billion annually, most of it on public safety and health. As the county's top executive, the chair presides over the five-member board of commissioners and plays a key role in how well the county runs its jails, monitors parolees and provides a vast array of safety-net services for county residents, from housing for homeless families to medical care for one in 10 local citizens.
For former two-term City Commissioner Jim Francesconi, however, the county's mission is secondary to his own personal journey back from political oblivion. A heavy favorite in the 2004 mayoral race, Francesconi took a shellacking from a lightly financed, little-known former police chief named Tom Potter.
He's spent a decade in the political wilderness since then, serving on the board of the Oregon University System and lobbying for various clients.
Francesconi, a lawyer, thought long and hard about running for mayor in 2010, telling The Oregonian he'd talked to more than 100 people about entering that race. Instead, he's now telling voters his heart has always been with the county's human services mission. He's campaigned on the county's role as a job creator (which isn't part of its charter) and its potential to close the income gap.
His message is admirable, but the motive behind it is dubious, given that he's passed on other opportunities to run for the county board. In 2004, Francesconi lost in part because he sold his soul for big campaign contributions from business interests. He now says that was a big mistake and he's learned from it.
This time, he's aligned himself with organized labor, making written promises to help unionize county contractors that, were he to carry them out, would appear to break the law ("The Great Race," WW, March 26, 2014).
His rival for the chair's job is Deborah Kafoury, a former minority leader in the Oregon House. Kafoury is just as smart and has more relevant political experience with her five years on the county commission from 2009 to 2013. (County rules forced her to resign from the commission to seek the chair's job.)
Kafoury is as low-key as Francesconi is animated. In the Oregon House from 1998 to 2004, she led a caucus that included such alpha males as Randy Leonard (who went on to the Portland City Council) and now-U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley.
Democrats were then a small minority, but Kafoury passed legislation that beefed up child care for working mothers and provided new funding for victims of domestic violence, issues squarely inside Multnomah County's wheelhouse.
As a county commissioner, Kafoury took charge of the long-stalled Sellwood Bridge replacement project, helped consolidate the city and county's overlapping work on homelessness, and displayed a useful ability to obtain funding from the Legislature.
She was born into a political family. Her parents (Steve and Gretchen Kafoury) held elected office for 30 years combined. But Kafoury comes across as an almost reluctant politician. She'd rather talk about the county and its mission than herself.
That's made her campaign lackluster and understated in the face of Francesconi's quest for redemption. But it's an approach Multnomah County residents deserve.
Voters have other candidates to choose from. Steven Reynolds, a West Point grad, makes a case for cutting county spending but lacks the needed experience for the job. Others include James Rowell, perennial candidate Wes Soderback, salsa bandleader Aquiles Montas, and Patty Burkett, who lists her occupation as "nonfiction research advocate."
An important note on how this race works: The candidates are running both to fill the remaining term of ex-County Chairman Jeff Cogen (who resigned last year amid a sex scandal) and to fill the position's next four-year term. That means the list of candidates appears on the ballot two times.
Vote Kafoury twice.
Who Kafoury would be if not herself: "My grandmother, Eleanor Kafoury. She was a giving individual and a talented painter."
Commissioner, District 1 (West and inner Southeast Portland)
Jules Bailey • Nonpartisan
Until recently, Brian Wilson ran his family's real-estate management business, the Kalberer Co. But he's better known for his wide range of volunteer work in public life—advocating for the Sellwood Bridge, library funding and gay rights.
Wilson is whip-smart on the challenges facing the county—especially its homelessness and drug-treatment programs. He may have the stronger grasp on these local issues, and his suggestions for trimming fat from the county budget are welcome.
But his interview with WW raised questions about his preparedness for office. Without prompting, he confessed to having drinks at a charity event in 2007 and crashing his car into a bank. (He was charged with drunken and reckless driving, and got it erased from his record by attending alcohol diversion classes.) Wilson told us the experience has helped him understand what people face in court-mandated diversion programs. It was one of the stranger moments we've seen in an endorsement interview, and it causes us to question his judgment in how he deals with personal challenges. (After Cogen, this is not a trivial matter for Multnomah County.) We hope Wilson runs again, but in this race, our nod goes to Bailey.
A 34-year-old three-term state legislator, Bailey has gained a reputation in Salem as a clothes horse and a brilliant policy mind. He demonstrated both traits in our interview. His bicycle cufflinks gave a sartorial nod to his district, and his experience chairing the House Energy and Environment Committee shows he knows how to work with colleagues to manage public dollars. "Budgets," he told us, "are how you effect change." And his plans to reform the cost overruns in the Multnomah County sheriff's office are much needed.
As unusual as it is to enjoy a county race with two solid choices, it's even rarer to see a brain of Bailey's wattage pointed toward a building that often attracts B-teamers. Our only concern is that he'll see the seat as a launching point to some larger ambition. We urge you to vote for Bailey—and urge him to stick around.
