The seeming inevitability of an Adams mayoralty is remarkable given that less than four years ago, he had never been elected to office. Then, when he ran for City Council in 2004, he actually placed a distant second in the May primary behind lawyer Nick Fish. Adams’ political strategist and close friends advised him to quit before the general election.
“Nobody could recall a candidate coming back from that kind of deficit [11 percentage points] since the ’70s,” Adams says. “They encouraged me to think about dropping out.”
Of course, Adams ignored the experts, and beat Fish in the November 2004 general election. Three years later, he has vaulted to the head of the line to become the city’s most powerful elected official.
Adams’ strengths are clear: He is smart, energetic and focused on issues—transportation, sustainability and economic development—that energize Portland voters.
But he’s also the most junior member of City Council and a guy with a personal bankruptcy on his résumé. In addition, he has the baggage of whatever mistakes his former boss, Vera Katz, made during the 10-plus years he served her as the mayor’s chief of staff. And, in mid-October, he hung a bull’s-eye on his back by proposing a hefty new street-maintenance tax.
Yet, with the deadline to register for the May primary less than four months away, other potential challengers for a rare open mayoral seat seem as interested in facing Adams as they would taking a midnight MAX train to Gresham.
With the possible exception of Adams, virtually nobody thinks it would be good for the city or for his development as a leader for Adams to run without real opposition.
“I’m going to be co-chairing Sam’s campaign,” says Katz, whose 12-year mayoral run ended in 2004. “But still, I’m not sure that anybody ought to be able to walk into office without being tested.”
As strong as Adams looks, however, recent history has proven that nearly anything can happen in a Portland mayoral election.
Four years ago, two-term incumbent City Commissioner Jim Francesconi appeared perhaps even more unbeatable than Adams does now. He was well on his way to locking up virtually every key endorsement and raising a city-record $1 million.
The only true competition Francesconi faced was Tom Potter, a long-retired police chief who foreswore raising big donations, articulated no campaign platform and had never run for office. Yet Potter stomped Francesconi.
So, in an effort to encourage democracy and even help Adams, we set out to identify those dozen Portlanders who have the chops to run, with a special emphasis on identifying potential candidates who are not white males, like every current council member. Few of those we identified admit to being interested.
Maybe they just need a little push?
THE A TEAM
Ready—at least in other people’s eyes—to take on Adams.
Who he is: The president of the Metro Council and a longtime bright-young-man of Portland politics, Bragdon, now not quite so young at 48, is probably the leading non-candidate in the mayoral race. A wonk’s wonk when it comes to land use, transportation and solid waste, Bragdon has also impressed some with his ability to mediate among the disparate interests of Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties, all of which fall within Metro’s jurisdiction. Although a recent battle with Metro’s unionized employees may have bruised his reputation with labor, Bragdon is one of the few local pols who is a darling of both 1000 Friends of Oregon and the Portland Business Alliance. Still, he has no interest in the mayoral race. “I’ve got a great job already and get to work with great people on issues I really care about,” Bragdon says. “I also get to have a private life—and that’s not something a mayor gets much time for.”
You Should Know: Bragdon, the son of a former New York City lawyer (and Reed College president) attended the first baseball game ever played at New York’s Shea Stadium, in 1964.
Who he is: Wilhoite, 43, is a managing director at Willamette Management Associates, a business valuation and financial advisory firm. Wilhoite’s combination of analytical thinking and interpersonal skills make him the most highly sought-after board member in town. “I think you’ll find everybody who has worked with Charles at the city—from staff to electeds to fellow PDC commissioners—thinks he’s outstanding,” says longtime City Hall staffer Judy Tuttle. Based on the impression he’s made with insiders, Wilhoite has the credibility to launch a campaign tomorrow. He serves as a board director for eight organizations, including the Portland Development Commission, Oregon Health&Science University, the Portland Business Alliance and Jesuit High School. An Arizona native who first moved to Portland in 1990 and came to stay in 1995, Wilhoite says he won’t rule out running for office in the future but is too busy with his career and family to consider electoral politics now. “I’ve got to make a living, and with my schedule, I just don’t have the time to do anything more,” he says.
