Sten Gets the Trib Treatment

Jeff Alworth

The Portland Tribune devotes 2,400 words to Erik Sten today.  With a massive color photo of Sten looking rather grim, the Trib asks, in 48-point font: Has Sten Lost His Clout?  The answer, provided in large measure by one-time Blue Oregon contributor Jack Bogdanski, is apparently: "no, damn it, and it sure sucks."

"Sten’s a big idea guy, but this is a city that doesn’t need big ideas right now. It needs small ideas, like how to keep the police stations open on evenings and weekends and how to mow the grass at the schools....  He doesn’t want to run the city. He wants to run the world. He needs bigger toys to play with."

The shorter version?  Sten is disliked by business and Brainstorm NW (yes, they actually ran a quote from Brainstorm, which has spent its entire existence slamming him ), but is the most powerful figure in City Hall.  His priorities don't square with Jack Bogdanski's nor commercial real estate developers, but do, somehow, manage to inspire some folks--after all, the Trib credits his support for electing Tom Potter.  An entire section rehashes his failures with the water bureau, but one paragraph does summarize his accomplishments.

Sten probably isn't as unhappy about the story as Randy Leonard was with last week's Oregonian piece, but the balance here seems iffy.  With sub-heads like "Little Support from Buisness," "The Water Bureau Blunder," and "'He Wants to Rule the World,'" it feels a skosh ... weighted.  Ah well, I guess this is the price you pay for the clout you stubbornly refuse to yield.

  • Jeff Bull (unverified)

    Sheesh. Apart from the photo - and no one looks good that close up - I didn't think the Trib's article was so bad. It's not that your frustrations are unreasonable as they seem trivial. I not only thought the Trib did an all right job, but they did Sten something of a service by demonstrating how involved and dedicated he is. Even as the first "source" complained about his involvement with the PGE buyout, he praised him for jumping on the pension liability. So Bogdanski doesn't like him; Leonard, who seems to be the first source for nearly every journalist in town, seems to think plenty of Sten.

    What seems to have happened here is pretty simple: a reporter sat down talked to some people and reported their impression of Sten. Overall, it asks a pretty straight-forward question: is Sten guilty of over-reach on key issues? Does he pull the occasional odd-ball cause out of his butt - think voter-funded elections - from time to time?

    It's a fair question. I'm not going to argue that the balance was perfect...then again, I don't think it needs to be. Close counts.

  • cab (unverified)

    Nice Headline. I waiting for the Tribune to start using a Flashing red siren on the front page. So when do we get the indepth report on Clackamas County Commissioners personal lives? Do they have any reporters left who have actually been in Downtown Portland...or should I say P-town.

  • Christopher Nicholson (unverified)

    Now, I'll certainly say I think Sten could improve his approach to certain issues, however, don't dis Voter Owned Elections until you've actually seen them in action. They offer candidates who don't have their arms around special interests a chance at getting the kind of competitive funds needed to run a serious campaign. And regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, keeping Portland politicians hands clean of special interest money is a positive thing.

    So keep up the good work Erik, and I look forward to seeing an exciting campaign in 2006. Don't feel bad about using the public funding even though you're an incumbent. It's better if everyone participates in the system.

    (Now, the only I'm wondering about is, is Erik Sten cool enough to read (and comment on) BlueOregon?)

  • Erik Sten (unverified)

    While I have tired of some blogs, Blue Oregon is not one of them.

    I appreciate both the feedback and continued great level of debate.


  • cicolini (unverified)

    Here's what happened at lunchtime. Typically I lurch out, looking for the cheap slice and something free to read. And I am really cheap. I'll read almost anything free. Sellwood Bee, NW & SE Examiner, Willamette Week, The Stranger (Thursdays at Music M.!), Gresham Outlook, punk rawk flyers, even the crappy Mercury or the Orlo Bear thing which I don't understand why it is. Now the Tribune has been bad for a while. The paper is slimy and the ink is cheap at rubs off (watch out for paper-under-the-arm-with-a-white-shirt! Disaster.

    But I made a decision. A big decision for me. I decided after glancing at the Sten headline I didn't need to read the Tribune anymore. It's just too predictable.

    Do you remember the Tribune's first issue? Not that long ago. A sweetheart piece with big color graphics, nicely done, about Goldschmidt's guiding the Moyer downtown deal to connect the North and South Park Blocks.

    But really. Stanford hasn't had anything new to say in a couple of decades. Dwight Jaynes is a perfect yawn. Ann Jaeger? Pete Schulburg never bothered anyone. Jim Redden? Best work done over twenty years ago. Just like when I reprogrammed my radio to skip KPAM when they cut Sheila Hamilton. Done and better off.

    I won't miss the Tribune. Not when I can find great journalism like the Catholic Sentinel just waiting for my noontime wanderings.

  • (Show?)

    Jeff, I don't mean to trivialize serious journalism, nor credible investigations into politicians' motives and history. Quite the opposite: I think that's really the central purpose of journalism. All the Michael Jackson business is just commerce. So it's not that I'm critical of a critical article. I'm critical of a lazy, uninsightful article.

    Sten makes a great subject. He doesn't shy away from big projects, and he's taken lumps along the way. But--despite what Jack says--he also has interest in grassroots issues like homelessness (a constituency unlikely to reward him at re-election time). What makes him tick? Does he have secret motives? What hidden connections link him to unseen players? Did the Trib offer any of this?--of course not. It rehashed headline coverage. I could have written that article for Blue Oregon just by cruising through old Oregonians. Lazily calling vocal critics added little to the piece.

