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Wednesday, April 02, 2008
To infinity and beyond
While stuck in traffic on Highway 26 today I decided to come up with a some sort of analogy for Portland mayoral candidate Sam Adams. Walt Disney was the best I could come up with. Much like "Uncle Walt," Adams strikes me as a dreamer and a guy who loves a serious financial risk. Whereas Adams has far-fetched concepts for bike bridges and streetcars, Disney had, well, Disneyland, a monumental project that was widely predicted to end his career and destroy the company he built from the ground up. If cancer hadn't cut him down in the mid '60s, Disney might have pulled off his original, epic vision for EPCOT. He wanted to create a far-reaching community devoted to the advancement of everything from technology to art to urban planning. Sadly, Disney's concept eventually led to the creation of that glorified World's Fair sitting in Florida.
Given an endless cash supply and ultimate, god-like authority over Portland, I could see Adams trying to turn this city into his vision of a utopic model for urban planning ala those original plans for EPCOT and an example for other American cities to follow. Hey, I'm all for living in a big, happy, progressive super-sustainable utopia, especially if Monorails, People Movers and a Space Mountain or two are somehow worked into the mix but let's be realistic here.
While no one will ever convince me that filling Portland's thoroughfares with slow-moving, traffic blocking streetcars is a good idea, part of me would have loved to have seen Adams pull off his proposal to recycle the Sauvie Island Bridge into a pedestrian/bike path over the I-405. It's a cool idea but one that would have cost millions of dollars over a more traditional span. And therein lies the problem with Adams: the concept of "fiscal responsibility" completely escapes him.
For years, Portland's leaders have ignored its crumbling infrastructure. The city's streets are still filled with potholes, its sewer system is rusting to pieces and the Sellwood Bridge is in terrible shape but, somehow, there's plenty of funding to go around for bike box instructional videos, 24-hour access to City Hall's potties, streetcars and tax cuts for condo developments. Local blogger Jack Bogdanski is keeping a running tally of the projected debt Portland is quickly accumulating on his blog's sidebar and he has the number currently pegged at over $4 billion dollars.
While Adams wouldn't have carte blanche over Portland as mayor, he would inevitably rekindle an era of Vera Katz-like pipe dreams. If City Council is unable to reign him in, there's no telling what he could come up with and find funding for while neglecting the city's much more boring, everyday needs.
The only hurdle blocking what seems like an inevitable Sam Adams mayorship is Sho Dozono, a local business owner who comes across as even more doddering and out-of-it than current mayor Tom Potter. A recent Dozono publicity stunt at Voodoo Doughnuts was downright cringe-worthy. Dozono's feeble cries for sensibility at City Hall are never going to be heard over Adams' grandiose promises. A still-in-progress, "completely unscientific" poll on the Portland Mercury's blog has Adams leading at 62%, with Dozono coming in at a distant second with 16% of the vote. While the Mercury's readership skews younger than the bulk of who will likely turn in my ballots for the primaries in May, everything's coming up Sam so far.
Does Dozono really stand any sort of a chance against a charismatic juggernaut like Adams? Jumping back to Disney analogies, this race already seems like Scrooge McDuck going up against Mickey Mouse.