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What Happened to James Chasse: Potter tells city: We're making steady progress

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Potter tells city: We're making steady progress

from The Oregonian, by Joseph Rose, Ryan Frank and Maxine Bernstein

Midway through his first term, Portland Mayor Tom Potter was eager to dispel a nagging rumor during his second State of the City address.

"I've heard it mentioned by some that these past two years have been a time of quiet contemplation for me," he said Friday before the City Club at the Governor Hotel downtown.

Of course, Potter may have been a little too eager. Reading from a prepared speech, the mayor started by calling his Bureau Innovation Project a "Cadillac" --rather than a "catalyst" --for change.

He caught the blunder. Realizing that he had just confused the crowd of 450 business leaders, civic activists, city employees and fellow politicians, Potter added with a chuckle, "Well, it's kind of a Cadillac."

A few delivery flubs aside, Potter's 40-minute speech didn't stray into unpredictable territory.

In many ways, it simply tied a bow on the package of slow-and-steady initiatives that he has pushed heavily for months.

The mayor stuck to his theme of building Portland's future through community relationships, focusing largely on his visionPDX project to survey 15,000 Portlanders and build one vision for the city.

He pointed to his attempts to make the city more customer friendly and lower barriers for minorities and women. He mentioned committees he created to try to erase racism, sexism and homophobia in the city.

Noting this week's observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he said, "Dr. King once said, 'Life's most urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?' " Potter said. "It is in the spirit of that question that I want to talk with you today."

The reviews from inside the hotel's fourth-floor ballroom were generally glowing.

Commissioner Randy Leonard said Potter's delivery --including the unscripted jokes --showed he has grown since his last annual visit to the City Club.

"He has become more comfortable and regained his sense of humor," Leonard said. "He was likeable. You wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt."

Potter mentioned good work by his four City Council peers in 2006, poking a bit of fun at Leonard and Sam Adams, two commissioners he sometimes clashes with. "Sam is the only council member," Potter said, "with the misfortune to have a name that rhymes with 'tram.' "

Although Leonard disagrees with one of Potter's biggest ideas --asking voters on the May ballot whether the city should change from a commission form of government to that of a strong-mayor --he said the mayor did a solid job of explaining his view.

Still, Potter failed to answer the only audience question about the proposal: How would his first two years have been different under the strong-mayor model?

Potter instead reiterated why he thought the public should be part of what has been an "inside baseball" discussion until now. "How we are structured will determine how services are delivered," he said.

Saying community-based involvement would work only if businesses are growing, Potter promised that the council would continue to find ways to help the economy.

"While there remains a fervent few who delight in forecasting the demise of Portland's downtown, I have news for them," he said. "The city, including the downtown core, is alive and well and bursting with energy."

Citing last year's death of James Chasse while in police custody, Potter said he's working with Chief Rosie Sizer to change how the Police Bureau operates. Of course, he may have prematurely announced one plan: keeping all precincts open until midnight starting Feb. 15.

The Police Bureau is looking to hire and train eight more desk clerks, but Sizer said the mayor's deadline might be a bit optimistic. She thinks the extended hours at precincts might not occur until the end of February, said spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz.

Ryan Frank and Maxine Bernstein of The Oregonian contributed.

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