Precinct Zero

Residents of Madison South, once divided over the mayor's race, say the candidates haven't offered them much.

Janet Wojcik grew up in the shadow of Rocky Butte, the Northeast Portland bluff once known for its jail but that now features a park with a commanding view of the city.

This year, Wojcik, who works for a financial firm, has been watching the mayor's race with interest—but not much enthusiasm.

The choice between Jefferson Smith and Charlie Hales, she says, is terrible. She's not keen on Smith at all. And Hales?

"Hales is oatmeal," she says. "Nothing about him stands out as noteworthy. I'm not hopeful we will get a good mayor."

Wojcik is but one voter in the city, but her neighborhood, Madison South, sits along a political boundary that defines voter loyalties to Hales and Smith.

The neighborhood is largely covered by Precinct 4506. If you had flipped a coin here between Hales and Smith in the May primary, the coin would have landed on its edge: Hales and Smith each got 357 votes in this precinct.

Precinct 4506 sits along the eastern edge of Northeast neighborhoods Hales won in the primary, and the frontier of East Portland where Smith calls home.

WW has spent the past few weeks visiting residents there. They say the mayor's race has largely passed them by.

And they say they have heard little from Hales or Smith that could help their neighborhood, such as better city services or more police to stop crime oozing in from Northeast 82nd Avenue.

Tim Young, who's lived near Northeast 87th Avenue for the past 14 years, says he wants the City Council to focus on the basics the city needs, like good garbage pickup and paved roads. 

"They are so concerned about making a name for themselves or making history, or doing interesting things," Young says, "when we really need them to focus on the basics and get back to being sensible and reasonable."

The precinct is walled in by Interstate 84 to the south, and Interstate 205 and Rocky Butte to the east. It's home to Portland Bible College, Jason Lee Elementary and the Lumberyard, an indoor BMX and mountain-bike park.

The neighborhood is made up largely of post-World War II homes, with view houses on the hill road leading up to the former county jail site, surrounded by a park and natural area.

According to the 2010 census, the neighborhood is only slightly less white than Portland overall: about 70 percent, compared to 80 percent citywide. The neighborhood also has a lower median household income, about $42,000, than the city median of $48,000.

Many residents of Precinct 4506 say their location east of 82nd Avenue, a psychological demarcation line, means they get less attention from City Hall.

"Eighty-second is almost like a fire line," Wojcik says. "Past this point, what's the point? It's always been the downtrodden side of town."

Kirsten Holstein, waiting outside Jason Lee Elementary to pick up her two sons, says she likes living in Madison South and adds that its isolation is a positive. "It's made it a hidden gem," she says. "A lot of people don't want to live past 82nd."

But the lack of sidewalks worries her, especially when she's walking with her boys. "It's really hard to be safe enough with both of them," she says.

Crime tops most residents' list of concerns. City crime statistics show the overall crime rate in Madison South is not that different from Portland's on average. But arrests for prostitution and drugs make up a higher percentage of crimes in the area.

Neighbors complain about sex businesses like Honeysuckle's Lingerie, Pussycats and xXx located on 82nd near Northeast Fremont Street.

David Bunk, who lives seven blocks off 82nd, says he wants the main commercial strip through his neighborhood cleaned up. "I don't want my daughter growing up with pink pussycat," he says, referring to one sex shop's signs. "It's not something I want my family exposed to."

Madison South Neighborhood Association president Dave Smith says Portland police have shut down some of the lingerie shops when illegal activity has been proven, but the businesses sometimes just change their names and open back up.

"It's more frustrating for the people who don't understand that the city can't shut businesses down because individuals disagree with what those businesses are," he says.

Smith thinks Madison South can count on support from the City Council. For instance, he says, the city helped put up a barrier near the MAX station at 82nd and Northeast Halsey Street so people could cross the busy road safely.

"We don't, like, have lunch daily with [people at City Hall]," Smith says, "but as far as I can tell, we have a vehicle for communicating issues we feel are important."

But if the mayor's race has reached their neighborhood streets, many Precinct 4506 residents say they haven't seen it.

One exception is Abbie Sagebiel, who lives on Northeast 87th Place. She says Hales' campaigners came to her house a month ago and gave her a lawn sign. She's also one of the few residents WW interviewed who said she has made up her mind about the race, and she's supporting Hales.

"He has some experience in the private sector," she says. "We did like what we heard about Charlie."

Michael Angelechio grew up on Northeast 89th Avenue and graduated from Western Oregon University in Monmouth in 2010 before moving back home. Angelechio says he has already cast his ballot for Jefferson Smith, despite reports Smith faced a 1993 misdemeanor assault charge for striking a woman at a college party.

He said he voted for Smith because he liked Smith's "realistic and simpleton approach" to issues.

"I still based my vote on that," Angelechio says, "but I'm not exactly championing my vote."

Young says he doesn't plan to vote at all; both candidates are too liberal. He wants a conservative in City Hall—and knows that's not going to happen.

“It would be nice to have that choice,” he says. “I’d vote, if that was the case.” 

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