OPINION TO: City Commissioner Jim Francesconi
FROM: The Nose
RE: Gut Check Time
JF: I've got that good/bad news thing for you. The upside is that after four years of searching for an issue to hang your mayoral hopes on, you've finally got one. The downer: It's the fire bureau.
Here's how I see it. You want to be mayor in 2004. Right now, however, ask the voting public to name one mighty thing you've done since coming onto City Council in 1997 and they'll be filling in the circle next to Erik Sten or Charlie Hales. Your 1998 parks bond went down like so many Yankees before Randy Johnson. This summer's Little League insurrection made you look like a kid-hating tightwad. Sure, there was a brief moment of courage in 1999 when you voted against Freightliner's tax break, but, ever since, your finger-to-wind approach to controversy has left you looking like a human weather vane.
Well, Jimbo, now's your chance to shine. You've always talked a really good game on race. Since your days with the Portland Organizing Project you've been there for the African-American community, Honkytown's political champion of those who feel segregated in their own city, a latter-day Bobby Kennedy.
Well, Mr. Melting Pot, it's time to do more than lament Portland's color-coded divisions. You never stepped up to the plate on racial profiling and drug-free zones, and many African Americans noticed. But you've now got a chance to make people forget that.
You oversee a Fire Bureau riven by racial controversy. A young African-American firefighter named Rick Fizer ran into some fellow firefighters who thought hassling him with black dildos and racial slurs about cotton picking and watermelon eating were good, clean stationhouse fun.
You've read the private investigator's report about these events:
"Mr. Fizer stated that [Mark Lamb, a white firefighter and alleged dildo-displayer] got very irate and said, 'We come to work here every third day to have fun, it's because we work hard that the Chiefs let us get away with more, this is our house, if you don't like it, get the fuck out.'"
Even worse, lieutenants, captains and a battalion chief let these boneheaded acts go on without once thinking "hostile work environment," much less doing the math on human decency.
Unlike others who faced such insanity during the bureau's half-decade drive to diversify, Fizer complained. I watched you wring your hands before the media last week, and I know that in a couple days you'll likely announce what punishment these fools face. A demotion here, maybe a suspension there. That's the easy part.
The hard part comes afterward: You have to clean up the fire bureau. You have to fix the cracker culture that some--not all--firefighters bring to work each day.
Simply unleashing a pack of multi-culti trainers on the place ain't gonna cut it. You have to be creative. You have to be tough. You're going to have to walk into station houses across this city, look the muscle-bound boys in the eye and tell them to become colorblind--or you will personally fire their lily-white asses.
It's called leadership. It's called walking the talk.
Not only is it the right thing to do, but it's the only thing to do if you want to be a mayoral contender.