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April 30th, 2014 12:01 am WW Editorial Staff | Cover Story

Don’t Piss It Away

Your vote matters. Let us tell you what to do with it.

The Primaries: U.S. Senate | U.S. House | Oregon Governor | Oregon House

The Independent Public Water District: Measure 26-156

Portland City Council

Commissioner, Position 2

Nick Fish    Nonpartisan

The path to a third term in Portland City Hall should be smooth for Nick Fish, a soft-spoken employment lawyer and son of a centuries-old line of public servants in New York state. 

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

Dan Saltzman has perfected the art of saying no. 

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.”

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