This local election season has had all the intrigue of Game of Thrones, with scheming, betrayals and some moments that can only be described as high fantasy.
Fortunately, however, the campaigns have been free of dragons, decapitation and the eating of horse hearts. "You win or you die" does not apply.
In case you missed earlier episodes, here's a plot synopsis:
The land of Portland is adrift after 3½ clammy years under a troubled reign at City Hall. The voting peasantry has a chance to remake the City Council with a new mayor and two new commissioners.
Forsooth!... OK, enough of that.
Your ballot is due on Tuesday, May 15. This is an important election, and you may be wondering who deserves your vote.
It's not an easy call. The leading candidates running in this primary tend to agree on many issues. Voters often must decide whom to vote for based on candidates' personality, experience, trustworthiness and other aspects of character impossible to glean from the Voters' Pamphlet.
We're here to help.
Our endorsements in the May 2012 primary election are based on interviews, plenty of scrutiny and careful thought. We won't waste your time with editorials endorsing candidates who have no opposition in the primary. Nor are we weighing in on the GOP presidential primary, in which former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is essentially unopposed.
Nor will you see an endorsement in the race for Oregon attorney general to replace the incumbent, John Kroger, who announced last fall he wouldn't seek re-election. There is no Republican in the race, so the winner of the Democratic primary is all but the new AG-elect.
The race pits former U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton against former Oregon Court of Appeals Judge Ellen Rosenblum, who is married to the publisher and co-owner of this newspaper, Richard Meeker. This creates an inherent conflict of interest for this newspaper. As a result, WW announced in January that it won't be writing about this race.
We don't always agree on major issues with the candidates we've chosen to endorse. We're more concerned with finding candidates who are most likely to lead effectively. As usual, we've asked every candidate an irreverent question. This year's: "What's the worst thing you've done for money?"
We're also realistic. No one can undo the recession or stop the rising tide of reactionary politics beyond the urban growth boundary.
But we believe these candidates can help lead through hard times. At least, they stepped forward to try.
CHARLIE HALES (Nonpartisan)
Look, we get it. When the cupboards are bare, the landlord is pounding on the door, the car is out of gas and a pink slip may be waiting at work, politics seem irrelevant.
But in reality, those sort of urgent needs—shared by people living all over the city, and by thousands more who are likely to move here in coming years—raise the stakes in the most important local election of the past decade.
In many ways, Portland is a more mature and vibrant city than it was in 2005, when Mayor Vera Katz left office. And thanks to the hard work of many starving artists and struggling entrepreneurs, the city is enjoying a moment on the global stage.
That's the good news. The bad news? The $3.5 billion, 26-bureau, 6,200-employee enterprise that is Portland city government has devolved into a directionless PowerPoint factory. City Hall now has all the charm of a snake pit inside a funeral parlor.
Tom Potter, a former police chief, arrived as the people's mayor in 2005, eschewing big campaign donations and promising a down-to-earth approach. He quickly came to hate the mayor's job once he realized he couldn't simply order people around.
Sam Adams followed. He was a talented insider who emerged from Katz's office to serve first as a city commissioner. He still has savvy and a smart take on most issues. He's even a little bit hip. He could have been—should have been—an important mayor in the city's history.
But Adams never recovered from the public exposure of his own lies and bad judgment. The damage from the Beau Breedlove scandal was so extensive, Adams wisely concluded last year that he could not win re-election.
Adams' exit has created the most competitive mayoral race since 1992, when Katz defeated then-City Commissioner Earl Blumenauer.
Voters will find 23 names on the ballot. Only three deserve your serious attention.
Businesswoman Eileen Brady is bright, charismatic and energetic. Her association with New Seasons Market, Ecotrust and the Chinook Book lends her candidacy an air of eco-friendly localism. Brady is also one of the most impressive fundraisers in city politics in a long time, giving her an edge her opponents cannot match.
Brady has been planning to run for mayor since 2009. One would think she would have bothered to learn the fundamentals of city government and articulate a vision and plan.
But Brady is one of the most breathtakingly unprepared mayoral candidates we have seen in years. When we first interviewed Brady last summer, we were struck by how little she had to say about why she was running or what she hoped to accomplish as mayor. As the election draws near, we see little improvement.
