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A few words from the Editor August 2004

Have I mentioned before that electoral politics make me cranky? That’s especially the case when national presidential politics exercise their special hoodoo on local activists.

Here in the Rose City, the Republicans, Democrats and Naderites seem locked in a Three Stooges eye-poking-head-knocking cycle from which they can’t escape. Then there’s those on the Left complaining a “lesser of two evils” strategy is stifling a serious Left response — failing to recognize that there are times when “duck and cover” is the only realistic response the Left can make.

It almost makes me wish Bush would delay the elections...almost.

Unfortunately, there’s little solace found in the local political scene right now. Just take a look at the recent antics at City Hall, where the mayoral race is coloring every action the council takes.

On June 16, the pastors of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, backed by over 60 supporters, presented a resolution to the council demanding that the officer who killed James Jahar Perez be severely disciplined and fired (their words, not mine). They also demanded an end to racial profiling, institution of cultural diversity training for all officers, and the extension of academy training to 22 weeks. Once the ministers spent their righteous anger, they were informed the council couldn’t take action since the “commissioner in charge” of the police —better known as Mayor Vera Katz —was absent.

Which doesn’t mean that Jim “Won’t-somebody-please-like-me” Francesconi would pass up a chance to look more mayoral than the former police chief who had just dusted him at the polls. Jimbo asked those present why this had been allowed to go on for so long — without, of course, asking himself why he hadn’t taken any action during the seven plus years he’d been on the council.

That little outburst not only drew down the wrath of Katz. Francesconi set in motion a series of shortsighted acts that buried the minister’s demands for justice under a flurry of procedural tweaking.

Over the following weeks, our redoubtable commissioner introduced his own resolution on the police — less than a shadow of the ministers’ demands — that largely asked for information the cop shop already was required to provide. After another dressing down from Katz, and with the encouragement of Commissioner Randy and his bag of procedural tricks, Francesconi attempted to push his resolution through by having City Auditor Gary Blackmer approve it for the agenda. No fool, Blackmer declined to stand in for the commissioner when the mayor called again. In a final effort, Francesconi attempted to have the council suspend the rules so it could discuss the matter, but failed to count heads properly, coming up one short.

Enter stage left: Commissioner Dan Saltzman with a suggested change to the ordinance governing how matters get on the council agenda. Dan suggests allowing any commissioner to sign off on an agenda item when the commissioner in charge or the auditor can’t or won’t do so. The matter comes up for consideration as we prepare to go to press.

Meanwhile, accolades are being showered on our man Dan. The Oregonian hinted that the move was a bold reform much needed with our commission form of government. Even Mayor Katz came up with a few kind words and the suggestion we do more.

Now don’t get me wrong. This little reformist feat is probably a good thing, but it hardly stands up to Solon’s handiwork. And as for some advocacy groups who have described it as an important step forward, they may want to consider it could be a blade that cuts both ways, allowing a malevolent commissioner to derail good work that was previously beyond his or her reach.

The problem won’t be resolved until city government is truly democratized. A larger council with geographically- based districts and a limit on campaign spending are real steps to changing the boy’s club with which we are currently stuck.

Such changes might also mean things like the ministers’ demand for justice for their community might not get parked on a siding and forgotten next time.

As other parts of the progressive community press the city over violation of our rights — see the letter from 21 community groups on page 7 of this issue, for example — let’s encourage them to lend their support to the minister’s most recent efforts so that mayoral candidates and others on the council can’t continue to ignore those bearing the brunt of oppression in the Rose City.

—Dave Mazza




The Portland Alliance 2807 SE Stark Portland,OR 97214
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Last Updated: September 2, 2004