    When I see an article with the title "Has Sten Lost His Clout?", see Erik's face over a third of the front page, and invest time wading through 2400 words, I expect something new. The Trib didn't deliver.

  • Jeff Bull (unverified)

    I like your second take better, Jeff (it's a club of Jeffs!); I can see that a bit more. In the Trib's defense, I rather appreciated the "recap" approach to politics of the past few months. Based on what I know of people's news-consumption habits, they don't follow this stuff all that closely; to my mind, the article's review of these, while a bit light, serves to remind these same people of how they reached their assumptions. Sure, there's something of dumbing down content in this, but they're writing more for a broad, reportedly disengaged public than Blue Oregon.

    On the other hand, the article you're describing would be a very different piece; it would also be one well worth reading. On the off-chance Mr. Sten pops by again, perhaps he'd be willing to respond to a few of the questions you posed about hidden connections, or, since it's a bit more of a softball, what makes him tick...

    And with regard to Christopher Nicholson's point, I think his is fair as well. My point wasn't to knock publicly-funded elections so much as it was to question what prompted Sten to push a proposal with so little general interest behind it. I think we could all agree that there are other, even bigger, fish to fry.

  • (Show?)


    I didn't know the full extent of the losses via the Water Bureau. I also did not know the long list of business leaders and regional leaders who were organizing against the PGE buyout. This was new information to me.

    I think Bogdanski's quotes were square on, though: the issue I see with Sten at this point (and in some respects with City government as a whole) is an unwillingness to work cooperatively with regional governments and business leaders to craft solutions to our regional economic, educational, and social issues. Portland seems to think it can keep going it alone.

    I have to say, unless I hear otherwise, I am very unhappy with Erik for what seems to me at this point a fumbled opportunity to obtain a public utility. I don't question his commitment, but I do question his approach. And I'm very frustrated that this opportunity has been lost, probably for good.

    I may be misinformed on this last issue, but that seems to be the focus of the Trib article.

    But I agree--the more personal approach that you suggest would have really helped someone like me, relatively new to Portland politics, trying to figure out what makes all of these folks tick.

  • Chris Forenza (unverified)


    You might be interested in this: Sten got roasted in Bogdanski’s blog.

  • Javier O Sanchez (unverified)

    I don't really think he got roasted on the Blog or the Trib article. I'd rather have Sten advocating and leading with mistakes and missteps than Emperor Ted K. sucking the AOI nipple and never getting off the can. I still believe in Sten; its' damn hard to find someone that inspires one to become involved, interested, or even give a good god damn about something other than big, stinky $$$$$ (a little shout out to the lib above me from one of my earlier posts "Laissez Faire rhymes with Pubic Hair"--yeah it makes no sense and is silly, but so is "The Fountainhead" and Libertarian politics)

    As to Bogdanski's Blog, we actually turned the city council into a bizarro Mayberry world (Jack refers to Sten as "Opie") and gave some great thought and conjecture on Saltzman and if he has, in fact, done anything of note the last few years. Someone help me here!

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Leonard is fried by The Oregonian, Sten by the Tribune. I suspect this is part of what happens to politicians who cross major public utilities in Oregon.

    So, Sten is a big idea guy. I guess we don't want too much of that vision thing here in Stumptown. Most elected official I have talked with - and I've talked with many - seem preoccupied either by how things will affect their political fortunes or by how things fit into their political affiliation of choice. Eric Sten has always impressed me as being most concerned with making government work better, regardless of how he will be perceived. He is paying for that right now. I think he will recover and in the long-term, make a much greater contribution to society than small-thinking, duck-and-cover politicos.

    Sten will never be a favorite of establishment business interests, even if he manages to save them a bunch on their electric bills. That is because he refuses to be owned, and that is scary to folks used to controlling things.

  • Steve (unverified)

    I don't think the newspapers could have covered Mr Sten without seeming biased either way.

    While I don't disagree with Mr Sten's ideas, I think he suffers (like the rest of City Council) from insularity from everything outside City Hall. While it is nice to hear your co-workers and peer group tell you how great your ideas are, Mr Sten never seems to realize he has to sell these ideas to the public. Unfortunately, since the public elects him, they do "own" him. After as long as he has been in City Hall, I don't think he will learn this. Increasing the amplitude/frequency of his arguments do nothing to reinforce their logic or appeal.

    As far as the vision thing, he may want to work on his near-vision (jails, water bureau, bloated diability/pension funds) before he goes after far-sighted ideas. If he focused on fixing one thing for right now, he would have a lot more credibility about his future plans.

  • activist kaza (unverified)

    Is Erik Sten good at running things? I don't know, but it may be the inherent weakness of Portland's commissioner set-up that is partly to blame. Is Erik Sten the most progressive and gutsy elected politician in the state of Oregon? You bet he is...and our great state could use a lot more like him. And blueOregonians ought to be a lot more grateful for a visionary willing to put it all on the line.

    Also, when it comes to the so-called "fumbled opportunity" to acquire PGE, shouldn't we be asking ourselves what more we could have done before criticizing Sten, who led on this from the get-go? Tom Civelleti (whom I trust more on this topic than just about anyone, outside of Dan Meek), what's your verdict? Who lost PGE???

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