Brady is not without ideas, most of which involve handouts to various constituencies. To food processors and the tech industry, she wants to give tax breaks. To the enviros, she (alone among the major candidates) wants to build the sustainability center. For the building trades, she has offered up a $3.4 billion fiasco-in-waiting called the Columbia River Crossing.
But bear down on the details, and she is without a basic grasp of how city government works, filling in the gaps in her knowledge with jargon and buzzwords.
Her fondness for remarks like, "We are in a new era and we need new ideas" is no substitute for knowing what you're talking about. She often doesn't.
Of all the candidates in this race, WW finds itself agreeing on issues most often with state Rep. Jefferson Smith (D-East Portland). He came relatively late to this race and is counting on his skills as a political organizer honed as co-founder and leader of the Bus Project.
He rarely fails to impress with his independence (his early and courageous opposition to the Columbia River Crossing), his thoughtfulness about the democratic process and his ability to excite others. The sense of fun he brings to public life should not be dismissed.
Smith is right to focus on providing services to small businesses and startups, rather than recruiting large corporations by offering unsustainable incentives. He's got a real handle on how the urban planning process went awry in East Portland, and we believe his commitment to equity and social justice is genuine.
But his talents do not include those of a manager. As WW has reported, he had serious trouble managing the Bus Project and details of his own life. Were Portland a city-manager form of government, we might feel differently about Smith in this position. But the mayor of Portland has to manage budgets, help negotiate with unions and provide basic services. Smith has shown little skill in those areas.
He offers the promise of good things but also the potential to fail spectacularly. The city cannot afford more calamities in the mayor's office.
That leaves former City Commissioner Charlie Hales, who among the candidates is easily the best-tested, most experienced and clearest thinker about city government.
Before we embrace Hales, a caveat.
Hales quit midway through his third term as a city commissioner and, shortly after, moved across the Columbia River. He declared himself a resident of Washington state from 2004 to 2009. In doing so, he avoided paying tens of thousands of dollars in Oregon taxes—a privilege he got only by swearing to Oregon tax officials he considered Washington his home.
Meanwhile, Hales was telling elections officials he was actually an Oregon resident and kept voting here.
This isn't an issue to dismiss as frivolous. Hales kept a Portland address (while escaping Oregon taxes) so he could come back to run for mayor someday.
When WW broke this story in June 2011, Hales said he'd never given up his Oregon residency for tax purposes. When WW showed that wasn't true, Hales claimed he'd simply forgotten in which state he'd been paying taxes.
Misdirection like this from a candidate would usually be a killer for us, and it has made this choice more difficult.
The fact is, when it comes to the substance of the mayor's job, no one comes close to Hales. He's ready to do the job, and do it well.
Hales knows the scene and the players. He served on the City Council from 1993 to 2002. He passed a big parks bond, built community centers, killed a misguided freeway expansion and championed airport light rail and the Portland Streetcar.
To a degree that's actually remarkable for a politician, Hales listens. He isn't always ready to start blathering the minute someone else takes a breath. Presented with compelling new information, he even changes his mind.
Hales has surprised critics by demonstrating his independence from the developers and contractors who have paid his salary (he spent the past 10 years working on streetcar projects around the country for HDR Inc.) and filled his campaign coffers.
And while Hales has flipped-flopped on issues over 30 years in public life, he usually flops in the right direction for Portland. The former Republican homebuilders' lobbyist became a New Urbanist bent on buffering the city against Peak Oil with government investments in public transit.
As mayor, he will have to manage a shrinking budget and set a new, optimistic tone in a soured bureaucratic culture. He'll have to tangle with an unaccountable police union, bat down some half-baked money grabs like the sustainability center, and focus the city's attention on worthwhile projects like his community credit proposal, which would leverage the city's revenue to increase access to bank loans for small businesses.
We trust him to examine the evidence and make a smart, well-considered decision on most any issue likely to face the city.
What of the 20 other candidates on the ballot? Voters may recognize hapless activist and publicity hound Tre Arrow, but they might have missed the stories about his recent domestic-violence arrest. Scratch him off the list. The Occupy Portland movement produced an enthusiastic young candidate, Cameron Whitten. We think Whitten stands to accomplish more as an activist than as a politician. Young Max Brumm has more enthusiasm than most, and we encourage him to stay involved.
Forget the rest. For mayor of Portland, it's Charlie Hales.
Worst thing Hales has done for money: Ask his friends for campaign donations.
