Monday, March 2, 2009

Think Out Loud Recap

Commissioner Randy Leonard and mayor Sam Adams were the featured guests on this morning's "Think Out Loud" talk show on OPB. I'll do my best to summarize the show without succumbing to my unfortunate tendency for wordiness.

Leonard was on first and his main message was twofold concerning Sam's dishonesty: Sam's lie was a betrayal that hurt their friendship and will be difficult to overcome, but he is strongly aligned with the mayor's policies and wants to see their agenda accomplished. Leonard said he's worked with three mayors and never before has he had the kind of consensus he and Sam do. Leonard's wounded feelings were apparent and understandable: Sam's betrayal was unacceptable, especially since his denial of the Breedlove affair in 2007 prompted Leonard to very publicly defend him. His feelings, he said, don't differ from those of any Portlander. One thing Leonard said really stuck with me: he found Sam's distressed reaction reassuring, because it indicated that he grasps the gravity of his actions.

Leonard answered questions from four callers relating to a potential professional soccer team in Portland (the funds wouldn't be diverted from other projects but are generated from ticket taxes and other soccer-related revenue, and he feels it's a "good deal for Portland"), what sustainable energy practices the city is planning to implement (we already require that 5% of every gallon of diesel sold is Biodiesel, tax incentives to bring green businesses to PDX, solar energy), how council is working to avoid early school closures (more balanced tax system, including a sales tax, but there's not much that can be done with the current economic crisis: "I can't promise what doesn't exist"), and the proposed active management of the CRC (bilateral state commission to manage tolls, "we can't have a laissez-faire approach to driving").

Sam was then brought in by phone. He was asked how the applause at the city club speech felt: "heartwarming". Emily Harris surprised me by snapping at him, "what do you mean?" He responded with an acknowledgement that he'd screwed up, and to have people accept his apologies and move on to the business at hand is humbling. He feels that this will make him a better person and public servant, and he's committed to getting back to work. He characterized city council's reaction to the recession as "proactive", "as smart and possible" and "strategic".

The show then moved to listener questions. The first asked what Adams would tell his 14-year old daughter about lying to further one's career. Adams responded that he would not teach a teenager that this was okay, and that he's an example of what happens when one lies. He stated that it's appropriate that his reputation has changed and that he has paid a price. I think it was Emily Harris again who asked what price it is that he's paid. He stated that his reputation will never be the same.

The next question was via email: did he ever consider resigning, and was the lie to further his career? Sam stated, as I reported last week, that he was planning to resign. He said he sought out friends and allies for personal advice, but never really mentioned what convinced him to stay. Oddly, he didn't mention the rally. Moving to the second part of the question, he said at the time "the attack" (meaning from Bob Ball) coming at him was during the mayoral campaign and he felt there was no way people would believe the truth. So yes, he said, he did it to further his career.

Adams was then asked about the regressive taxation system in Oregon and whether he wants that to change. He agreed with the caller and stated that it's unfair, dysfunctional, and favors the rich. Another caller wanted to know which campaign promises Adams will have to delay or let go given the economic crisis. He answered that it might take longer than originally anticipated, but he isn't backing down on anything. "Why would you expect a leader to reduce their focus on these issues?" he asked.

Another caller asked about gang violence, but I missed it. The interview ended when Adams was asked if he's yet spoken to the attorney general's office as part of the investigation and he tersely responded that he can't talk about it.

All that having been said, what's my take? I was pleased with Leonard's interview and felt it reflected well, and probably accurately, on the climate in city hall these days. Frankly, I'm glad Adams has Leonard there to be hard on him-- he needs it. Adams, to me, sounded nervous and sort of scattered. Later he told me that he was walking while he was speaking, so it wasn't nerves making his voice shake. Still, I wished the interview had reflected better on Sam. I think he needs to be a bit more transparent when answering these questions-- he comes across as a bit hedgy. I know his desire to get back to work combined with the limits placed on him by the investigation are probably making it more challenging than usual to speak candidly. Still, it would do him some good for his city to see him in a more vulnerable light.


  1. Hollie,

    Regarding the "gang violence" question that you missed. Honestly, you didn't miss much. Sam took the opportunity to thank teachers everywhere for their hard work and it felt rather obligatory to me - but I'm not Sam either so that's of little value. He then proceeded to express some concern over the upcoming, and somewhat extended, summer vacation and with the economy being what it is, well, the likelihood that more and more teens will be unemployed and rather bored for a few months here soon. He then expressed a great deal of confidence in Dan Saltzman as the new Police Commissioner and said (and this is not a quote) that he felt that Mr. Saltzman would be moving things in the right direction. Something that I happen to agree with for the most part. As I discovered while living in the Seattle area for so many years (and where gang violence has been tenfold what there is in PDX) - acknowledging the problem is truly half the battle here. The Seattle solution was to ignore it and dissolve programs for teens and kids, hopefully Portland city government can learn from those mistakes.

    All in all, I was quite disappointed in the whole interview with Mayor Adams, it felt very much like "yet another witch hunt". Randy Leonard was surprisingly candid though and I would completely agree, Mayor Adams needs Randy as a stern voice in city hall right now. Randy Leonard hasn't been a favorite of mine - after the interview I must admit that I've been pretty wrong about him. While he's a far cry from being the most dynamic person in city government, sometimes that's exactly what we need.


  2. Thanks for posting details on the part of the conversation I missed. Stupid day job got in the way...

    Leonard has been mischaracterized throughout this whole thing as Adams's "foe" or "enemy". This interview was a relief-- for the first time, we heard Randy Leonard commenting on his own feelings rather than media speculation. It's important for the public to remember that the information coming out of news sources like the Oregonian, Tribune, Willamette Week and even the Mercury is manipulated to cast a certain grim pall over this story. Yes, Leonard is pissed off. Yes, their relationship is damaged. But think about it-- that's understandable. Leonard very publicly went to bat for Adams in 2007 and probably feels he was taken advantage of. I don't blame the guy, but what's important today is that Leonard still believes in Sam Adams.

    The OPB interview with Leonard finally let the guy speak for himself and should have calmed a lot of fears about what's happening in city hall, yet the focus is still on Sam's perceived "lack of credibility". It's important to see that Sam is fighting to help our city out of an economic hole by being thoughtful and strategic. Leonard, by all accounts, is right there with him.