War vote puts Francesconi on hot seat
Business group did not influence his decision, commissioner says
City Commissioner Jim Francesconi says patriotism, not pressure from the Portland Business Alliance, led to his vote against the anti-Iraq war resolution that was defeated by the City Council.
'The pressure I felt was not from any business group but from my friends and all the people who care so much about this city and this country,' said Francesconi, who is planning a race for mayor next year.
The resolution, opposing a pre-emptive strike on Iraq, failed on a 2-2 vote after a lengthy and emotional hearing before about 250 people Wednesday. Commissioner Randy Leonard joined Francesconi in opposing the resolution, while Mayor Vera Katz and Commissioner Erik Sten voted for it.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman was absent but said before the vote that he opposed the resolution.
Kim Kimbrough, the alliance's president and chief executive officer, said in a letter Tuesday to the council that the business group opposed the resolution.
In his letter, Kimbrough said the council should spend its time working on local problems, including business recruitment and retention, adequate school funding and regulatory reform.
'It brings into question,' he said, 'whether some of the local problems that the City Council can impact are really urgent or important if our City Council has the time to debate the foreign policies of the United States government, over which the council has no authority.'
Don't know, don't care
Explaining his vote Wednesday, Francesconi said, 'Although I agree with the resolution's sentiments, I cannot support a city resolution on issues we cannot control.'
Peace activists distributed copies of the Portland Business Alliance letter outside Francesconi's office after the vote, claiming that his arguments against the resolution were virtually identical to the ones made by Kimbrough.
'I think the Portland Business Alliance got to Francesconi,' antiwar activist Dan Handelman said.
Francesconi dismissed the accusation, saying he reached his decision while recuperating at home from hip surgery.
Asked about the possible political consequences of his vote, Francesconi replied, 'I don't know, and I don't care.'
No one from the influential downtown business group testified against the resolution at the afternoon hearing.
'We thought it was a waste of the council's time, so testifying against it would be a waste of time, too,' said John Czarobski, a spokesman for the alliance.
Leonard, the council's newest member, also voted against it but did not receive the attention of the activists. He is a former Portland firefighter who spoke passionately about the firefighters and police officers killed during World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
'I think for him it was more a fellow firefighter thing,' Handelman said.
Leonard disagreed with the business group on the propriety of bringing the measure before the council. It was, he said, an appropriate topic for discussion.
'Sept. 11 taught all of us that foreign policy can have a real local impact,' said Leonard, who also said he did not have enough facts about the threat posed by Iraq to support the resolution.
Explaining his vote in support of the resolution, Sten said he opposed the unilateral use against Iraq. Katz said that although World War II proved that some wars are justified, the Bush administration has not yet made a case for attacking Iraq.
Defeat is a surprise
The tie vote that defeated the resolution seemed to stun the hundreds of peace activists who crammed into the council chambers to support it. Dozens of other cities already have passed such measures, including Chicago, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
During the 2 1/2-hour hearing, dozens of people testified in favor of the resolution, while only about a half-dozen made the case for supporting President Bush's efforts to use force to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
According to Katz's press aide, Sarah Bott, letters and e-mail were running 9-1 in favor of the resolution before the vote.
'What city do you live in?' screamed one woman after Katz announced that the resolution had lost and adjourned the meeting.
The issue moves next to Multnomah County, where Commissioners Serena Cruz and Maria Rojo de Steffey have introduced a similar resolution that will be considered Thursday by the full commission.