You Should Know: Wilhoite was busy enough—or politically astute enough—to bail out of chairing Mayor Potter’s charter-reform committee midway through 2006—and well before city voters crushed the measure in May 2007 by a 3-to-1 margin.
Who he is: Executive director of the Port of Portland, a former legislator and chief of staff to ex-Gov. John Kitzhaber, Wyatt, 57, inspires hope among people who’ve lost confidence in City Hall. His low-key style at the Port has helped right a ship that was foundering under his predecessor, Mike Thorne. “He’s inclusive but also decisive,” says former Port Commission Chairman Jay Waldron. Wyatt secured funding for the long-delayed deepening of the Columbia River shipping channel and adroitly worked the Legislature for statewide transportation funding while also slashing the Port’s budget when shipping lines quit Portland in 2004. “He made those cuts immediately,” says Waldron. “You don’t often see that in the public sector.”
But like others on the A Team, Wyatt’s happy where he is. “There isn’t a chance in the world I’d run for mayor,” he says. “I’m just not somebody who wants to listen to three hours of public testimony on every issue.”
You Should Know: Wyatt’s $277,000 annual salary and $7,500 annual car allowance make it highly unlikely that he’ll be running for office—including governor, which insiders are touting him for in 2010—anytime soon. He’d need to take a huge pay cut as mayor or governor.
They’ve got the skills, but nobody invited them to the ball.
Who she is: For 10 years, until last March, Guyer, 54, ran the Portland Schools Foundation. She built the organization from scratch into a potent political force, one that sometimes exerted more influence than the elected School Board. She’s tough and goes hard after what she wants, whether it was getting rid of Superintendent Ben Canada or helping to recruit Vicki Phillips. In addition to being a prolific fundraiser, Guyer tethered the sometimes shaky Portland Public Schools administration to the city’s business community during years of fiscal crisis. Working against Guyer are a lack of name recognition and her ambivalence about sticking around Portland. Now serving as interim director of the San Francisco Schools Foundation, Guyer is in search of her next big challenge. She says it probably won’t be running for Portland mayor. “It’s not really on my radar screen,” she says. “It’s not something that anybody has really talked to me about.”
You Should Know: Guyer’s brother-in-law, Neal Keny-Guyer, is the CEO of Mercy Corps, the Portland-based humanitarian organization.
Who she is: OK, let’s get this on the table up front: Brim-Edwards is a Republican in a Democratic town. She cut her political teeth working for GOP serial lech Bob Packwood and ran Republican moneyman Craig Berkman’s gubernatorial campaign in 1992. But she can work with Democrats—she’s even married to one, State Treasurer Randall Edwards. After years behind the scenes as a powerful local K-12 activist, she ran successfully for the Portland School Board in 2001. She helped end that board’s laughingstock reputation and oversaw the hiring of Superintendent Vicki Phillips. She then exchanged her School Board post for the top local government-relations job at Nike. She’s tough, effective and politically sophisticated, exactly what the council needs. She could also self-finance a campaign, thanks to her late father’s company, Brim Inc., which owned or operated 58 hospitals at one time. Problem is, Nike and her family have first dibs. “My kids [14, 13 and 9] are at ages right now when they really need my presence, support and guidance—whether they want it or not,” she says.
You Should Know: Brim-Edwards’ private-sector experience predates Nike: In college, she worked as a “keno runner” at Harrah’s Casino in Reno. “You should have seen my outfit,” she says, noting that the job paid better than her earlier stint as a berry-picker.
Who he is: As close to a swashbuckler as City Council saw in the late 1990s, “Choo-Choo Charlie” fathered the Portland Streetcar and looked primed to make a mayoral run before abruptly resigning in 2002 in the middle of his third council term. “Charlie is smart, creative, and he cared about transportation long before the city started tearing up every block,” says Steve Novick, a Democrat running in his party’s May primary for U.S. Senate. Less beholden to labor than other commissioners, Hales, 51, came to the council after lobbying for homebuilders and has now worked five years for the engineering firm HDR, marketing transit-related projects.
