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August 18th, 2004 Nick Budnick | News Stories
 

PISSING (ON) BLUE

Francesconi's misleading ad could backfire.

     
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Jim Francesconi may lose the police union's endorsement over a radio ad bashing former Chief Tom Potter.
Mayoral candidate Jim Francesconi's new strategy of going negative on his opponent, former Police Chief Tom Potter, has the Portland Police Association rethinking its endorsement of Francesconi earlier this year.

Portland Police Association president Robert King says the union will discuss whether to revoke the endorsement at its meeting Thursday, Aug. 19. The union's action is spurred by a radio ad that appears to inflame and exploit anti-cop sentiment.

"I think it's really irresponsible and lacks judgment," King says. "I think it calls into question his ability to be mayor."

The $1,700 ad buy, which ran on KPOJ four times a day last week during morning and evening drive time, blames Potter for an 11-year-old nonfatal police shooting, even though Potter had left the Portland Police Bureau by that time.

Accusing Potter of "protecting bad cops," the ad relates how an officer fired "at a fleeing suspect 23 times" in an incident "that would shock the city." The ad refers to a 1993 incident in which Officer Doug Erickson shot a suspect named Gerald Gratton in the arm and back.

With the sound of gunfire popping in the background, the ad blames Potter for the shooting. It explains that shortly before Potter stepped down as chief, he had the opportunity to discipline Erickson in a separate excessive-force complaint but declined, even though Erickson's precinct commander had recommended discipline. Erickson's shooting of Gratton occurred soon thereafter.

Or, as the ad puts it, "The officer was on duty despite an excessive-force charge so severe it was upheld by his immediate commander. But the police chief personally intervened to protect that officer."

"And the chief who put this officer back on the street...his name is Tom Potter."

The radio ad directs listeners to a new Francesconi campaign website, therealtompotter.com, which links to articles about Erickson's being fired as a result of the shooting.

The spot, however, neglects to mention that Gratton was pointing a gun at Erickson when the cop fired. Neither it nor the website discloses that a neutral arbitrator found the shooting justified, and Erickson was rehired. The ad also fails to note that Gratton hired Francesconi, then a personal-injury lawyer, to represent him, leading to a $118,000 settlement.

Told that the union is reconsidering its endorsement, Francesconi said, "I haven't heard that, but, you know, they need to do what they need to do. His record is troubling. It hasn't been talked about, and it needs to be."

"I'm proud of the police-union endorsement, but having said that, we're just laying out the facts," he adds. "My public record has been scrutinized, and it's appropriate that his record be scrutinized."

Francesconi denies that the ad is misleading. But police critic Dan Handelman of Copwatch disagrees, saying the ad leaves the incorrect impression that Potter restored Erickson to duty after the shooting. He calls it "pretty disingenuous."

When the script was read to him, Jeff Barker, a PPA ex-president, said it also left him with the wrong impression that Potter reinstated Erickson after the shooting.

"To drag poor Doug Erickson up is unconscionable--he's a nice, quiet, decent guy," adds Barker, a Democratic state representative. "Jim called me recently to ask for my endorsement, and now I'm glad I said 'No.'"

Even if the union does not change its endorsement, the issue is likely to come up again. The Erickson ad was just the first in a series: The second, accusing Potter of being soft on sexual harassment, is already up and running.

 
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