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Friday, September 19, 2008

Amanda Fritz and Charles Lewis Debate at City Club

Posted by Amy J. Ruiz on Fri, Sep 19, 2008 at 12:22 PM

City council candidates Amanda Fritz and Charles Lewis faced off at City Club today, in a debate that truly kicked off the general election. Though both candidates have been campaigning on their own--often appearing in the same neighborhood parades--this was their first big one-on-one appearance.

Check out the blow-by-blow after the cut!

Lewis kicked things off with a largely biographical intro, thanking his wife and baby daughter, before talking about how he started the non-profit Ethos. He slept on a friend's couch and built the program from the ground up on his credit card.

Fritz, skipping the bio, got right to the meat of it. She's "proud to call myself a community organizer," who has immersed herself in Portland's problems with an eye toward solving them. She wants Portland to be "a more equitable place" in four years, and a city that "has a plan" for paying for basic infrastructure. She also wants more prosperous companies that provide more living wage jobs.

Time for questions: The moderator is saying that Lewis' campaign has largely been built on what's wrong with Portland. What do the candidates like about Portland?

Lewis notes that his focus has been more on "what we can do better." He likes the Children's Fund, and he sees the upcoming Portland Plan is a "brilliant" opportunity to create walkable communities.

Fritz is "very impressed" with the goodwill she's seen on the campaign trail. She's also impressed with Portland's public schools, and will be "a cheerleader" for them.

Question 2: There's criticism that the council isn't a cohesive group with a shared vision.

As a nurse and mother, Fritz says she knows how to bring people together. She sees the Portland Plan as an opportunity to create a shared vision that the council can chip away at.

"I think we're going to see a new era of collaboration," says Lewis, pointing also to new Commissioner Nick Fish.

Question 3: What are specific goals for increasing affordable housing units, and how would they be funded?

Lewis points toward the Portland Development Commission's 30-percent set-aside as "a great opportunity," and says "we need more affordable housing" to stabilize schools and neighborhoods.

Fritz says she'll work with Fish to "improve the delivery system." And she'll coordinate with the county and other providers to coordinate services. She'll also work on the land use code to allow for smaller building footprints, to allow for smaller, more affordable housing.

Question 4: Fritz has referred to "fancy extras" in the city budget. What are those, and what part of the city budget do they represent?

Fritz points to her blog, where she analyzes each week's city council agenda. She points to the tram, which was a fancy extra that went over budget two years ago, though she acknowledges that it's a fancy extra that's done a lot of good in South Waterfront.

The three debate judges all waved their cards, indicating Fritz hadn't fully answered the question. "That's really not a question that can be answered in 60 seconds," she argues. "We need to focus on basic services," she sums up.

Lewis says the city needs to re-evaluate the Burnside-Couch couplet proposal. "We have a $9 million shortfall every year with our streets and transportation infrastructure," that he would like to see addresses.

Question 5: On traded sector and non-traded sector businesses (traded sector bring in new money to the region by selling goods elsewhere, while non-traded sector businesses rely on local customers for growth), what can the city do to bring in more businesses that bring in new money to the region?

I missed Lewis' answer while typing THAT out (I'll check the tape after the debate's over), but Fritz wants to improve the perception that Portland is anti-business.

Question 6: What did Fritz do during her term on the Portland Planning Commission to ease burdensome regulations?

Fritz says she worked on the stormwater runoff manual, and on the environmental zones laws to streamline things. "We have the form of government that we have," she says. "I as a city commissioner need to be sure that my staff and my bureaus are speaking with other bureaus to provide a seamless distribution system."

Lewis would like to see a streamline in the permitting process, and he's stumping for small business loans. "We also need to fix the business license fee," he says. His first day in office, he'll call Columbia Sportswear and beg them to come back to Portland.

Question 7: Should Mayor-elect Sam Adams risk losing Police Chief Rosie Sizer by appointing Commissioner Randy Leonard as the Commissioner in charge of the police bureau?

Lewis doesn't want to lose Sizer, and says we don't need to be in this position. "I hope we can work something out so she can stay," he says. He also notes that "it's going to be the mayor who's called on the carpet" if something goes wrong with the police.

Fritz supports Chief Sizer and is "looking forward to working with her," she says. "All of the council needs to work together" on police issues, and "I will be part of that."

Question 8: What can be done to improve Portland's "comparatively" poor crime statistics?

Fritz says working on basic services would help, and "we need to fund training and make sure positions are filled quicker" when it comes to staffing the police bureau.

Lewis says "we must invest more in our police force," and get the cops out of their cars and out walking on the streets. He'd also like to see more of the officers living in the city of Portland. And the city council needs "to back the police," instead of assuming they're at fault when something goes wrong.

Question 9: What's their opinion on the proposed $4.2 billion Columbia River Crossing. If they support it, where does the money come from, and if they oppose, what can be done about the bottleneck?

Lewis supports "a bridge" across the river that must have light rail, bike and pedestrian access, and congestion based tolling. He's parroting the existing funding structure, which is 1/3 federal, 1/3 tolls, and 1/3 from the state. (Except the state doesn't want to pony up a gas tax, so Lewis didn't actually answer where that third of the money would actually come from.)

