Yesterday the Oregon League of Conservation Voters endorsed State Rep. Jefferson Smith (D-East Portland) in the mayor's race. That's a coup for Smith, who already earned endorsements from other enviro groups including the Sierra Club and Bike Walk Vote.
“Jefferson Smith is the environmental candidate for Mayor," OLCV executive director Doug Moore said in a statement. "Jefferson is always out front and leading on the environmental issues facing our community. He questions assumptions, challenges conventional wisdom and refuses to accept the status quo when the integrity of our environment or the health of our community is at risk. That’s the type of leadership we need.”
Smith has indeed been out in front of his opponent, former City Commissioner Charlie Hales, in his opposition to the proposed $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing Project. At the same time, some of Smith's ideas may conflict with the interests of other groups that support him.
In the Aug. 16 OLCV endorsement interview, Smith floated a concept that is a red flag to a key labor group that earlier endorsed him—Labors Local 483, which represents city workers in the Bureaus of Transportation and Parks & Recreation.
Smith, who's given to tossing out audacious concepts, suggested a novel way to solve the city's chronic pothole problem.
Here's what Smith said to OLCV board members (WW obtained a recording of that portion of his interview):
“I have an idea that I want to pitch to y’all, and ask for friends of ours to work on, and that is getting on the same side of the table in a public way, around what has now been adopted as the dominant frame while we’re not doing maintenance.
So what if we took the Sierra Club and Bike Walk Vote and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and other partners, and we put together a 1,000 to 2,000 volunteer force and made a holiday of filling in potholes. And it ain’t that expensive. In fact we sketched out the plan for this and I think we can get it done for 18 grand. I would be, as mayor, helpful in doing it, and I’ve got a non-profit that I help start [The Bus Project] that we can recruit, and we’re putting together the strongest grass-roots campaign in the history of this city, we got 145 house parties and we have 3,000 individual donors and I think we could put together the kind of thing to say, ‘Look who’s on your side.’”
Asked later by WW about the volunteer pothole fillers, Smith downplayed the seriousness of his idea and says he was just brainstorming ways to help bridge the divide between some cyclists and motorists.
"It was not a policy proposal or pitched as such," he says.
Yet as Smith's quote shows, he did put numbers on his idea—both in terms of how many people might be involved and how much it might cost.
When Richard Beetle, the business manager for Laborers Local 483, was asked about Smith's idea, he was unaware of it and was not happy.
"Even if you use volunteers, that would be contracting out our work," says Beetle, whose members fill potholes and perform other street maintenance for the city. "We do that work and we own it and for somebody to try and give it away is just not right."
"Proper street maintenance cannot be done by volunteers," Beetle says. "The city has the equipment and we have the expertise to do it right. Volunteers would have no idea how to handle hot asphalt safely—and would you want to drive on a street they'd fixed?"
Beetle says in any case, the mayor cannot just assign city tasks to volunteers. "Saving money cannot be done at the expense of our members contractual rights," he says. "It's just not a workable idea."
OLCV political action committee board members did not return calls seeking comment.