Monday, June 22, 2009

Lessons In Politics

I've been excited and frustrated by the entire MLS - Triple AAA stadium process, and nothing emphasized that more that my morning yesterday. Girl and I went to her father's house for a breakfast gathering, and he asked us about the whole effort because he wasn't quite up to date with things, and so we talked about it with him for almost an hour. It was amazing to hear the assumptions he'd reached through some of the incomplete information that had been shared in the media, but he also had some thoughts about how people were thinking that I hadn't necessarily considered.

I get that people might be scared about putting so much money into one project, and since my last post, things have gotten even more interesting in the world of Lents. Merritt Paulson has walked away from Lents, stating he doesn't want to build a stadium in an area that doesn't want it there. However, Randy Leonard, one of the city commissioners wants Paulson to wait and allow the Lents URAC (Urban Renewal Advisory Committee) to meet and vote on the idea, otherwise he is not willing to support soccer, while Dan Saltzman and Sam Adams are comfortable with the process and still want to discuss the stadium issue on Wednesday. Since the decoupling has occurred last week, soccer and baseball plans are being talked about separately, but we do know that plans for MLS must be in place by September 1st to secure the expansion team, which includes stadium plans to renovate PGE Park and other team specifics. Rumours have been floating about that Montreal is trying to secure the bid for the team if the Portland bid implodes, although I'm not convinced that's a very likely if.

Politics today is a rather nasty business, as you have to navigate some rather choppy waters to get anything done and try to remain sane in the process. Nothing seems tougher than trying to build a consensus amongst people that often times don't see eye to eye, and don't see the point of yielding in any way from their idea. I've watched passively on the debate to rename a street for Cesar Chavez, which makes the MLS situation seem tame in comparison. You have a group that wants this so badly because they feel Chavez needs to be honored, and they don't want to compromise by having a bridge or park named after him, while many of us, myself included, just can't understand why there isn't a way to compromise on the issue. I respect Chavez quite a bit, and understand his legacy, but I fail to understand his contribution to Portland so that a street should be named for him. Granted, it doesn't help things when the last renamed streets, Rosa Parks, MLK and Naito Parkway, were renamed without following the letter of the law when it comes to the process.

It's tough to build consensus with inconsistency, but at the same time, interests and topics change quite often, and I admire anyone that wants to get into public service and try to navigate this mess. You have to gage things as much as possible while hearing from a constituency that often times isn't informed or only sees one side of an issue and can't see the long term side of an idea. You have the anti-tax zealots, people who hate development, people who love development and can't understand why we can't just let business do what they want, the environmentalists who want everything protected, people who want kids protected under any costs, and sports fans that want the city to help them secure funds for stadiums or teams. Voters don't often spend time learning about issues as much as they should, but in all fairness, it's hard to find a nugget of truth in a saturated media that often times doesn't care about reporting truth but what will bring ratings or notoriety to their channel.

But at the same time, anyone in politics has to understand the game, and as Oregon Live's columnist Anna Griffin points out, we expect them to make the tough choices and represent our needs, no matter how fractured they might be. It's how things work around here, and that's why strong leadership is important, especially in a town like we have here where power is split between five commissioners that run various bureaus around town. Portland is unique in the sense that during the rally at Lents on Thursday, Commissioner Nick Fish was there to support the opponents as the commissioner of parks while Leonard was there in support of the plan, putting commissioners on both sides of the debate. And both sides of the argument can point to the fact that their side was represented by elected officials, which while it might be frustrating to someone like me who wants the stadium, I appreciate the fact that all sides can feel like their voice is being heard by someone with influence.

But where I get frustrated in this situation is simply that as someone who watches processes, I expect that our leaders will be strong in their conviction yet have an ability to find consensus and make tough decisions, even in the face of criticism. And that's the failing that I'm seeing of our city council right now. I appreciate the job they do, and understand that they need to follow their voice, but at the same time, it's important to work together and find ways to make the city work as smoothly as possible. Instead of bending to small interest groups or a vocal minority, it's important to stick with a plan if it makes sense for the city, and honestly, the original stadium plan to put the baseball park in the Memorial Coliseum site was the best idea out there, and it's frustrating to me to see that abandoned by a small group of architects and the Trail Blazers' influence. While I'm confident that things will find a way to work out, what I fear is that this process has exposed the dysfunction and chaos that often happen in city government. I find that I'm much more engaged in local issues, which is a good by-product if we are really looking for positives here.

I wish that politics wasn't such a messy game and that discussions could be done in a much more above board manner, and that decisions could be made quickly and efficiently. But like many good things, it makes the end result that much more satisfying, and after talking with girl's father, he seemed to understand what we were doing, and didn't seem to object nearly as much. I wished I could do this with many of the opponents of the stadium, but I suppose it's just one step or one person at a time, because that's how the city that works really works.

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