When Portland Mayor Sam Adams delivered his first State of the City address in 2009 the first question from the audience was a challenge from Dean of PSU's College of Urban and Public Affairs Larry Wallack. Wallack wanted to know how, in the context of a promised “triple bottom line” approach, the mayor would ensure serious attention to the frequently ignored equity part of that triad: “What kinds of policies, with teeth, will you put in place to ensure that the equity bottom line is adequately addressed and not sacrificed in the process?”
Adams’ response at the time was feeble – and reading through the text of the fourth and final State of the City address he delivered yesterday I’m afraid we’re not really any farther along now than then.
The Equity section of the speech was by far the shortest and least substantive. Tellingly, Adams began by thanking the Coalition of Communities of Color, NAYA, IRCO, Urban League, and the Latino Network for letting us know “how poorly Portland is doing in living up to its equity values.”
Indeed, that seems to be the major accomplishment of the city (and the state, for that matter) over the last years: to have witnessed report after report documenting our lack of progress – or, worse, the decline – in key indicators of well-being for communities of color. That may even overstate things: just this week we read that the city is now going back to the drawing board to re-study discrimination in rental housing, as one account put it, “after tossing out the results of last year’s much-maligned test.”
I’ve heard nothing but glowing reports from friends and colleagues in Colorado about Dante James, who will now lead the city’s Office of Equity. And I sincerely hope that his leadership and a new administration will take us well beyond the lip service that’s far too often characterized the city’s approach. God help us if we’re hearing the same vague promises four years from now.