By Rev. Chuck Currie. The Rev. Chuck Currie is a United Church of Christ minister in Portland, Oregon who blogs at www.chuckcurrie.com. His political views are his own and do not represent the church.
I’m only 40 and already feeling nostalgic for the “good old days.” For over twenty years now I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in a fairly intimate professional sense with members of the Portland City Council. We’ve been blessed with some terrific progressive leaders over the years. Who can forget Bud Clark in his first-term as mayor as he charged through the city working to address homelessness and economic development? For eight years the city was lucky to have Gretchen Kafoury, Portland’s liberal lion, keeping people like Vera Katz in check. Mike Lindberg, with his trusty aide (the late great) Keeston Lowery, worked to solidify Portland as a Mecca for the arts. Erik Sten brought passion and a real brilliance to issues concerning homelessness, energy and campaign finance reform. Tom Potter, whose tenure as mayor was truly underappreciated, made the needs of children a priority and showed that a real grassroots campaign can still beat big money and power in Portland.
Where are the leaders on the Portland City Council today? We have a mortally wounded mayor who cannot truly exercise the powers of his office. Dan Saltzman, a nice guy for sure, will have a legacy because of his Children’s Investment Fund that was established in his first term. Now he’s asking for a third term and I’m wondering what he’s done since his first. Nick Fish is a good bureaucrat but compared to Kafoury and Sten, who both held his housing portfolio in years past, he offers no vision. Amanda Fritz seems content to join the good old boy’s network when the city aches for an independent leader. Randy Leonard? He never would have allowed the current crisis with the Portland Police Bureau to develop if Mayor Adams hadn’t given the police chief veto power over the naming of the police commissioner. Leonard’s toughness is a virtue in a city council adrift and leaderless.
I’m a preacher, not a politician. My deepest concerns aren’t about polls or campaign fundraising (I’d like to see all campaigns publically financed and despair that the current council doesn’t have the guts to keep the program going and instead is taking the easy way out by bowing to the business community and putting the issue up for a vote that the Portland Business Alliance will then spend hundreds of thousands to defeat). What I’m really concerned about is protecting our city’s environment, creating affordable housing, reducing poverty and finding jobs that pay a living wage for all those unemployed. We must make sure that children (particularly homeless children) get a good and decent public education, that our streets are safe and that there is real civilian oversight over the police that defend our city with their lives. And that we retain the progressive spirit that makes Portland such a special place. In theological terms, I want Portland to be a place that cares of those Jesus called the “least of these.”
Right now we desperately need candidates that are bold and visionary. There are some good people running for the city council in 2010 but none of them have the leadership potential to be what we need in this moment of history. Who might fit the bill? Deborah Kafoury, Steve Novick, Karol Collymore, Rich Rodgers, Karin Hansen, and Marshall Runkel are all names that I’d like to see on the ballot – either in 2010 or soon thereafter. These are all people who have already demonstrated passion for our community and the know-how to get things done. A city council made up of folks like these would erase any nostalgia and would make Portlanders excited again about the future.