Due to his role as Commissioner in charge of Transportation, I have reported on Sam Adams many times in the past few years. Last week I finally sat down with Sho Dozono — a Portland business owner who is Adams’ only competition in the race for mayor.
Below are some of my thoughts on this race, along with excerpts from my conversation with Dozono. With nearly two-thirds of Portland voters still holding onto their ballots, I hope the information below helps you with your decision.
Adams at his campaign announcement.
(All photos © J. Maus)
Sho Dozono during our conversation
Sam Adams – SamForPDX.com
Current Commissioner Sam Adams has been just about as active a champion for bicycling as an elected official can be. As the Commissioner in charge of transportation, he has taken the reins of PDOT and his commitment to a wide range of bike-related issues has helped make Portland the undisputed capital of bicycling in America — and has helped put our bike culture on a world stage.
He has traveled to the best bicycling cities in the world (like Amsterdam) and has used them as inspiration to create more balance in our transportation system.
Part of creating that balance has been a commitment to seeing bicycles not just as a mode choice we should try to accommodate when it’s cheap and easy — or politically palatable. But rather, seeing bicycles as an integral part of the city, seamlessly woven into the fabric of our daily lives.
From the fun stuff like funding the North American Handmade Bike Show and working with the Regional Arts and Culture Council to create a permanent public art rack for the Zoobomb Pyle — to more serious commitments like embarking on the bike box campaign to improve traffic safety at dangerous intersections and trying to find a new way to fund much-needed bike safety improvements.
I’ve covered Commissioner Adams’ work on bike-related issues extensively on this site (search for “Sam Adams” in the sidebar to browse the archives) and I think it’s safe to say if he became mayor, he would continue to Portland’s momentum and work toward major gains in the percentage of Portlanders who go by bike.
But during this election season, Adams has been tested.
His aggressive work on the Safe, Sound and Green Streets initiative and more recently the Sauvie Island Bridge relocation project — while exciting for many Portlanders who appreciate his commitment to solving the transportation safety and funding crisis we face — has also made him a target to the media, his political rivals, and to many Portlanders.
To the extent you believe Adams’ name is synonymous with bicycling to a large part of our population, negative headlines about “pet projects” and City Council feuds have ramifications for the “bicycling community” as well.
That’s why, for many people on both sides of mayoral decision, this election is very important.
A vote for Adams means that Portland can expect to continue on its path toward being one of the most sustainable, distinctive, and accessible cities in the country — no matter how you choose to get around.
Adams has been endorsed by every major local newspaper including the Portland Mercury, the Willamette Week, the Oregonian, and others.
Sho Dozono – ShoForMayor.com
Adams’ mayoral foe Sho Dozono — who has the support of current Mayor Tom Potter — says he is better suited to lead our city. And, to many who care about improving biking in Portland, Dozono is the antithesis of Adams.
But when I sat down for a conversation with Dozono (and Rick Potestio, who accompanied him) last week, that’s not necessarily how he sees it.
I asked Dozono to share with me how he would “make Portland like Amsterdam” — which is something he said in a televised debate last month.
I asked for one concrete thing he would do but he steered his answer to a subject knows well — tourism. Dozono said he knows how to make a city attractive to international visitors [like Amsterdam is known for bicycling for instance].
He mentioned how bike-friendly China is and how all the train stations there are full of bikes. I interjected that now, many Chinese are moving away from riding bikes and that to keep them riding would take bold leadership — much like Adams has shown — in order to withstand the car companies moving into the market.
When I mentioned Adams, Dozono was quick to remind me that Portland’s commitment to bicycling was started long before he Adams took office, saying that other leaders like Tom McCall and Earl Blumenauer “get a lot of credit”.
“I was part of the group that was marketing Oregon when Cycle Oregon was born,” said Dozono, “I was part of a group that was thinking about, “how do we really market Oregon as a bike-friendly destination.”
Dozono said he’s noticed a “phenomenal” increase in bike commuters in past years and that he wants to see more — but that he realizes the streets must be made safer for them.
“I see a trend and it’s not just young people [biking]… I see people my age group commuting, I have friends that are actually commuting. It’s amazing how many bikes are in our downtown high-rises now compared to five years ago.
…so I see the trend and I just think we need to do more as a city to not only adopt, but really encourage bike commuting… so my comment about being a bike-friendly candidate, you know, I want to move towards that…no more and no less than any other bike advocate.”
