Tattoo he’d get: One of those “old-school black panthers” on either shoulder.
Sam Adams can be criticized for many things. He’s too calculating. He’s got a mean side. He’s been in politics too long. He never saw a tax he didn’t like. He uses too much product in his hair.
You can credit Adams with one thing: He really wants the $111,000-a-year job. We’d wager that a good share of Portlanders believe Adams is already the mayor. Last fall, we identified a dozen Portlanders whom we begged to step up and challenge Adams in what was shaping up to be a mayoral coronation instead of a serious election (see “Done Deal,” WW, Nov. 28, 2007).
Of the 12 who entered the race, Sho Dozono became Adams’ only serious contender. Dozono seems like a nice guy. But his hokey, issue-free campaign plays like a bad flashback to Mayor Tom Potter’s 2004 run. Potter promised nothing, delivered less and declared his own irrelevance after realizing he couldn’t just tell people what to do.
As mayor, Dozono could make Potter look like Winston Churchill. We’ve already written about Dozono’s disastrous attempt to hold onto public-campaign financing after he bungled the reporting of a $27,000 in-kind contribution (see “Curse of the Zombie,” WW, March 19, 2008). And KGW reported this week that Dozono’s restaurant, Bush Garden, is $22,000 behind in rent payments to the city.
More troublingly, the only concrete promises we could pry out of Dozono in an hourlong endorsement interview were: (1) to fly around the world to lure global corporations to Portland, and (2) not to banish Wal-Mart from the city. This isn’t a candidate who sweats the details of the office he seeks. Dozono, who also owns a travel agency, has achieved success due largely to a flair for promotion and a winning personality. Feel-good slogans and friends in high places do not a mayor make.
Sadly, Adams hasn’t shared his real agenda, either. Ask Adams why he’s running and he delivers poll-friendly bromides like schools, wages and sustainability. It’s a bit insulting that he wants us to believe he’s running because of his burning desire to be the “fundraiser in chief” and “parental involvement cheerleader” for Portland Public Schools. Or because, as Adams claims in his Voters’ Pamphlet statement, he wants to improve safety on MAX.
Please. Those are all things he already could’ve tackled as a city commissioner. Instead, Adams spent much of last year building support for a $464 million tax package to repave streets, fill potholes, modernize traffic signals and add bike lanes. Then he put the whole thing on hold. Don’t get us wrong: There’s nothing wrong with trying to fix transportation. After all, Adams is the transportation commissioner. We just wish he’d share his real priorities with voters.
Another thing: As mayor, Adams needs fewer sycophants on his staff. There’s no one on Team Adams doing what he once did as chief of staff to Mayor Vera Katz—pushing back, playing devil’s advocate, questioning what the boss wants done. This is a weakness, and it will hold Adams back. More important, if the next City Council is packed with more Adams acolytes, the city could suffer.
For all that, this wasn’t a hard endorsement. Adams is by far the most qualified to lead and most in tune with what Portlanders want. His opponents are neither. Incredibly, the quality drops off markedly even after the middling Dozono. The best of the bunch, retired physicist James B. Lee, is clever and charming but doesn’t really seem to want the job.
Adams is smart. He’s got a lot of energy and he doesn’t waste time—which is why slow-going, let’s-ask-another-committee folks find Adams to be pushy. And Adams could be a very good mayor, provided he starts taking some meds for his chronic political attention-deficit disorder. He’s the kind of guy who during his first term put a million things on his to-do list—workforce training, a world-class sustainability institute, bike-lane improvements, a plastic-bag tax—and got around to finishing maybe two of them. You just want to grab him by the shoulders and say, “Focus, Sam! Focus!”
This is a tough time we’re heading into, with a recession, steady population growth and a rapidly deteriorating city infrastructure. The next mayor and City Council will be responsible for devising a long-term plan to deal with these problems. What happens next year in City Hall will still matter decades from now.
Video of WW endorsement interview with Sam Adams and Sho Dozono:(thanks to Portland Community Media)
Video of WW endorsement interview with Bob Leonard Forthan, James Lee and Jeff Taylor:
Video of WW endorsement interview with Beryl McNair, David Ackerman, Christopher Rich, Stephen Entwisle and Craig Gier: