July 08, 2009

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While I'm Thinking About It

This is a long one, and it involved local Portland politics. You have been warned.

The following is a list of actions taken within the past year by Portland mayor Sam Adams.

  • CONSPIRED TO LIE AND DEFRAUD VOTERS
  • LIED TO VOTERS TO WIN ELECTION
  • LIED ABOUT NATURE OF RELATIONSHIP WITH TEENAGER
  • USED CITY RESOURCES IN CONSPIRACY TO LIE AND COVERUP HIS RELATIONS WITH TEENAGER
  • PUBLICLY SLANDERED THE MAN WHO BROUGHT THE ALLEGATION
  • PUT THE CITY OF PORTLAND AT RISK OF BLACKMAIL
  • USED CITY RESOURCES TO HIRE NEWS REPORTER WORKING ON THE STORY TO A POSITION FOR WHICH SHE WAS UNQUALIFIED
  • ADMITTED BEING A 42 YEAR OLD MAN WHO HAD SEX WITH A TEENAGER
List taken verbatim from Victoria Taft's page at kpam.com.

Given that list of "accomplishments," one might safely assume that the mayor has been operating under a bit of a cloud since taking office back in January. And you would generally be correct. Just this week, as soon as the window was opened, a recall effort was filed.

If an embattled politician is determined to fight it out, there are really only a couple of courses of action that make any sense. The first is to keep one's head down, don't risk making any further waves, and hope the scandal blows over with enough time. The second is the polar opposite: go bold, with some plan or goal that has universal support in the hopes that the voters will focus on the great job you're doing.

Adams tried the second plan when he signed a deal a couple months back to bring a Major League Soccer team to town. The goodwill from that seems to be fizzling, however, because part of the plan involved taking the downtown stadium away from the local minor league baseball team, and every proposed relocation has met with fierce opposition from, well, pretty much everyone. That part's been kind of fun to watch.

A good course of action not on that list is to cave, along with the rest of your city council, to a single-issue interest group which has repeatedly gone on record as being unwilling to seek or work toward a compromise.

Generally speaking, in Portland, east-west streets have names, while north-south streets are numbered from an imaginary starting point at the Willamette River. And addresses on named streets are numbered based on the cross street, so that, for example, you know that 9000 SE Stark St (to choose but one example), is ninety blocks from the river. It makes sense, and it works well.

Enter the César E. Chávez Boulevard Committee. Their goal should be obvious from their name: get, within Portland city limits, a street named after the late migrant workers' advocate and civil rights leader. But, just like Union Avenue was renamed after Martin Luther King Jr., and Portland Avenue gave way to Rosa Parks Way, an existing street had to be renamed. A new street would not be good enough. Neither would a city park or a bridge be an acceptable alternative. This committee's leadership went on the record multiple times as saying that they would only ever settle for a renamed street, and an important one at that. Also, that anyone who dared argue with them was a racist of the worst kind.

It's an argument that's been going on for years. So the city finally caved in and, deaf to all opposition, gave them SE 39th Ave.

Look, from everything I've read, Chávez was fairly awe-inspiring in both word and deed and his accomplishments fighting injustice should be celebrated. But I'm torn, because my first impulse is to think that, as a general rule, streets shouldn't be renamed. After all, street names are first and foremost a vital navigation tool. If a name has to be changed for some odd reason or other, new names should be limited to people of local importance. You know, the folks who'll be most affected by it. But don't change it against the wishes of those who live and work there. And especially, in Portland, don't give a numbered street a name. It'll wind up being more trouble than it's worth.

Basically, all that to say Sam Adams didn't do himself any favors with that vote.



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