I then shared with Dozono that in order to continue encouraging bike usage we could not go along with business as usual and that it is going to take big steps — someone to take the lead and push for balancing out the transportation system.
Dozono replied that that leadership shouldn’t always have to come from Council. He said ideas for innovative projects and plans to increase bike ridership, “don’t necessarily have to be someone on City Council…it could, but City Council has to be responsive and build consensus supporting the bike advocates’ needs.”
This was a repeated theme from Dozono — the idea that advocacy groups and individuals should clamor for what they want and not rely on a specific champion for their issues on the Council.
I agreed, but then added that, in the end, someone on Council has to put forth the idea and get the votes. Dozono answered that by saying he’ll seek out bike experts and assemble a “kitchen cabinet” of advisers to help guide his policies if elected.
(Perhaps as evidence of this, minutes before we were scheduled to meet, Dozono called and asked if he could bring along Rick Potestio. Potestio is a local architect, one of the founders of the Cross Crusade cyclocross race series, and a vocal critic of the Sauvie Island Bridge project both in comments on this site and in City Council testimony.)
Dozono has not offered much policy during his campaign so far. The most high-profile (at least bike-wise) issue he’s taken a stand on is the Sauvie Island Bridge relocation project.
Dozono was opposed to the project, he took credit for its demise, and now he uses it in his campaign materials where he refers to it as the “bike crossing” and highlights it as a “pricey pet project”.
After talking “with many Portland residents”, Dozono said people “out in Northeast and Southeast don’t have sense of urgency” about the bridge.
I asked Dozono about his statements claiming the bridge project was about serving “special interests”, to which he replied, “…is it really for the Pearl District and NW Portland versus the entire city? I think even Mayor Potter came on board in saying that other safety issues have an equal or higher priority than this particular bridge project.”
He went on,
“I’m not anti-bike. Clearly. I’m not talking about bicyclists as a special interest, really about Pearl District …and this is part of the Burnside-Couch Couplet and that to me is special interest because a lot of people that live on that street don’t want the couplet to happen; a lot of the planners think it’s a bad design… so that’s different from [not] being bike-friendly or making the city of Portland the most bike-friendly city in the country.”
Dozono said he’s not completely opposed to a new crossing at Flanders,
“I opposed the Sauvie Island Bridge for a difference principal — not because I’m anti-bike. Would I be supportive of bike/ped only bridge if it was at a reasonable cost and if it’s a desirable thing? Absolutely.”
In the absence of a Flanders Crossing, Dozono said he’d rather spend a few million dollars to the existing crossings at Everett and Glisan safer.
Toward the end of our conversation, I gave Dozono a chance to try and convince BikePortland readers to vote for him. Here’s what he said:
“I don’t know that anyone… there maybe a handful of people are bicycling because it’s their life and the only thing that matters to them is about bicycles and some politician that talks bike language. I happen to believe that there are more important things than riding a bike.
It certainly can enhance your quality of life, but there’s more to being the mayor of the city than bike issues… whether it’s education or the overall environment — and bicycling is only part of that. I think it’s moving in a positive direction. I think getting people out of cars and riding bikes is great. But that can’t be the only reason people should vote for someone for mayor. This isn’t a bicycle transportation commissioner vote… this is about a Mayor of the city of Portland.
Am I likely to be making decisions that will impact their lives beyond bicycles? Absolutely.
Would I be as good of a bike advocate as Sam Adams? Absolutely. But that’s for me to say, and for you to sort of guess, to see, what’s my record. My record and my life is different from Sam’s.”
My final question was whether or not we could expect different leadership on bike issues from Dozono than we’ve had with Mayor Potter.
I asked; Would you say you’re going to be markedly different than Mayor Potter and that you’ll go more strongly in a direction of making bikers safe and encouraging more riders?
“Not as a negative comment to Tom Potter, but yes. I would.”
Dozono has been endorsed by the Mutnomah County Republican Party.
In Portland, our Mayor’s influence is limited. He/she has the same voting power as the other four commissioners. But regardless of that, the head of our city sets the tone for the kind of city we are and the kind of city we’ll become.
- — What do you think of the race for mayor?
— Who did you vote for and why?
— What do you think the future of Portland will look like with Sam or Sho at the helm?
— Do you think Adams will get over 50% of the votes and avoid a runoff?
The deadline for ballots is Tuesday (5/20).