He quietly gauged interest in a mayoral candidacy last summer but, according to his former chief of staff, Ron Paul, decided life outside City Hall was too rewarding to abandon—at least for now.
You Should Know: Hales is part of a puzzlingly large University of Virginia contingent in Oregon politics—other Cavaliers include former Republican gubernatorial candidates Ron Saxton and Kevin Mannix.
Brains, drive and demonstrated accomplishment in public policy.
Who she is: Unlike most others on this list, Brady has actually demonstrated at least a smidgen of interest in running for office—although that interest has apparently waned, and she has stopped returning WW’ s calls. A former vice president at Eco-Trust, Brady, 46, first surfaced politically earlier this year as a potential Democratic challenger in the race to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith. Although Brady ultimately passed on that race, her gender, the sustainability mystique and the resources she brings to any race make her a potent possible candidate. Brady is a partner in New Seasons Markets and is married to company CEO Brian Rohter. That connection alone could provide her a formidable base. The company is one of the bigger local corporate successes of the past decade. The chain also has tens of thousands of loyal shoppers who probably wouldn’t need much persuading that New Seasons values could translate easily to a political campaign. “In 35 years in the sustainability field, I don’t think I’ve met anybody quite like her,” says her former boss at Eco-Trust, Spencer Beebe. “Eileen is very smart and very strategic. She’s a great marketer and really organized.”
You Should Know: New Seasons employs about 1,000 people at its nine stores.
Who he is: At 63, the Azumano Travel Agency CEO is the senior member of the oughta-run crew. He’s also the person on this list most likely to challenge Adams. He has been making the rounds of business and political leaders to test interest in his candidacy. Although WW blasted Dozono in 2002 for his mishandling of a 4-year-old boy’s trust account (see “Sho Dozono’s Rules,” WW, Oct. 30, 2002), he also has an impressive record of civic involvement and board service. He co-founded the Portland Schools Foundation and has worked on gay rights and disaster relief. “He’s not a gas bag who just talks about community engagement,” says two-time council candidate Nick Fish, a longtime friend. “He’s extremely well-liked and could galvanize the immigrant, education and business communities. Dozono could be Bud Clark with a little more oomph.”
You Should Know: Dozono was born in Japan but moved to Portland when he was 10.
Who he is: The founder of the Portland-based advocacy group Stand for Children, Edelman, 37, has a résumé that’s pure gold. A Yale-educated Rhodes Scholar, he passed up big bucks and academia to go the nonprofit route when he finished his Ph.D. at Oxford in 1996. The son of an African-American mother, Marian Wright Edelman, a mentor long ago for Hillary Clinton and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, a national nonprofit, and Peter Edelman, a Clinton administration official and former top aide to Robert Kennedy, Edelman grew up in a hothouse, inside-the-Beltway atmosphere. In Oregon since 1999, he’s proven himself to be a sharp-elbowed advocate for K-12 funding. He has expanded his organization to four states and built Stand for Children’s annual budget from nothing to $2 million. With his brains, pedigree and intensity ,and with the K-12 parent army behind him, he’s capable of great achievement, which makes many wonder what he’ll do next. Edelman says he plans to keep on Standing: “I have no interest in running. Absolutely none.”
You Should Know: Since the birth of his twin sons two and a half years ago, Edelman says he’s slept through the night exactly once.
