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xmag.com : May 2004: Me for Mayor


My unexpected foray into Portland politics began nine months ago when I agreed to work for Phil Busse's mayoral campaign. But it wasn't until our March 6th fundraiser at Berbati's Pan, during which Miss Claire of the Big Bang Cirkus Sideshow pierced her nipples and nether regions onstage, we screened video footage of Portland police beating up protesters and candidate Busse dropped his drawers for the troupe's gameshow, "What's Up Your Ass?", that I realized, viscerally, I'm in the middle of something wonderful. Sure, Phil's ass is wonderful, but the sight wasn't new to me. Our past was one of the reasons I got involved with the campaign, but what I've seen and learned since eclipses any failed relationship.

My mother believes religion, money and politics shouldn't be talked about in polite society. Even though I haven't kept my society that polite, it's taken me thirty-two years and six cities to really care who my mayor is. I was always too busy with school or work or the inside of my head to pay attention. And in Portland, it's also due to a sort of learned helplessness. How can you not feel utterly helpless when your mayor gives herself a 5% pay increase in the face of 8% unemployment? Or refuses to give up her personal chauffeur service rather than fund women's shelters and rape crisis lines? Or when city council (which is supposed to represent its constituents) ignores thousands of protesters in the streets and votes against the Anti-War resolution?

The disconnect between Portland's city council and Portland's citizens is one of the reasons Phil decided to run for mayor. In reporting four years of news for the Portland Mercury, he saw that local media were unwilling to examine or criticize the actions of the mayor and other city politicians. Now, in the thick of the campaign (the primary is May 18th), it's clear why change is so hard to bring about: money still runs the show, and still determines who gets to speak and for how long.

Many mayoral forums run by business associations have allowed only the two perceived leaders in the mayoral campaign to speak. When "lesser" candidates are covered in the media, the result is a sloppy mishmash of slant, error and omission. Most recently the Oregonian painted Phil as a dilettante who'd joined the mayoral fray in January, when he was actually the first candidate to enter the race last August. Previously the Oregonian questioned Phil's journalistic integrity by saying he worked for a tabloid. Yet when questions arose about the legality of a donation given to Jim Francesconi's campaign by a downtown developer, the Pulitzer Prize winning paper buried the story (if the donation is proven illegal, it will be a felony for both the developer and Francesconi). A few days later, the Oregonian endorsed Francesconi, commending his fundraising as evidence of his desire to be mayor. Desire, indeed. I consider it a greater desire, and a greater sacrifice for that desire, that Phil has offered to give away $100 of his mayoral salary, every day, to a needy person or organization. But back to journalistic integrity. Writing without bias is a near impossibility, and I urge everyone to seek out the facts about all the candidates, or at least see what their platforms promise, or what their voting or employment records reveal, and go from there.

Of course my bias is whipping wildly in the wind. If politics weren't such a new animal to me, perhaps I wouldn't be so surprised and frustrated to be told, repeatedly, that although Phil Busse has the most in-depth and detailed platform, the most innovative ideas, the most energy and charisma and-- above all else--a deep desire to help this city reach its potential, he isn't viable as a candidate because he works for a newspaper that advertises sex shops, sometimes paints his toenails blue and drives a motorcycle. Public opinion is obviously firmly rooted in the belief that a mayor has to be old, poorly dressed and unwilling to challenge the status quo. I'm heartened to learn that some cities will take a chance: Antanas Mockus, former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, cut traffic fatalities in half by employing 4,000 mimes to control the city's notoriously chaotic and dangerous streets and by painting stars on the exact places where pedestrians had been struck. Mockus was a professor of math and philosophy who, at the time of election, had no political experience, just great intelligence, creativity and chutzpa. And who can forget Bill Clinton playing saxophone onstage in 2000? I felt truly hopeful­this man is actually human. We all know that humanness was partly his downfall, but had Portland been the stage where that drama unfolded, perhaps we wouldn't be at war.

During my work on this campaign I've talked to hundreds of people about this city and how it could be improved. We've held rock shows at Holocene, Meow Meow, Red and Black Café and Mississippi Pizza. We held a political movie series at the Fresh Pot and Stumptown which included Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (everyone should see this film at least once) and The Times of Harvey Milk, a documentary detailing the rise and subsequent assassination of San Francisco's first openly gay city councilor (killed by another council member who was frustrated by Milk's progressiveness and popularity). We've made many, many pies for many people and visited their homes to talk and listen to them. We've developed a hundred plus page platform and a list of one hundred ideas to implement during Phil's first hundred days in office. We've made buttons and t-shirts and bumper stickers and alienated many of our friends with our single-mindedness. We've let the hope of change flow into every part of our lives, for better or worse.

Portland has the potential to be a really radical place. We fight for our right to speak freely. We have more strip clubs per capita than any other city. We led the way in the legalization of medical marijuana, physician-assisted suicide and same sex marriage and have been wonderfully vocal and organized in opposition to the war in Iraq. Do we want a mayor who placates us with boring rhetoric? Who, though very nice and grandfatherly, is essentially an aging policeman? Do we want a mayor steered by the interests of big business who, as a city council member, voted against both Dignity Village and the Anti-War resolution? Isn't it time we had a mayor who had the guts and smarts to listen to our guts and smarts, someone who could actually make a change and a difference? And wouldn't it be an added bonus if that mayor had an ass you'd actually want to see if he dropped his pants onstage?






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