I sat down with Jesse Cornett this morning in the Seattle's Best opposite city hall, to ask him more about his opponent, Dan Saltzman's accusation yesterday that he is "grandstanding" over the police-related deaths of Aaron Campbell and others, by calling for a public debate on police oversight issues.
Cornett even showed up to last night's police oversight hearing at city hall with his wife, who was testifying, and decided at the last minute to testify, too, he says—saying he had to pick up the "bloody gloves" of his friend Raymond Gwerder, after police shot him on his back porch back in 2005.
Read the Mercury's interview with Cornett—in which he gets into it over diversion of sewer budgets for bike lanes, Saltzman's "fat cat" donors, and even calls Saltzman's political consultant, Mark Wiener, the "man in the shadows."
So are you pissed off this morning?
"That rarely defines my mood."
You seemed pretty pissed off last night.
"Well when you have a city commissioner who’s unwilling to do anything to save future lives, and in fact, his first two amendments appeared to weaken the resolution that Leonard put forward, yeah, that upsets me. I sat there last night with my wife and testified because my wife said, I’m testifying, why aren’t you. But as the evening went on, and Rosie said she didn’t think it was important to have accountability, yeah, it was important to me. I asked to sit down with Rosie to talk about some of my police reform ideas, and she had somebody down the chain call me and say why don’t you go for a ridealong—which I did, by the way, three of them—but I thought that was an inadequate response from her office."
Yesterday Dan Saltzman accused you of trying to capitalize on the deaths of Aaron Campbell and others to build a political career. That stings a bit, doesn’t it?
"No, not really. As somebody who’s been a full-time paid professional politician for what, 17 years now, seeing if he can get his fourth term in city hall, it sounded of desperation, to me, and I think gives me a good opportunity to highlight the very successful career that I put on hold in order to make an improvement in our city."
Go on then. Highlight it.
"From three successful years at Portland State to working in the state capitol before that, I have a long track record of positively impacting public policy and creating change for my community. From higher education infrastructure which created jobs, to radically changing Oregon’s campaign finance system, I’ve been heavily involved."
But you didn’t open a one stop domestic violence center. You didn’t fund the children’s levy.
"I did, actually, fund the children’s levy. And so did my wife, and so did your wife, and so did every other Portlander. If Dan Saltzman is going to claim that his greatest accomplishment is that he helped convince Portlanders to tax ourselves to take care of our children, I think it’s time for change in city hall."
How is your race going? Does anybody know who you are yet?
"The race is going great. It’s hard to tell how many people out there really know who I am. The fact, right now, is that the vast majority of the funds I have to run my campaign are sitting there and waiting until voters are more clued into this election than they have been."
Have you done any polling?
How much did it cost?
Who did it, and what did you ask?
"Amy Simon—though her firm is based in Sacramento she’s worked with a lot of candidates in Portland in her time, including Amanda Fritz. We asked a wide range of questions about folks’ satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the city and various aspects of public policy decisions that have either been made or are pending."
What came out of that?
"It really verified what I already knew, folks thing that spending $20million of sewer money to improve the bike infrastructure is a breach. Voters are outraged about spending public money on soccer. They think police need better accountability in Portland."
Those are some strong talking points.
"They are. But when you have a city hall that by all means has been doing a great job of representing wealthy downtown interests while ignoring the needs of everyday Portlanders, it’s time for tough talking points."
You talk about wealthy downtown interests. Yesterday you used the word “fat cats” in your reply to Saltzman. Who are the fat cats?
"If you want to look at who the fat cats are, take a look at the who’s who on Dan Saltzman’s contribution list. I don’t think he’s accepted a contribution for less than $250. He’s talking to the Paulsons and the Goodmans."
Hank Paulson. Merritt Paulson.
"You know, I’ve only seen one Paulson name listed in his C&Es, so not much there."
How much did he give?
"$500. I think that’s what they refer to as the standard, over there, if you look at his contributions."
So Merritt Paulson has irked Portlanders by taking public money for his soccer stadium?
"I think, if you’re not completely in the bubble that is city hall, it’s not hard to see that the only thing that we did with this deal is guarantee a rich family gets richer."
Sure you’re not pissed off this morning?
"Oh, definitely not. This is nothing."
So beyond MLS, financial accountability at the city has been one of my concerns. The SAP System.
"SAP is a tragedy. $20million over budget, 18 months late, and then, once they’d launched it, the city council gave out certificates for successful completion, and then 1300 employees on one paycheck had discrepancies. I don’t think we should be doing a victory lap on this. As early as 2008, there were articles chronicling the problems that the LA school district and Levi Strauss were having with SAP, and somebody at the city should have said “okay, stop, let’s hold on, and figure out if we could use a different system.” I mean, we use a software system that can’t figure out how to pay people for uneven shifts."
Any other concerns on financial accountability?
"Oh, sure. Absolutely. There are just a ton of things that the city could be doing. As I mentioned the shift from sewers to help improve bike infrastructure—despite my strong support for bike infrastructure, it sets a poor example. If you have a specific pot of money, you have to spend it on that area. Imagine implementing a bike registration program, and the proceeds are going to pay to fix the sewers. Imagine how outraged Portlanders would be—but council made it work the other way. Big and small is important—in fact a police officer was pointing out recently that our police colors are Portland blue—they’re made just for Portland. The pants, alone, cost $200 per pair of pants. Right? It seems like if the city were to be willing to be a little more uniform with the rest of the nation that we could save thousands and thousands of dollars on uniform costs, alone. I’m told it costs $300-$400 to have a city of Portland police car’s oil changed. That’s how much it costs the police bureau. Imagine if we cut those two things out, how much we could spend making sure there’s better accountability in the bureau, or how we could avoid conversations like cutting the mounted patrol."
You’ve hired this consultant.
"Yeah, Michael Grossman from Seattle."
How does he compare to Mark Wiener?
"I think discussing consultants is a good topic and I wouldn’t mind getting deeper into that. Mark Wiener is the man in the shadows who’s elected the majority of city council. From the mayor’s troubles, to getting Dan Saltzman reelected, his job is enforcing the status quo in the city."
How many people do you think know about Mark Wiener in Portland?
"Not nearly enough. Because for some strange reason, despite his immense power, the media doesn’t shine the spotlight on him."
Why not, do you think?
"I don’t know I’m not the media. You tell me."
Because he’s a consultant to Randy Leonard, Sam Adams, Dan Saltzman, John Kitzhaber, John Kroger, and other pretty powerful politicians here in town?
Maybe I’ll have to do something about that.
"I would challenge you to look at his power."
I love a challenge.