Who he is: At a time when the city’s two best known Hispanic politicians—former County Commissioner Serena Cruz Walsh and current Commissioner Maria Rojo de Steffey—have left or are leaving office, Oregon’s fastest-growing minority group is in search of leadership. Hernández, 38, could be the guy. A partner at Schwabe Williamson&Wyatt, the city’s second-largest law firm, Hernández is one of eight children of Mexican migrant worker parents. He grew up picking onions and beets near Ontario. After graduating from Oregon State University, he spent five years in the Air Force, finishing as a captain. He’s served as board president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and president of the Hispanic National Bar Association, Northwest Region. Hernández also served on Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s gubernatorial transition team, and last year Kulongoski appointed him to the OHSU board. “He’s an incredibly skilled person,” says Cruz Walsh. “He’s already doing a lot, but I’d love to see him take an even larger leadership role in the community.” Yet Hernández says electoral politics may be in his future, but they are not in his present. “I just made partner in February,” he says. “My wife and I have a young child, and I’m already overcommitted.”
You Should Know: While serving in the Air Force in 1994, Hernandez acted as the Spanish-language linguist in charge at Guantánamo Bay, overseeing 143 interpreters who translated for Cuban asylum seekers.
Who she is: Henning, 38, is a Portland School Board member and the associate director of marketing at Nike. Her résumé is a campaign manager’s dream. An All-America hoopster at Stanford, she earned a law degree at Duke before playing professionally in the WNBA. After her basketball career ended, Henning practiced employment law at Portland’s Tonkon Torp firm, won a School Board seat in 2005, then joined Nike. Her competitive instincts, legal and corporate experience, School Board service and minority perspective could all be pluses in City Hall.
Unfortunately, Henning needs some convincing: “I’m flattered that even one person thinks I could be a mayoral candidate,” Henning says. “But I’ve really never been interested in politics—and if anything, serving on the School Board has made me even less so.”
You Should Know: During her professional basketball career, Henning served as president of the players’ union—which wouldn’t hurt in labor-loving Portland.
Who she is: Maher, 29, is executive director of the Native American Youth and Family Center, a Portland nonprofit that provides education, counseling and housing to more than 1,300 Native American kids and 600 families each year. Her gender, youth and effective representation of a group largely shut out of the local political conversation have attracted attention.
Maher says there are 38,000 Native Americans in Multnomah County, and she’s determined to get all of them who are eligible voters. Since taking over NAYA six and a half years ago, Maher, a member of the Alaskan Tlingit tribe, has built NAYA’s annual budget from $215,000 to more than $5 million and won admirers citywide. “She’s intense,” says City Commissioner Erik Sten. “When she wants something, she plays hardball.”
Maher says she’s never given much thought to running for office, but she aspires to help others across the community. “I’m passionate about equity for all kids, not just Native Americans,” Maher says. “I also think that many of the values that are most important to Native Americans—such as environmentalism and sustainability—are values that most Portlanders share.”
You Should Know: A graduate of Oregon State who also earned a master’s in public health from Portland State, Maher says that until she was a senior in high school, “my ambition was to be a hairdresser.”
In the 2004 City Council primary, Nick Fish beat Sam Adams 48 percent to 37 percent. Because Fish failed to get a majority, the two faced a runoff in the general election, which Adams won 51 percent to 47 percent.
Prior to 2004, the last election for an open mayor’s seat was in 1992. Former House Speaker Vera Katz won 57 percent to 42 percent over two-term City Commissioner Earl Blumenauer.
Portland’s City Council has not always consisted of five white Democratic men. In 1974, for example, there were two female commissioners (Connie McCready and Mildred Schwab), an African American (Charles Jordan) and a Republican (Frank Ivancie), along with Mayor Neil Goldschmidt.
Although Sam Adams voted for publicly financed political campaigns in 2006, he has said he will not take public money but instead will limit contributions he accepts to $500 per donor.
The race to fill Adams’ council seat has also failed to attract much interest from established politicos, though Multnomah County Commissioner Maria Rojo de Steffey is leaning toward a run (see Murmurs, page 15). The frontrunners so far in that race are neighborhood activist Amanda Fritz, Old Town business owner Howard Weiner and Chris Smith, a mass-transit advocate.
Lesser-known mayoral candidates Kyle Burris, Craig Grier, Lew Humble, James Lee, Beryl McNair, Nick Popenuk, Jeff Taylor and Gerhard Watzig have filed to run against Adams.