Mike Casper admits he doesn't have much political experience. (Or any, in fact.) Much of his education in the ways of law and man came from reading books to kill time while working the door at the popular bar Shanghai Tunnel. But the first declared challenger in next spring's City Council primary doesn't lack ideas.
Casper, who will use Portland's new public campaign-financing system to fund a run against incumbent Commissioner Dan Saltzman, wants the city to start a bank, take on consumer predators and pay attention to the working poor. And he says grassroots zeal and a populist outlook can more than make up for his inexperience.
WW snagged a few minutes with Casper as he started his evening shift at Voleur, the downtown bar where he slings drinks-and glad-hands potential constituents with the air of a seasoned pol.
WW: No one's heard of you, so start with the basics.
Mike Casper: I'm 32 years old. Got a couple of daughters, ages 8 and 4. I'm from Maryland. My girlfriend's an Oregonian, and we came to Portland four years ago. I've done some bartending. I'm a licensed insurance agent, I've done mortgages and credit counseling, so I have some background in the finance industry.
You also used to work security at Shanghai Tunnel. Presumably, you've 86'ed a few people?
In two years, I never had a fight where I couldn't go in and say, "Hey, look-you're in my house. I greeted you when you came in. Now I'm going to say goodnight to you." I'm really proud of that.
So how does all this lead to running for City Council?
I've been following local politics for two years, and I felt alienated. The council members are doing a good job, but I'll do a better one.
I'll focus on some issues that they might not: the working poor, trying to raise kids in Portland, working 40 hours a week and still being broke, the nickel-and-diming of the population, overdraft charges, title loans, predatory towing-all the things that make my life harder.
What can the city do about any of that stuff?
We can define how business is done here. Win or lose, I'm going to look into a class-action suit against the banks. A $33 overdraft charge on $3 is ridiculous.
With the city already fighting an anti-business rap, is it really a good idea to take on the banks?
I'm not anti-business, but I am anti-being-taken-advantage-of. And if the city is moving in the direction the citizens want, then that's what should be done.
Your website says you want the city to start a bank?
You take a 40- or 60-block area and take money we're already using for development to start a city-backed, employee-owned bank with low minimum balances and checking fees and split the profits between the bank workers and funding schools.
How will you get the thousand $5 checks you need to qualify for the city's public finance system?
Once the system kicks in on Sept. 1, it'll take a week. I take local bands and local charities and tie them into each other. I do canned-food drives about once a month. So my plan to get those thousand checks is to keep doing what I'm doing-promote myself through my community, through bands, through my work here.
Why pick on Saltzman?
I realized his seat was coming up next year. The other seat that's up is Erik Sten, and I think he's doing a good job.
But no particular reason you'd say, "Fire that guy, hire me"?
How do your bosses here feel about you running?
Well, they hate to lose a good bartender.... Hey, Dave, how do you feel about this?
Dave: About what?
About me running for City Council?
Dave: I think it's great.
Are you gonna vote for him?
Dave: Oh, yeah.
One down, 150,000 to go.
I get another one just about every night.
Check out Mike Casper's campaign blog at www.vote4casper06.com .