City Commissioner Nick Fish has told the Mercury he intends to file for re-election to his seat on Wednesday morning. He'll be hosting a kick off party at Holocene at 6pm Wednesday Night, with "pizza and desserts" by Hotlips and "a young lady from the farmer's market." The evening will be MC'd by Governor Barbara Roberts, with music by Devin Phillips and his band.
"I'm a big jazz fan," says Fish. Who's his favorite jazz artist? "I would say Miles Davis," he says. Typically playing it safe.
Why are you doing it?
"I'm running because we have a lot of work to do," says Fish. "I've got some big plans for the next four years. We're going to continue to make progress in ending homelessness. We're going to explore a new funding source for housing—we have a resource committee looking at it, now. We're looking at what we can learn from the experience in Seattle. And we are building on the success of launching a new housing bureau, and on strengthening the the delivery of services for low-income Portlanders."
"The county serves homeless families, the city serves homeless individuals, and I don't think that makes any sense any more. I think the best thing—I'm working with Ted Wheeler and Deborah Kafoury on this—we're going to look at the whole system and ask whether this continues to make sense. We have different pots of money but a common need. So what if, instead of maintaining two parallel systems, you tried to blend the two systems so that every dollar that came in the front door went out looking at benefiting those people? That's something that Gretchen Kafoury has been working on for 15 years, she asked why we have all these systems that are overlapping."
"I'm going to continue to lay the ground for a bond measure for parks, because we've got substantial needs that are unmet."
Where's the next park going to be?
"We're going to open Elizabeth Caruthers park on the South Waterfront, and I have to find money for three new parks in East Portland, a master plan for Lents park and for unused spaces in North Portland. I'm also leading a disparity study, looking at how the city can go about strengthening our contracts for minority-owned businesses. We have to first develop the legal basis to continue our sheltered market programs."
Why do you think nobody is running against you with public financing?
"What we've learned from Commissioner Saltzman's race and Amanda Fritz is that you have to start in the late fall before a May Primary. I think the earliest someone announced for my seat was December, I think what people are learning is that 1000 $5 contributions is a lot. I'd like to think, also, it's because I've done a pretty good job."
I was trying to think, on my way over here, under what circumstances a city commissioner would tell a journalist in a situation like this, "I'm a shoe-in. It's in the bag." It's not likely, is it?
"Certainly not after Massachusetts. No, I have a race, I'm going to go out and make the case as to why I should be elected."
Who are your major contributors going to be?
"That's a good question. I don't need a lot of money in this race—as you know I was outspent in the last race by the publicly funded candidate—but I suspect that my largest donors will be unions, lawyers, and then various single issue PACs like Stand for Children, and some other advocacy groups."
So, the Resource Access Center has been a major win for you. What else, in your first term?
"Launching a new housing bureau, and defending our budget for housing and the social safety net. And the mobilization in the winter to provide shelter, in 2008, from the winter storm. That was the most inspiring project for me, because it bought together all the pieces that prompted me to run for office to begin with. We had to mobilize churches, fire-fighters, city workers, the red cross, we had to develop a plan, very quickly, and we had to rely on hundreds of people to be successful. And we saved lives."
You've been a little cautious in your approach.
"I'm old school. I let my work speak for itself. And there was a story in the New York Times over the weekend about how the press is preoccupied with the conflict model in society. And I have found that if I try a different model, which is collaboration and quiet effectiveness, I can get more done."
I wish you'd be a little nastier.
"I have a lot of respect for my colleagues, and we have lots of disagreements. But they've never been personal disagreements, and because we respect each other we've also been able to work things out before they become causes célèbres."
So what's the biggest behind-the-scenes disagreement you've had?
"The most contentious issue I was involved with had to do with permit reform. The mayor and Commissioner Leonard had a compelling argument to consolidate all the permits in one bureau, while Commissioners Fritz, Saltzman and I, had a different idea which was co-location. Randy and Sam felt very strongly about that issue, I was the swing vote, and ultimately Commissioner Leonard introduced a compromise which we worked out, and it garnered five votes. From my point of view we got to the right solution without going too far. Under the conflict model, the headlines would have been Randy and I fighting."
And which was the only newspaper that reported on that particular issue?
"I think there was one, and by the way, some people have told me that that was the single most important issue that the council debated last year. Since city government looks after the built environment, to overhaul and restructure our permit system was a big deal. But we found some common ground."
You said the other day that you didn't want to do the politic thing with your vote on Major League Soccer, but then you went ahead and voted for it. Why?
"What I said was it doesn't matter how I vote, so rather than dwell on the politics, I'm going to look at the merits, and all the concerns I raised over the summer were addressed. The final product shifts virtually all the risk onto Merritt Paulson's shoulders and to users, and while it may not have been the top priority for me, I was pleased with the way the deal came out."
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