slow race to nowhere
How has the City Council contest become such a snooze?
On a November ballot featuring O’Biden vs. McPalin and a U.S. Senate election so nasty it should be moderated by Andrew “Dice” Clay, the race for a City Council seat is commanding as much interest as a Mothers Against Drunk Driving booth at a dive bar.
“If you put a gun to the head of the average general-election voter in Portland and ask them one thing they knew about Charles Lewis or Amanda Fritz—someone’s going to die,” says Mark Wiener, a local political consultant who’s sitting out this Council race.
There’s a lot at stake. The winner between Lewis and Fritz becomes one of just five City Council members overseeing a $2.4 billion budget that pays for everything from sewer pipes to stables for police horses.
The politerati have largely lined up behind Fritz, the front-runner after finishing firstin the six-candidate May primary with 43 percent. But as a newcomer Lewis showed enough flair in the primary for publicity and willingness to be an attack dog that he inched past better-known candidates last spring to place second with 13 percent. Yet so far in the November race, Lewis has seemed content to remain a tame underdog.
Since both candidates got $200,000 to spend on the general election from Portland’s public campaign financing system, they must figure out other ways besides an ad barrage to get noticed. And in the “other ways” department, Fritz looks set to maintain her lead.
Fritz has averaged nine public appearances a week since August, according to her campaign calendar. Lewis has averaged just three public appearances a week over the same period, according to his calendar.
“If it’s an election about who’s got the most time on their hands, it’s definitely not me. But we are campaigning hard across the city,” says Lewis, whose wife, Sarah, had the couple’s first child in June, and who still heads his nonprofit, Ethos Music Center. (Fritz began an unpaid leave of absence from her job as a psychiatric nurse in the psych ward at OHSU on Sept. 1.)
It’s not just Lewis’ visibility that’s declined.
The tone of the race has changed, too. What was a tense tit-for-tat—Fritz and Lewis squabbled in the primary over an anonymous IRS complaint against Lewis—is now a polite whisper. At a Sept. 19 City Club debate, the candidates lobbed each other softballs.
“Charles, please talk about how wonderful public campaign financing is,” Fritz asked Lewis. He obliged.
Even to the extent that they express clear positions on issues, Fritz and Lewis are pretty much on the same page. One of their only disagreements at the debate turned on a renewal of a five-year city levy for children’s programs. Both candidates support renewing the $70 million levy, but Lewis has supported it more enthusiastically.
“Who cares?” you ask. Exactly.
“If you’re looking for an upset, you have to differentiate yourself,” says lobbyist and sometime consultant Len Bergstein.
The levy is also an awkward cause for Lewis to stress because, as Fritz subtly pointed out at the debate, he benefits directly from it. Ethos got $106,000 from the fund last year.
The candidates have made the race even duller by sounding the same themes. It’s about experience versus experience (Lewis brags about turning a nonprofit he started with his credit card into a 78-employee operation, Fritz talks constantly about her experience on the planning commission and long list of “name” endorsers) and change versus change.
With less than six weeks left to campaign, can Lewis mount an upset? He cites an internal poll that shows “it’s a horse race to the end,” though he won’t share numbers.
“I would not characterize our poll that way,” Fritz says with a smile.
She also has more friends on Facebook—57 to Lewis’ 21.
Hardball: As we went to press, the Oregon Education Association’s 42-member staff entered its eighth day on strike. The timing is critical because the strike, primarily over benefits and work rules, comes during the election homestretch. In addition to bankrolling Democratic candidates and causes (witness a recent $2 million check to Defend Oregon, battling several conservative ballot measures) OEA staff coordinates the 48,000 union members in phone banking, literature drops and canvassing. Some campaigns are already feeling the OEA’s absence. Strikers’ spokesman Tom Husted says phone-banking operations in Portland, Beaverton and Tigard are silent. “Teachers are honoring our picket line,” Husted says. “We hear some retirees may be scabbing from home, and that’s unfortunate.”
Democratic congressional candidate Kurt Schrader has a small complication in his tough race against Republican Mike Erickson in the 5th District. Schrader, a state senator from Canby, got a routine $2,000 campaign donation in June from Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Since then, the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation earlier this month into questions about Rangel’s financial dealings. Given both Schrader’s Boy Scout reputation and his fellow Dems winning a House majority in 2006 partly based on a promise to clean up Congress, Trail Mix wondered if Schrader—who’s raised $512,000—might return the donation and irk the influential Rangel. Um, nope. Says Schrader’s campaign manager, Paul Gage, “We haven’t given any thought to giving back the money.”
Behind the 8 Call: As first reported on WWire, there’s a new website for Oregonians looking to help Californians fight Proposition 8, which would amend Cali’s Constitution to read “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Oregonians Against Proposition 8 (actblue.com/page/oregonian) was created by Thalia Zepatos—former director of organizing and training for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force—and Basic Rights Oregon Executive Director Jeana Frazzini.
Face Off (with Debate Party Map)
Watch Friday's presidential debate at one of these places...or add your own to the map!
This Friday, Sept. 26, John McCain and Barack Obama take the stage at the University of Mississippi for the first of their three presidential debates.
They’ll do so with polls showing their contest tighter than a bank credit manager these days.
But what’s the likelihood of this debate being a game-changer for those few idiot voters who can’t quite decide in this race between Thesis and Antithesis?
FACTS: As of Sept. 19, Lewis had $149,000 left to run his campaign, and Fritz had $159,000.