Fritz says "we need to be very careful" and figure out where the money will come from, and "what will not get done" if we build the bridge.

Question 10: On satellite urban renewal districts, like the one the council voted to create in outer East Portland, which is currently being challenged.

Fritz says her job will be to help implement the proposal the council voted 5-0 on, but it's clearly not legal now under state law, and "it doesn't do what it needs to do" in the David Douglas School District, and doesn't do it in a timely fashion. "Urban renewal is not supposed to be used for schools," she concludes.

Lewis notes that he's conflicted, because "we should help the school district create a new school," but the satellite district has "opened a Pandora's box." He'll search "high and low" for funding to help build a new school.

Now time for questions the candidates ask each other!

Fritz asks Lewis what working relationships he brings to the council: He mentions Metro President David Bragdon, who will help him look at things regionally. He also says he has "quite a bit of experience" working with the city council over the past two years as the head of Ethos. "It's about working together to tackle community concerns."

Fritz' rebuttal: For 17 years, she's been working in the community, city and region. "I want to make sure that we do bring all partners to the table," she says.

Lewis is asking Fritz about the CRC: How would she have voted? "I would have voted no, because I think there needs to be more discussion," about the bridge plan and how it fits into the surrounding neighborhoods and how we're going to pay for it. "We need to make sure that the six pages of conditions [imposed by the city council] are met... there's a lot more work to do."

Lewis "deals with the congestion every day" and it's a bottleneck "that has stifled our economy." He doesn't want to "turn down" $4.2 billion of "investment in our community."

Fritz asks Lewis what values and principles he'll use to guide his decision making. Fairness, equity and justice, says Lewis. "I've spent the last 10 years of my life working at poverty wages" to help Ethos get off the ground.

Fritz refers to her service on the planning commission, where she was sworn to "uphold the long-term public good." She's also committed to transparency and meaningful input, and she'll wait "until the public hearing to make my decision."

Lewis asks Fritz what sort of managing experience she has, as she'll be managing bureaus. As a nurse, she managed staff and "the lives of patients," and as a board member of the Coalition for a Livable Future, she helps manage the $250,000 budget.

"It is something I've done," says Lewis, noting Ethos' near-million dollar budget and 78 employees, "that's the size of many of our bureaus."

Fritz asks Lewis to "talk about how wonderful public campaign financing is." (Both candidates are publicly financed.)

"Gladly!" he says. "It's something that I will absolutely support when it comes to the people," he says, though there have been some issues with it concerning things like oversight.

Fritz "believes public campaign financing is changing" the political landscape in our city and elsewhere.

Lewis asks Fritz about her questioning of the Children's Investment Fund. Fritz says she supports it and urges everyone to vote for it this November. "Looking forward," she says it should be looked at to make sure "the appropriate jurisdiction is funding and managing these programs," and that kids statewide enjoy the sorts of programs it funds.

"It's a wonderful program," says Lewis, and he "believes it is in the proper jurisdiction."

Fritz' question for Lewis is what his experience is working on affordable housing. Lewis cites his work for Habitat for Humanity, "in the trenches" working to build housing. More recently, his focus has been on providing "equal opportunity" for kids to get music education.

Fritz says she has experience working on the issue, and has "participated in city budgets," and will "work with the city council to make sure we get the support from the state that we need."

Lewis asks Fritz what she sees as the obstacles to creating jobs in Portland.

Fritz says basic services are important "so people can get to their jobs." She'd also support training so people can qualify for jobs, and she'd increase the exemption for small business owners' income.

Lewis says "the city should do more to encourage job creation by investing in businesses," he says, via small business loans.

One more question from the City Club: What kinds of funding mechanisms can be used to boost the arts?

Lewis notes that 80 percent of Ethos' budget comes from private sources, which is an untapped resource. He'd also increase the Percent for Arts program to three percent.

Fritz says the city council can "recognize that the creative arts are one of our target industries" in Portland. The city also needs to implement programs like payroll deduction programs to employees can fund the arts.

Closing statement time:

Fritz says that using taxpayers' money wisely should be the city's first priority, especially under the current economy. The basics "must be in place" before we reach for the vision of Portland. She'll help guide the Portland Plan to correct issues in zoning and the permits process. She'll also work for fair contracts within the city and with external contractors. She'll also consider the effect of city council decision on children and seniors. She "won't need extensive orientation," given her longtime volunteer involvement around city issues, which will be important, she notes, under a fast-paced Mayor Adams administration. It's "about working together for a more prosperous Portland," instead of working against each other.

Lewis says "we need to find innovative solutions" to help schools and children. He's been a strong supporter of the Children's Investment Fund "since day one," he says, focusing on it and trying quite hard to make it a wedge issue. "The City of Portland is facing some very difficult economic times," he says, and the city needs to help create more jobs by investing in businesses and individuals. He also supports "20 minute walkable communities," that help support local businesses while being good for the environment.

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