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Portland's new mayor brings the circus to City Hall

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 6th, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Sam Adams Mayoral Welcome Party-16
Sam was all smiles last night.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Last night at City Hall was the big, public welcome party for Portland's new mayor Sam Adams. There was lots of food and free beer and by all accounts it was a wild and zany night.

Before things really started getting crazy, Adams and each of the four commissioners addressed the crowd briefly. Adams said he feels Portland's authenticity and quirkiness (that was on display all night) will help us stave off economic hard times and that he has "faith in Portland's willingness to take on challenges".

With a broad grin, Randy Leonard told the crowd he's been holding himself back for the last few years (a joke, given his outspoken demeanor) and that, "Now Sam's going to let me go."

After the short press conference (if you can call it that), the party was turned over to an interesting mix of entertainers.

Sam Adams Mayoral Welcome Party-9
Portland's "First Lady", singer Storm Large.

At one point, the "First lady of Portland" (according to Mayor Adams) singer Storm Large took the stage with a former Sesame Street cast member (his name escapes me) and the two sang a duet of the Carpenters' "Sing, Sing a Song". They even encouraged the audience to join in.

And that was the tame part of the night. The festivities also included the sounds and Portland-style pomp of the March Fourth Marching Band, the emcee talents of the Wanderlust Circus and acrobatic artistry of Kazuum. Filling out the night's entertainment was local band Trashcan Joe, several juggler/magician types, and others.

Sam Adams Mayoral Welcome Party-13
The ringmaster, William Batty invoked
Abbie Hoffman and said the freaks have
officially taken over City Hall.

The crowd was immense. People filled the three floors of City Hall. All four commissioners were there, along with their retinue of supporters, staff, and well-wishers. In just the time I was watching him, Mayor Adams probably hugged about 50 people.

It was a night for carefree optimism and a time for the citizens of Portland and their leaders to enjoy each other's company before the real work begins.

I pulled aside Adams' chief of staff Tom Miller and chatted about what's on the horizon. Miller said their office is in full work mode beginning today. I asked him about the unexpected hire of former Portland Mercury News Editor Amy Ruiz. Miller was happy to have her on staff, saying, "She knows how to ask hard questions, she very smart, and she works hard."

Sam Adams Mayoral Welcome Party-14
Adams' right-hand man, Tom Miller.

Miller also re-iterated a promise from his boss that I reported previously -- that in his first 100 days in office, Adams will announce plans to build a "high-profile cycletrack facility" (cycletrack is a European term for a physically separated bikeway). Miller said bike coordinator Roger Geller and head traffic engineer Rob Burchfield are working on identifying where it will go. One possible location is SW Broadway.

Miller said the Mayor's Office will release the full list of accomplishments they'll hope to nail down in the first 100 days on Thursday. He was pretty secretive about list details, but told me there are other transportation-related things on that list including something about bicycle boulevards.

To try and get some perspective on the night's happy vibe, I talked with Timo Forsberg. Timo is a Portland bike culture pioneer who was around the table when the bike-fun activism group Shift was formed and has been a major instigator of Breakfast on the Bridges for years (it was probably his idea). These days, Forsberg is the best kind of bureaucrat, he works in the Transportation Options division of PBOT, promoting bike use and spreading the gospel from the inside.

Sam Adams Mayoral Welcome Party-12
The Dream Team?
(Not pictured: Dan Saltzman)

Forsberg moved to Portland in 1995 and he recalled the enthusiasm when former mayor Potter took office. "We were pretty excited about Tom too at the time. He was seen as a real change from the status quo." Forsberg remembered how Potter rode his recumbent in Critical Mass at the outset of his tenure (which was unfortunately his last overtly bike-friendly gesture -- more of my analysis of Potter's bike friendliness here).

As to whether he thinks Adams will have more success in office than Potter, Forsberg said, "I think Sam has a pretty clear agenda, a focused agenda. Tom's was more amorphous. After all, Tom wasn't really a politician but it's clear that Sam knows how to get things done."