Who Bailey would be if not himself: Rosa Parks. (Yes, really.)
Commissioner, District 2 (North and Northeast Portland)
Loretta Smith • Nonpartisan
That's when Baruti Artharee, Mayor Charlie Hales' then-police liaison, stood up at a gathering of African-American leaders and made sexually harassing remarks about Smith. Hales reluctantly suspended Artharee for a week. It was light discipline, but it factored into his subsequent resignation from the mayor's office.
The dismal event matters now because it has obscured Smith's achievements in office and exposed resentment that has festered toward her within the African-American community.
Smith, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), has been part of the coalition that helped steady county government in the past few years.
She also deserves praise for championing better health care for the county's poorest citizens, and for backing job-training programs for minorities.
Smith's three challengers in the race—all African-American—complain she has lost touch with the people living in her district. Their claims are harder to believe, however, since two of them—business consultant Teressa Raiford and perennial candidate Bruce Broussard—have aligned themselves with Artharee, who has somehow made himself out to be Smith's victim.
During our endorsement interview, Broussard, a perennial candidate, voiced only vague, empty complaints against Smith, and Raiford seemed barely awake.
The fourth candidate, Concordia University graduate student Kelvin Hall, offers a more interesting critique of Smith: He rightly points out how closely her favored nonprofits are aligned with the county power structure. Hall wants the county budget to be apportioned to the geographic districts each commissioner represents. But his plan for how to do that is hazy.
In our interview, Smith appeared irritated and patronizing to her opponents. They do have a point: We'd like to see her acknowledge she could take a more visible role leading North and Northeast Portland's African-American population. But we still think she's the best choice to carry out that mission.
Who Smith would be if not herself: She mentions a number of people, including Wyden, President Obama and former state Sen. Margaret Carter (D-Portland).
Portland City Council
Commissioner, Position 2
Nick Fish • Nonpartisan
He faces no significant opposition. He has overseen popular city services like parks and the social safety net. His diplomatic nature has made him the City Council's reliable peacemaker.
But Fish is surrounded by sharks.
For nearly a year, he has been the target of populist bile. Fed-up water activists and big business have made him the poster boy in mocking attack ads as they try to launch a new public water utility and make Fish the city commissioner who lost Bull Run.
That's unfair, because in his six years on the council, Fish has quietly become Portland's strongest champion of the little guy.
His passion for public housing has not only kept basic social services safe during budget season but has led the charge to find permanent shelter for the city's homeless. His greatest legacy while running the Housing Bureau has been adding beds and roofs—especially Bud Clark Commons, the Old Town housing complex that's radical in creating a joint living space aimed at serving the most marginalized people in the city.
Fish has also made the city's parks more welcoming. He fought downtown business interests, who had long controlled a privatized park security force, and instead created a park rangers program that's been a tremendous success.
Fish made no secret of his dismay when Mayor Charlie Hales stripped him of housing and parks and instead gave him the bureaus of Water and Environmental Services midway through a political war over Bull Run Watershed.
But he's worked to restore public confidence in those systems, shedding the most egregious waste while passionately defending the core work the city does. If voters give City Hall another chance to run its water and sewer system, he'll be the reason why.
In fact, Fish has increasingly taken on the task of reform. He's emerging as a voice of opposition to a lackluster mayor. He was the lone opposition to Hales' heartless sweeps of homeless people from the city's sidewalks, and the reason the mayor's office couldn't quietly eliminate a necessary financial watchdog.
His only opponent to arrive at the WW endorsement interview, general contractor Sharon Maxwell, offered more heat than light, contradicting herself in diatribes directed at Fish.
Some of her criticism is valid. To be sure, Fish has often been too cautious to be effective. Skeptics are right to look at the city auditor's recent criticism of free spending on affordable housing and wonder whether Fish should have run a tighter ship. And we wish he had spoken up more during the Sam Adams-Randy Leonard years.
But he's speaking now. Voters should listen—and send him back to City Hall.
Who Fish would be if not himself: Abraham Lincoln. "Because he probably was the greatest leader we've ever produced, not a bad lawyer, and a great orator."
Commissioner, Position 3
Dan Saltzman • Nonpartisan
In four terms on the Portland City Council, the taciturn, Cornell- and MIT-degreed engineer has emerged as City Hall's resident skeptic. It's a role he's earned through 15 years as the building's in-house repairman.
There are few dirty jobs Saltzman hasn't had foisted on him after someone else's colossal screw-up. In 2001, he righted the Water Bureau (for a while) after the city blew $40 million on billing-system software that went haywire. His constant questioning of unchecked spending at Portland Fire & Rescue was the only accountability the department had while ex-firefighter Randy Leonard protected it.
