Leonard to Novick?

Steve Novick
Steve Novick

For the second time in, well, hours, a major Northwest political figure opts out of running next year and almost immediately a prospective successor appears. Today’s may be even more interesting than yesterday’s.

The opt-out is Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard, for more than eight years a high-profile and strong-personality part of the city’s five-member leadership group. (You don’t have to stretch to see him as the former Portland firefighters union president he once was.) He has been a highly active commissioner, taking on subjects ranging from business regulation to taping reserved spots for viewers at parades.

Activist (for lack of a term more precise) Steve Novick, whose announcement this morning came smack on heels of the formal pullback from Leonard, probably would take that up to a new level.

Novick, first of all, has an excellent shot. As a first-time candidate, he came close in 2008 to upsetting state House Speaker Jeff Merkley in the Democratic run for U.S. Senate. He’d be a clear fit for Portland, being in general terms liberal working generally the same side of the street as people like Leonard, Merkley and most of the current Portland leadership.

The difference comes in his communications skills, which are extraordinary, and his wonkishness (not a common combination). For a sense of that, here’s a piece of his e-mail sent out this morning about his candidacy:

I’m running because I want to try a new strategy on jobs and economic development: including making Portland the #1 city in America at controlling health care costs. If it works (and I think it will) it will give Portland a competitive edge that smart companies won’t be able to ignore. See details on one way to do it.

I’m running because I think the City of Portland can and should make some targeted investments in Portland’s schools, which have been battered by budget cuts for 20 years. In particular, I think the City can invest in giving teachers and principals opportunities to improve their skills – for instance, by providing scholarships to go through the National Board Certification process. (Again, you can see details on my web site.)

And I’m running because I think we can build a better public safety system, with more emphasis on prevention and less emphasis on reaction and incarceration. Right now, City police are often acting as first responders to what are really mental health crises – because the County doesn’t have enough resources for mental health treatment – which is partly because the State has cut funding to the counties – which is partly because the State is overburdened with rising prison costs.

Portland City Council, which is actually a mix of policy-making and management (for council members as well as the mayor), could be a uniquely neat fit.

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