Hopefully Adams will indeed get things done. He'll have to, if he wants to keep the party going.

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  • matt picio January 6, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Pretty succinct. I have much higher hopes for Sam than even I do for Barack Obama - and like Obama, Adams is going to have to work dilligently, promptly, and attentively to maintain the hope and trust that he's built.

    We have an amazing opportunity over the next 12-18 months to define the transportation dialogue in this city, the state, and the nation. We need strong leaders with the guts to do what needs to be done, even if it's politically unpopular. We need to more efficiently allocate resources. We have an unparalleled investment in a system of transportation and development which worked fine in an energy-rich and resource-rich world. That world no longer exists, and the systems that worked so well under it are completely unsuited for the world we're entering.

    We can't remake everything overnight to the way it should be - but we need a sustained effort at all levels of government, by private businesses, nonprofits and individual citizens to build community, find solutions to the existing problems, and minimize the damage done and the number of people affected as we transition to a sustainable society. No matter what, we WILL become sustainable - either through working hard and making sacrifices, or by nature enforcing the change upon us.

    I'll be impressed with Sam Adams if he can bring the city departments in line with the results of Portland's Peak Oil report; if he can increase the mode share of transit, walking, skating and cycling; and if he can call a halt to the rubber-stamping of the CRC. (not sure how much influence the city has on that at the moment, but if he can scale it back to a manageable solution, he'll impress the hell out of me)

    I really hope that Sam Adams makes a real effort to open public dialogue for the direction the city should be moving in, to ensure that Portland can retain as much of its character as possible in the times ahead.

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  • Dave January 6, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    I have to say, after my bike ride in to work today, I'd be very very happy for a cycle track on SW Broadway. Normally I ride along the waterfront to the OHSU tram and take that up the hill, but I forgot my badge (so I would have had to pay the $4), so I had to go through downtown, and not only is SW Broadway a much more hilly ride, but the bike lane is barely wide enough for a bike to fit between the parked cars and the car lane, there is construction blocking the bike lane in at least one spot, and in many places it's still full of gravel.

    I think this whole winter storm business really emphasized to me how much the focus of Portland is still on automobiles (transportation-wise), and while I know that's not going to change overnight, I hope that we can at least come to a better balance between modes of transportation, and maybe have the options of walking and biking viewed as equally feasible options along with driving.

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  • a.O January 6, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    We shall see...

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  • bahueh January 6, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    wow...Ms. Storm Large has quite a little pottey mouth on her website...

    I like it. :)

    the idea of her singing with Sesame street is....well...different.

    As for Adams....well...its finally nice to actually have a mayor in this town...
    time will tell.

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  • ethan January 6, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    The man who sang with Storm Large was Emilio Delgado, who played Luis Rodriguez on Sesame Street.

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  • cyclist January 6, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    I just can't see how a cycletrack on SW Broadway would be safe. We have short blocks downtown, and the parked cars along Broadway would create visibility limitation that could lead to serious right hook problems for those using the cycletracks. If anyone has any ideas, I'm excited to hear them.

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  • Hank Sheppard January 6, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Sam can kill the CRC as presently proposed with a couple of phone calls...if he wants to. He just has to say "over my dead body." Maybe Amy will help him do it. Let's hope.

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  • grimm January 6, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    Goodbye lame duck and hello Adams!

    Thankfully we dont have to wait till the 20th like with the president. Its going to be a helluva year I can see already.

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  • [...] sobre a cidade nos relatos (ainda incompletos) da Towards Carfree Cities 2008. Portland’s new mayor bring circus to City Hall Adams wants Portland to be hub of the “green revolution” Portland’s safer [...]

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  • William Batty January 8, 2009 at 8:41 am

    That's "ringmaster", thanks very much. I was so honored to be asked to participate, and pleased when Mr. Adams told me how much he enjoyed the show and my own quasi-satirical rhetoric. I didn't realize till I saw this photo that Nick Fish was on the verge of calling security when I compared Sam Adams to Abbie Hoffman, but that makes me happy as well.

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