Commissioner Randy Leonard, quitting public life after 10 years on the Portland City Council and nine before that in the Oregon Legislature, endured a mushy sendoff from his colleagues today: They voted to put his name on the new Fire Station 21 going up at the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge—a project made possible by the fire bond Leonard proposed and championed back in 2010.
Commissioners took turns talking about the disconnect between Leonard's public reputation as a tough-talking and ruthless political tactician who often butts heads with colleagues and the affable, warm character who breaks bread with those same colleagues after smacking them around on the dais, talking about partners and children.
It also came with some levity. Mayor Sam Adams, Leonard's closest ally on the council, unveiled a proposed design that played on Leonard's apparent passion for neon signs (some more infamous than others)—and Adams had to quickly make clear: "Before the Oregonian writes a story about this, we're only kidding." Adams led the effort for the renaming but didn't have to push his colleagues too hard.
But no one shied away from the notion that Leonard has been a... complicated figure. Nick Fish said "the record" on Leonard has yet to be written.
He's a former fire union president known for protecting his turf as fire commissioner. He was criticized for the big stick he swung when he ran code enforcement. He got the water bureau sued amid complaints he used ratepayer money to fund projects that had nothing to do with water. He's been ripped for not doing more to fend off federal requirements that we spend millions covering our reservoirs. He championed some measure of police accountability reforms and has called out the police union president. He took on fluoridation. He loved the Rose Festival. He led the push to save and rework the old "Made in Oregon" sign. And he made the Portland Loo happen, giving people with nowhere else to go a clean, private place to take a leak.
Some of Leonard's critics showed up to say why they thought he shouldn't have his name on a building. They suggested the Loo: "Something we can all remember you by and something you truly represent."
Adams acknowledged the idea really was bandied around. Leonard remains fiercely proud of the public toilets. "But," Adams said, "I think this is more appropriate."
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