City of Portland
Portland City Council Position 1
MARY NOLAN (Nonpartisan)
The incumbent, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, is in many ways a deserving role model for activists of all causes in Portland.
She entered the city's political scene as a nurse and working mother who became known for her persistence, attention to detail, and commitment to neighborhood issues while on the city planning commission. Fritz was the first candidate to qualify for public campaign financing when she ran unsuccessfully against Commissioner Dan Saltzman in 2006. In 2008, again with public financing, she won Adams' open Council seat.
We wanted to be able to endorse her for a second term. We admire her tenacity and her principled stand on campaign finance—she's refusing contributions over $50.
But we found ourselves liking the idea of Amanda Fritz more than the commissioner who's held office for 3½ years. Fritz has proven too great a disappointment.
She's had some victories. Fritz takes credit for saving utility ratepayers $500 million on a Water Bureau sand-filtration system—one case in which her dogged, read-every-footnote, hyper-frugal approach may have saved taxpayers more than a few pennies.
Overall, though, Fritz has been less than effective. At times she acts as if she's above engaging in politics. Unfortunately, politics is part of the job, and she hasn't learned how to navigate City Hall.
Adams, who has the power to make bureau assignments, has given Fritz the smallest portfolio of any commissioner in recent history. Day to day, she has little control over large budgets or high-priority projects. Instead, she handles her own correspondence and blogs.
Assigned the city office in charge of cable and franchise communications (it has only nine employees), Fritz created an unnecessary and futile public process that caused at least one telecom to roll back its plans for increased wireless coverage and left neighborhood activists—who wanted the Council to stop all new antennas—dissatisfied.
Adams took the bureau away from Fritz, she says, to allow her to focus on developing the new Office of Equity.
Fritz alienated leaders on the city's existing human rights commission—a strange outcome for a process-focused citizen politician with a volunteer's background. Members of the city's charter review commission say Fritz, among all the commissioners, did the most to undermine their mission to reform city government.
We might have argued in favor of Fritz had there not been a viable alternative: Mary Nolan, the former Oregon House majority leader.
Before joining the Legislature in 2001, Nolan worked in the private sector (she and her husband run an aviation company) and as a director of two city bureaus, Maintenance and Environmental Services.
WW has called Nolan the anti-Fritz, an insider with many well-heeled backers, a profligate spender who'd rather raise taxes than find government efficiencies. She's a mercilessly ambitious pol who doesn't hesitate to bring out the knives against her opponents—including the genteel Fritz. (It actually hurts to watch Nolan flay Fritz alive on the campaign trail, and Fritz may prevail out of sheer sympathy.)
Make no mistake: We're concerned by Nolan's closeness to special interests, particularly the public-employee unions she will be asked to negotiate with in City Hall.
But we have no doubts about her ability to lead and her track record of accomplishment. And leadership is what has been lacking here.
Worst thing Nolan has done for money: The humiliation of being the target in a dunk-tank fundraiser long ago for her Bureau of Environmental Services employees.
City Council Position 4
STEVE NOVICK (Nonpartisan)
Portlanders were introduced to Steve Novick, the Harvard-educated environmental lawyer, during his 2008 run against Jeff Merkley in the Democratic primary to decide who would face then-U.S. Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon).
Novick lost that race, but his campaign was unlike anything anyone had seen. He was an outsider to the Democratic establishment. His slogan, "Vote Hook," played on the fact Novick has a metal hook in place of his left hand, one of the physical disabilities he was born with. In one ad still popular on YouTube, Novick uses the prosthesis as a beer opener.
Despite his loss, Novick swept much of Portland, setting him up for a future run. Now, with the early endorsement of the departing incumbent, Commissioner Randy Leonard, Novick is the odds-on favorite to take a seat on the City Council.
Frankly, Novick is a lot more likable as the underdog.
He's used to being the smartest guy in any room; he can hardly hide his impatience with challengers. He's barely campaigning beyond showing up to forums, where he hams it up, often at the expense of serious debate.
Novick appears to have taken the wrong lessons from his 2008 loss to a big-money candidate. Novick has raised about $250,000. He doesn't need the money: None of his challengers has raised more than $3,000. Meanwhile, the former environmental lawyer is pocketing checks from Willamette River waterfront companies that like the fact he's chatted up a cheap solution to cleaning the Portland Harbor Superfund site.
