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Monday, January 5, 2009

"My name is Sam Adams, and I'm here to recruit you."

Posted by Matt Davis on Mon, Jan 5, 2009 at 10:59 AM

Steady on, mayor, it's early days. Maybe when I've been covering you for a year, we can have that kind of conversation...

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Yes. He may have been paraphrasing one of his heroes, Harvey Milk, but Portland's new mayor sure chose an interesting quote to end his inauguration day breakfast at the Curious Comedy Club on MLK this morning...read all about it after the jump.

Today is a big day for the new mayor, who will be officially inaugurated at Parkrose high school at noon.

Adams began this morning by addressing a crowd of 80 at the nonprofit comedy club in Vanport Square—"where else, other than Portland, would you find a nonprofit comedy club?" he joked.

The club itself, which opened last year, recently hosted an evening entitled "Sam Adams, Sam Adams, mayor ex machina." Adams admitted that he didn't know what "ex machina" really meant in that context, but nevertheless, he enjoyed the reference to his incoming mayorship. Wikipedia defines a Deus Ex Machina as "any inferior plot device that expeditiously solves the conflict of a narrative," for those of you with an interest in Latin, as it may or may not relate to Portland politics.

Continuing with the symbolism, Vanport Plaza was an appropriate place for Adams to begin his first official day in office. The new mall project, which has come about as a result of help from the Portland Development Commission, forms part of a $500,000 "Main Street" strategy by the North/Northeast Business Association to regenerate the district, with a focus on "20-minute walkable neighborhoods" and "sustainable communities."

These are two of Adams' buzz phrases, the like of which you can expect to hear more of over the coming 1756 days of his mayorship. After a rousing rendition of the national anthem delivered by local gospel singer Lorraine Hoodjack, Adams listened to a variety of speakers espousing the importance of "sustainability," a word which was used no less than 38 times over the course of the hour, but in particular, sustainability as it relates to earning money for Portland, and of course, to Portland's African American community, who have historically called North/Northeast Portland their home.

Nobody used the word "gentrification" during this morning's meeting, although Sam Brooks, owner of Brooks Staffing, which employs more than 200 people across 4 northwestern states, and is based on Alberta Street, did stress the importance of sustainability as it impacts everyone, and not just yuppies moving here from out of state to take advantage of cheap rent and low property taxes, before Adams was introduced.

"As we talk about sustainability and change, it has to be done with equity," said Brooks. "You need to make sure that when success is occurring, that everybody is enjoying some of that success."

You might be interested in reading Sarah Mirk's coverage of Last Thursday, an arts event on Alberta Street, for more on the tensions that exist in the district related to equity in this regard.

The numbers, where economic and social equity are concerned, here in Portland, are grim. Adams told the crowd that three out of 10 Portlanders are currently unemployed or living on poverty wages, after he took the stage to his first standing ovation of the day. Meanwhile, two out of every four high school students here will not graduate.

Adams announced the $80m Oregon Sustainability Center to be constructed near Portland State University in Northwest Portland, thanks to funding to be secured through state bonds by Governor Ted Kulongoski. He also told the crowd about the PDX Youth Core program, which plans to secure workplace experience for 8th graders in summer 2009, for which more than 250 adult volunteers will be recruited as coaches. But, yes: "Sustainability means economic, social, and environmental justice," Adams conceded.

We'll have to see how that goes.

Nevertheless, Adams took credit for the announcement, late last year, that Vestas Wind Energy Systems, plans to set up shop in Portland, bringing 850 jobs and more than $250m of private sector investment. "A green revolution is about to bloom across this nation," he told the crowd. And, "my aim is to put out the welcome mat for business."

Adams closed by again quoting the Scottish socialist poet Alasdair Grey, whom he quoted often in his election campaign. "Work as if we're living in the early days of a better nation," he said. "Portlanders are special because we've never let our young nation spirit die."

Geneva's Salon co-owner Paul Knauls, who was referred to at one point as the mayor of Northeast Portland, told the Mercury he's thrilled at Adams' election. "He's progressive thinking, and he wants to work with the people, not fight them all the time," said Knauls.

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Knauls said he's always wanted a yacht, "but I couldn't afford one, so I just decided to buy the hat."

Perhaps if this green revolution continues, Knauls will be able to profit from it sufficiently to realize his dream and buy the boat. No pressure, Mayor Adams, but we'll be judging your success on this criteria, among others...

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