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Potter says all the right things in speech

At the stroke of midnight, while the rest of Portland slept, the drumbeat of the city's political puzzles kept me awake.

It was a day after Tom Potter was sworn in as mayor, and I was filled with a sense of ambivalence tinged with frustration. I was wondering about the end of the Vera Katz era Ñ and the beginning of a new one.

I had hung on every word Potter uttered in his inaugural speech. In it, he reminded us how coal miners, before the advent of sophisticated smoke detectors, used canaries as a warning for dangerous fumes. He cautioned that our children have become the modern-day equivalent of those birds.

'They are warning us that we have forgotten a basic law of human progress; that children need nurturing and loving adults, a roof over their heads, a full stomach, good health and a quality education to help them achieve full human potential in life,' Potter declared.

He promised to devote energy to resolve the methamphetamine crisis, work with the business community to improve the local economy and collaborate with school officials to provide a top-tier education for every child.

It dawned on me that there comes a time when a new leader steps out, bent on ending an age of waste and bloated bureaucracy, a moment when the good of a city long suppressed by absurdity, spin and special interests finds its utterance and liberation.

I wondered if that day was upon us with the new mayor. I wondered if I was perhaps deluded by Potter's comforting statements and honesty. 'The challenge ahead is formidable,' he admitted. 'But I believe in you. I know in Portland and in Oregon, there isn't anything we cannot solve when we are together.'

It was hard to disagree with those sentiments, given that he had just inherited a city led by Vera Katz. But it also was hard to be optimistic, given that I had a copy of Katz's first inaugural speech, given at Roosevelt High School on Jan. 4, 1993.

In the speech Ñ which she tagged 'This Is Where We Belong' Ñ she came out swinging at the status quo with blunt messages of change.

'I am here in the St. Johns neighborhood today because this is where leaders belong,' she said, stressing that 'City Hall will go to where the people are with more council meetings held at night and out in the community.'

I don't think Katz met her own challenge of taking the city to the people. Mind you, this is not an indictment of her entire 12-year reign but something that concerned me as I replayed Potter's speech in the wee hours.

I decided that Potter deserves the benefit of the doubt on his plans to make our city work more efficiently. Our new mayor is a decent and well-intentioned citizen bent on fixing what he thinks is wrong with our city.

He may have left out a few specifics in his speech, but he has provided us the opportunity for a fresh start and a new platform for working together over the next four years, for the brave new Portland that he envisions.

Sadly, we are a part of a city restricted by old regulations and redundancy, a city that has sometimes retained its glory at the expense of business growth and development. The challenge for Potter is to find the balance.

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