We're endorsing Novick because we like his ideas. One of his proposals to lower citywide health-care costs by supporting direct care for the highest-cost workers is borrowed from McAllen, Texas, where it was featured in The New Yorker. We also appreciate his political savvy, intelligence and sense of humor. We think he'll challenge his City Council colleagues to do better and think bigger.
But he should show more class and not treat this race as a gimme.
Among his opponents, we like Mark White, president of East Portland's Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association, co-chair of the city's charter review commission, and a three-time failed City Council candidate. He's Novick's most qualified challenger, and we praise his commitment to public service, but he doesn't seem prepared for elected office.
Scott McAlpine hates light rail and seemingly everyone who's come near Portland City Hall. Sports promoter Brian Parrott wants to bring the Winter Olympics to Mount Hood and not one but two riverboat casinos to the Willamette River. Jeri Williams is a city employee with a powerful personal story of escaping a life of forced prostitution. She skipped her WW endorsement interview.
Worst thing Novick has done for money: Representing a company during a stint in labor law, Novick helped deny unemployment benefits to laid-off workers.
City of Portland Charter Amendments
Ballot Measures 26-126 through 26-134
In 2007, voters approved a measure requiring the City Council to convene a charter review commission at least every decade. The charter had not been updated in nearly 80 years, and some believe its out-of-date approaches to governing Portland are obstacles to meaningful city government reform.
But leaders of the 19-member commission say the City Council asked them to focus only on "housekeeping" matters, leaving a future panel to look at real change. This pressure from an undermining Council has meant such ideas as district-based elections and an independent utility-rate commission fell off the table.
The nine amendments the commission did propose seek to delete offensive, unconstitutional or unenforceable language from the charter. The measures would, for example, revoke the City Council's power to ban "obscene matter, including books" and regulate "begging upon the streets," and the requirement that the Council find jobs for âvagrants and paupers.â
Other changes are more substantive. One would remove a $2,000 "secret service" mayoral slush fund that requires "no supporting documentation of expenditures." OK, that one clearly shouldn't be on the books.
But even if the next mayor spends that $2,000 on bacon sandwiches, cocaine and pay-per-view UFC matches, it won't be as big a waste of time or money as the hamstrung charter commission. We deserve a real debate on the charter. We say vote "no" on all of these measures as a loud message to the Council: Don't come back until you have something meaningful.
U.S. House of Representatives
1st Congressional District
DELINDA MORGAN (Republican)
Any Republican congressional candidate without a serious campaign is flying into the blades of the Suzanne Bonamici machine. Bonamici in January won the 1st Congressional District seat handily against Republican Rob Cornilles in a special election to replace U.S. Rep. David Wu.
No strong Republican candidate has stepped up, and GOP voters have a choice between Lisa Michaels and Delinda Morgan. Michaels is an ad sales rep, cable TV host and frequent, unsuccessful political candidate. She's a Tea Party activist who speaks of herself in the third person and advocates the end of the minimum wage, which she calls Marxist.
We like Morgan, a martial-arts expert who spent three decades driving heavy equipment and now runs a Gaston vineyard with her husband. She calls for a smaller government—limited to protecting borders, mounting a national defense and upholding the commerce clause. She lacks political experience but comes at the race with determination and sincerity. If nothing else, she will provide stark contrast to Bonamici.
Worst thing Morgan has done for money: "I've shoveled mud in the rain. Heavy rain. It's hard. It's brutal."
3rd Congressional District
DELIA LOPEZ (Republican)
With a 2-to-1 registration edge for Democrats, Oregon's 3rd District is one of the nation's most hostile to GOP candidates. Which is why we don't have a serious candidate to present a reasonable alternative to the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer.
Republican voters in this district (c'mon, we know there are a few of you out there) have two weak choices. Delia Lopez has run before—she was thumped as the GOP nominee in 2008 and 2010—and she's back sounding like a mix of Occupy and Libertarianism. Lopez, a real-estate investor, rails against multinationals that pay no taxes, calls for ending foreign aid, and wants to kill off the Internal Revenue Service, saying no American should have to make a financial accounting to the government.
Her opponent, Ronald Green, is a TriMet driver who preaches the need for full employment. If elected, he says, he will go to Washington and form a "shadow Congress." With marginal candidates, the very narrow margin goes to Lopez.
