As Portlanders enter the second act of the mayor's-race drama, City Commissioner Jim Francesconi is trying to reintroduce himself to voters in a new light--one that shines from stage left.
Last week, for the second time in a month, Francesconi did something unusual for a Portland commissioner: He sent out a press release to announce his position on something. In both cases, notes political analyst Jim Moore, the announcements used language that would have made "Ralph Nader proud."
On June 24, Francesconi sent a letter to the state Public Utility Commission urging it to "remove ENRON's grasp from Portland General Electric."
This wasn't exactly a bold move, since under the current bankruptcy proceedings, Enron's "grasp" on PGE is going to be removed in any event. "Enron wants to sell it," chuckles Moore, a former University of Portland political-science professor.
Last week, Francesconi touted a resolution, introduced with fellow city commissioner Randy Leonard, introduced a resolution to demand the Portland Police Bureau increase diversity in its ranks and stop racial profiling--a practice that, in theory at least, the bureau already bans.
Mayor Vera Katz, who is neutral in the race, promptly dismissed the resolution as grandstanding. "This type of stunt is election-year politics at its worst," she said in a press release, adding that Chief Derrick Foxworth "is already working hard and making progress on the issues outlined in this resolution."
The new-look Francesconi is a more energetic, populist candidate than the one voters saw in spring, when Francesconi positioned himself as the status-quo choice for the downtown business crowd, trying to find a safe middle ground on every issue--from the war in Iraq to gay marriage.
Behind the scenes, Francesconi even courted Portland's 83,000 Republican voters, playing a pivotal role in persuading the University of Portland not to cancel its August 2003 George Bush fundraiser over security concerns. (Asked what prompted him to intervene, Francesconi says he does not recall. But others note that his fundraiser, Lori Hardwick, usually works for Republicans and is married to Dan Lavey, who runs the Bush campaign in Oregon.)
The strategy failed miserably.
Although he outspent former Police Chief Tom Potter by a ratio of 15 to 1, Francesconi finished second in the crowded primary field, trailing Potter 45,771 votes to 56,366.
Figuring he's got the conservative vote locked up, Francesconi now seems to be vying for the attention of some of the progressive voters who viewed Potter as the best hope to shake things up in City Hall.
Pollster Tim Hibbitts, who is neutral in the race, says he believes Francesconi has recognized that his six years at City Hall are a liability. So his recent shift is intended "to stay out of the perception of status quo," says Hibbits. "Ideology is certainly part of it, but I also think it's kind of an insider-outsider type of thing."
Leonard says he doesn't think his colleague's motive is political--but he doesn't care if it is. "If his candidacy for mayor causes him to be more aggressive on these issues," says Leonard, "[that's] better for me."