He was less successful running an insubordinate police force for then-Mayor Sam Adams. But one of Mayor Charlie Hales' savviest moves was putting Saltzman in charge of the firehouses. He describes himself as a "change agent" at Fire & Rescue and has earned the title. He's pushed to substitute nimble SUVs to respond to non-fire calls rather than having crews roll four-person trucks every time. That's a major cultural shift at a hidebound bureau, and it's getting rave reviews.
His track record running the Bureau of Environmental Services is mixed. He allowed lax management that's left the city vulnerable to a ballot measure usurping control of its water and sewer utilities. But he also saw the Big Pipe sewer project through to a successful completion. And you'd be hard-pressed to find an official as dedicated to a single cause as Saltzman is to the Children's Levy, which funds early education and abuse prevention.
The challengers in his bid for a fifth term both tack hard from the left. Nicholas Caleb is the most polished. A part-time Concordia University instructor, he's made a $15-an-hour minimum wage the central plank of his campaign. He should have checked the law, however: Increasing the minimum wage is not something the Portland City Council can do without permission from the state Legislature. He exhibits a utopian impracticality that's already too prevalent in City Hall.
The unnervingly intense Joe Meyer runs a sports statistics website and hosts a KBOO radio show—but offers few clear ideas. A third challenger, Leah Dumas, didn't bother to attend the endorsement interview.
Two years ago, Saltzman took reform of Portland's Fire and Police Disability and Retirement System to voters. When the measure passed despite union ire, he celebrated privately at a dive bar.
This year, upon his re-election, he deserves a more public validation.
Who Saltzman would be if not himself: "James Henry Breasted, one of the first Egyptologists."
City of Portland
Creates an independent water district: No
As WW reported in last week's cover story ("Talkin' Bull," WW, April 23, 2014), the measure to remove City Hall's control of its water and sewer utilities has sparked a flurry of lies, half-truths and insults exchanged between city officials and the business coalition trying to create a new government called a "public water district."
The two sides have called each other names, impugned the other side's motives, and accused their opponents of betraying the civic responsibility to provide clean drinking water at a fair price. When the campaigns arrived in our office to debate, it was all we could do to keep them from screaming over each other.
All this rancor has obscured the fact that Portland voters face their most momentous decision in years. It's a choice that could change the very nature of city government, and may irreparably damage the system that protects and manages our most precious natural asset—the Bull Run Watershed.
If we had our way, the measure would lose by a single vote. Why? Because this terrible idea would still be defeated, but the message would be sent as loud as possible to City Hall's leaders that they have a giant mess to clean up and their defense in the face of criticism has been pathetic.
For years, the City Council has blithely ignored its own charter, state law, and repeated warnings from the city auditor against using revenue from citizens' water and sewer bills to fund whatever projects caught its fancy. Former Commissioner Randy Leonard may have spearheaded the most outrageous expenses—experimental projects like the environmental show home called the "Water House" and fiascoes like trying to start a cottage industry selling open-air public toilets to other cities. But his colleagues abetted him.
Such irresponsible spending isn't the main reason our water and sewer bills keep getting ever more eye-popping. The city has billion-dollar obligations—construction projects like the Big Pipe and underground reservoirs—that it couldn't escape even it were pinching every penny.
But the culture of cavalierly managing ratepayer money has led to a revolt—funded by the businesses paying the biggest bills and tapping into populist outrage. City officials, especially Mayor Charlie Hales, have responded with a toxic blend of bluster and arrogance. Meanwhile, the campaign to fight the measure has been a ghost. Our leaders are now on the cusp of squandering away the city's control over Bull Run. Quite a legacy.
But here's the problem with giving in to the temptation to punish City Hall by voting for this measure: The new government agency it proposes has the strong potential to be far worse.
Public utility districts are not inherently flawed. They can be a terrific way for the people to control what the private sector might otherwise gobble up.
The trouble with this measure is that its language makes accountability harder instead of easier. The measure bans most qualified people from serving on the elected board—it's very likely that the only people who could run are retirees or the independently wealthy, so long as they've been away from having anything to do with the water or sewer system for at least six years.
We're just as troubled by the fact that the city auditor wouldn't be allowed to peek at the books of the new district. That's not more transparency. It's less.
To earn your vote, the creators of this measure need to offer substantive answers to two questions: Would this new board be more responsible to the public than the current government? And would it lower your utility bills?
The measure's backers can't answer either question—we know, because we asked them repeatedly and got either dodgy responses or blank stares. They're great at complaining how the city has wasted water and sewer money. But they can't tell you what that spending has done to actually increase rates (answer: not much) or list what future projects they would cut without damaging the system or violating federal laws.
It's understandable to want to punish misbehaving city officials by taking away their water toys. But it's worth remembering what's at stake. Portlanders rightly cherish their uniquely pure drinking water. Handing it over to such an uncertain form of government is cutting off our hose to spite our face.