City Commissioner Dan Saltzman and five of the challengers for his seat took part in the Candidate Olympiad at Backspace last night, organized by the Mercury and the Oregon Bus Project.
The topics were bikes, police, the new bridge over I-5 and Major League Soccer—and I should probably mention that you can read a great roundup of the evening at Oregonian reporter Janie Har's blog, too. Thanks for covering the event, Janie!
Blue Oregon co-founder and leading signature gatherer Jesse Cornett emerged "victorious" from the evening, winning the gold medal with 22 votes from the crowd. Commissioner Saltzman himself came away with the silver medal, winning 19 and a half votes (the half was from a supporter's daughter), while mental health and police accountability advocate Jason Renaud (below, left) won the bronze medal, with 15 votes.
Cornett's strong showing in the medals was due, in part, to his winning the "speed skating" introductions round. He introduced himself and his candidacy in just 5.6 seconds, entitling him to custody of the "Tonya Harding hammer," which he later used to interrupt Commissioner Saltzman on the issue of Major League Soccer.
Saltzman claimed that the city's deal with Merritt Paulson to renovate PGE Park for the sport posed "no risk to the city's general fund." But Cornett disputed that with the hammer, adding that the league was not proven to be viable, and that economists have said it may not bring any proven benefits to the city as a whole.
Stonemason Spencer Burton drew temporary disapproval for the audience (one of the problems of being so "charismatic" is, I would imagine, that people forgive you for pretty much anything almost immediately), suggesting that "bicycling dominates the conversation sometimes and supersedes a conversation about" other issues. Saltzman said he had worked hard to develop a community policing agreement to address concerns between bicyclists and other road users. He drew approval for refuting an audience member's suggestion that bicyclists should be more strictly policed.
On transportation, all the candidates said they supported fareless square, while Commissioner Saltzman said he supports a new bridge across the Columbia River, "but only if we’re gong to have a concensus on both sides of the river." "There is far too much money involved in this thing," he added.
On the issue of Police Officer Christopher Humphreys, Mary Volm referenced recent protests by the police union, saying "there is something seriously wrong with the communication between the police department and city hall." Ed Garren asked the audience not to "scapegoat an officer who was good enough to take himself out on post traumatic stress disorder," and Jason Renaud agreed: "He’s done the right thing and I think we need to think about things from his point of view," he said. "Christopher Humphreys has told the city ‘I need a mental break.’ That sets a good model for the police force."
Meanwhile, audience members bought and wore "I am James Chasse" t-shirts made by local artist Marc Moscato. It added a little creative tension to proceedings.
Renaud added that he would like to see more cops on the street. "I counted 14 drug dealers on the way over here," he said.
"I was as outraged as anyone at the beanbag incident and I took immediate action to take that officer off the street," said Saltzman. "He is no longer on the street. That is the bottom line."
On the issue of the police union contract, Volm said that the city would be "crippled by the police union contract" in "less than a decade." Saltzman countered, saying changes made to the firefighters' retirement fund in 2007 heralded optimism for the police union contract negotiations.
Perhaps most surprisingly of all from this reporter's perspective was Saltzman's performance in this setting. First of all, he showed up, which surprised me. And he dressed down, conceded that he is "an engineer," "I'm dull, but I get things done." It seemed pretty humble. And then he impressed the voters by pledging to work harder to end violence against women. "In the 19th century it was ending slavery. In the 20th century it was a struggle against totalitarianism," he said. "In the 21st century it will be about ending violence against women, and I pledge myself to that." The other candidates, I felt, got to witness a pretty smooth operator in action—he was clearly being sincere, and his record on opening the new domestic violence center is indisputable.
Assuming that Cornett is the only one to qualify for public financing this afternoon, we may have a pretty interesting primary on our hands in May. The other candidates still in the race will need to take enough votes from Saltzman to keep him under 50% and force a runoff, while Cornett will need to make a strong enough showing to convince voters that he may be a viable alternative to Saltzman in November. It's a long shot, indeed. But then, all of us love a long shot, don't we?
Most of all, last night renewed my belief that public campaign financing is a good idea. This early stage of the campaign has allowed those who wouldn't otherwise be involved in the process to voice their concerns in the public realm. It also showed them what it takes to get a thousand signatures, and many fell short of the mark. If Cornett does qualify for the $150,000 to run a publicly financed campaign, he'll deserve it. And then, we'll have a lot more discussion of these important issues. Whether he can actually win an election against Saltzman's name recognition, however, remains to be seen. It would be a first in the voter-owned elections process, that's for sure. And VOE is likely to itself come up for a vote in November.
Thanks again to the Bus Project, Blue Oregon, Bikeportland.org, Portland Food and Drink, Portland Copwatch, and the Timbers Army for getting the word out about the event. Thanks again to the reporters who showed up to cover it, and most of all to the voters who took part.
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