Worst thing Lopez has done for money: Married at 15 and divorced at 17, she had to apply for federal assistance to support her and her child.
5th Congressional District
FRED THOMPSON (Republican)
It's puzzling why Republicans have effectively ceded this seat to two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader. Two years ago, GOP candidate Scott Bruun gave Schrader a good race, losing 51 percent to 46 percent. Since then, redistricting narrowed Democrats' registration advantage from about 5 percentage points to 2.
Fred Thompson, a longtime timber industry executive-turned-insurance salesman from Salem, ran against Bruun last time. He faces Karen Bowerman, a retired business-school dean who relocated to Lake Oswego from Southern California in 2011. Thompson's more than three decades in the district give him the edge.
Worst thing Thompson has done for money: Being asked to dance shirtless in front of the ladies in his office at Georgia-Pacific.
Secretary of State
KATE BROWN (Democrat)
Kate Brown is in the unenviable position of having to convince voters she is sloppy rather than slippery.
As WW has reported, Brown's staff botched what was expected to be a May primary faceoff between incumbent Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, a Democrat, and state Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro). Brown's Elections Division failed to tell the candidates their race was not in May but in November, which will help Avakian. The 11th-hour switch increased Democrats' concerns that Brown is disengaged, and further convinced Republicans she is a partisan hack eager to give a fellow Democrat a break.
Brown says she's beefed up her office's auditing performance, bringing in former Portland City Auditor Gary Blackmer to keep a closer eye on state agencies. Blackmer has uncovered some rot, most notably at the Oregon Department of Revenue. But Brown has been silent on campaign finance reform and otherwise largely invisible.
Brown has a nominal opponent in Paul Damian Wells, a perennial candidate and machinist who is not running a serious campaign. In the fall, she will face a serious and well-financed Republican challenger, Dr. Knute Buehler, whom we hope will force Brown to explain and defend her otherwise lackluster record.
Worst thing Brown has done for money: "As a lawyer, I found it extremely difficult to ask my clients for money."
Oregon Supreme Court
Unlike its federal counterpart, the Oregon Supreme Court—the big dog of the state's judiciary—is relatively apolitical. Lawyers will tell you that, aside from a suspicion the justices don't work all that hard, the court functions effectively.
Three strong candidates are competing to replace retiring Justice Robert "Skip" Durham. Nena Cook is a smart and ambitious lawyer, a former Oregon State Bar president who serves as a Multnomah County Court judge pro-tem (the judicial equivalent of a substitute teacher). She's an impressive candidate who needs more bench experience before getting to the state's highest court.
Richard Baldwin has been a Multnomah County judge for more than a decade and, before that, had extensive experience as a trial lawyer and as director of the Oregon Law Center and a Legal Aid lawyer. He is, by reputation, a smart and compassionate lawyer, who is accessible and down to earth.
By a whisker, however, we're siding with Tim Sercombe, who has served on the Oregon Court of Appeals for the past four years and had a long career in private practice. Lawyers describe him as brainy, emotionally suited to appellate work (justices need to be analytical and good writers), and possessing a sturdy work ethic. Our verdict: Sercombe's the choice.
Worst thing Sercombe has done for money: Worked as a painter and on a road-construction crew.
Oregon Court of Appeals
TIM VOLPERT (Nonpartisan)
The state's Court of Appeals is often called one of the nation's best, and voters have three strong candidates running for an open seat. Tim Volpert, our choice, is a lawyer with Davis Wright Tremaine (full disclosure: This firm represents
) who has argued about 100 appeals-court cases across a wide spectrum of issues. This gives him the experience an appeals jurist needs, given the myriad topics and disagreements that arrive from trial courts.
We're troubled that Volpert talks up his work with the American Civil Liberties Union but led the successful fight, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, to allow the Vernonia School District to compel student-athletes to take drug tests.
We liked Allan Arlow, an administrative judge who had a successful career in the telecommunications industry. We're impressed with Arlow's thoughtfulness and wit, but he lacks Volpert's breadth of legal experience. James Egan is the only candidate now serving as a state court judge—he's on the circuit court bench in Linn County. He spent most of his career as a trial lawyer and, in our view, doesn't yet have the record to recommend him for a promotion.
Worst thing Volpert has done for money: Detasseling seed corn under the hot Indiana sun for hours at a time.