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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

And the Mercury Endorses: Amanda Fritz for City Council

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, May 2, 2012 at 10:59 AM

It's endorsement week at the Mercury. That means, for the next few days, we'll be releasing endorsements in one or more selected races here on Blogtown. Think of it like a slow buildup to the unveiling of our pick in this year's mayoral race, which won't be revealed until the paper hits newsstands later this week tomorrow (or even as soon as this afternoon, depending on where you pick the paper up).

Today, we announce our choice in the race for Portland City Council's Position No. 1. Read all the rest in the paper or at www.portlandmercury.com.

Amanda Fritz
  • Amanda Fritz
Here’s the choice in the only city council race featuring an incumbent: Should we keep Amanda Fritz, a citizen politician and devoted tax-dollars watchdog, whose independence and quirkiness and zeal for process has sometimes left her on the outside of consequential city hall decisions?

Or should we dump her for Mary Nolan, a sharp-elbowed former Oregon House majority leader who boasts city bureau and private-sector experience—but who’s also run a negative, whatever-it-takes campaign and has big support from all the city unions who don’t much like that they haven’t been able to co-opt Fritz after all these years?

We’re going with Fritz.

She’s the more careful candidate on issues like whether to invest in the Oregon Sustainability Center—a shiny, multimillion-dollar present for green economy zealots that could sink an already-strapped city budget already further in the red.

“It’s nice, but we can’t afford it right now,” Fritz said during our endorsement interview, perfectly illustrating her worldview.

Fritz helped kill an unnecessary water filtration plant, saving Portland hundreds of millions of dollars that would have been paid through sky-high water rates. She asks annoying, yet valuable, questions during city council meetings, emerging as Randy Leonard’s best frenemy. And she’s been a champion for publicly financed elections, riding the now-defunct system into office in 2008. This time, she’s accepting no more than $50 per contributor—even as Nolan has collected thousands from the unions she’ll have to negotiate against. (But let’s not forget that Fritz has had to spend, as of mid-April, $82,000 of her own money to stay in the race.)

Not that Fritz is perfect. Even with a light portfolio of bureaus, she’s stumbled.

She did a poor job fighting back when the police union—which had ulterior motives, fearing potential discipline because of GPS tracking—unfairly rapped her over the rollout of the city’s new 911 system. She needed Adams’ help last year to rescue an aimless plan for the new Office of Equity and Human Rights, only recently hiring a nationally prominent director for the new office. She can get too involved in crusades like keeping well-managed food carts from serving beer and wine.

Further, we wish she’d step up and take bolder stances on police accountability, given her history as a psychiatric nurse and the fact that she’s already no friend of the police union.

Nolan’s best argument for firing Fritz is that she’d wield more influence, drawing on her time running two city bureaus and also her own business. We’re not certain about that. Nolan is reliably progressive, but she’s inescapably a politician. There’s a reason she’s no longer a leader in Salem: She earned a reputation as someone who puts her own aspirations above anything else—voting no on a divisive 2009 transportation bill after cajoling most other Democrats to say yes. She also loses a lot of luster for the nasty campaign she’s run—spending more time nitpicking Fritz’s record than actually selling voters on why she’d be any better.

Fritz has more sway than the public might realize—it’s just that, sometimes to her own detriment, it manifests behind the scenes. She’s also spent the past four years improving at the city hall game. Tellingly, two of her colleagues, Dan Saltzman and (more importantly) Nick Fish, also value her voice on the council. She should stay.

We’d also encourage another candidate in the race, Teressa Raiford, to stay involved at city hall. Raiford, an African American activist whose family has been personally touched by the pain of gang violence, spoke unflinchingly to both Fritz and Nolan about the realities of inequity in Portland. The city needs more voices like hers. And as for Nolan, if she can stand waiting two more years, we think she’d also make a good opponent for Saltzman.

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