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Political rivals now comparing notes

Katz and Blumenauer appear to share desire to skip mayoral rematch

Once, they were enemies, opponents in Portland's contentious 1992 race for mayor.

Eleven years later, Mayor Vera Katz and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer have met at least once to discuss their respective political futures. The substance of their talks remains secret, but this time it looks like he's deferring to her.

Blumenauer says he won't make up his mind on a race for mayor until September, two months after Katz is expected to announce her own plans.

Both the three-term mayor and the four-term Oregon congressman are being coy about whether they will run for mayor next year, though the odds of their facing off again appear slim.

'I'm guessing that they'd prefer not to run against each other,' said Robert Eisinger, an associate professor of political science at Lewis & Clark College. 'The Katz base and Blumenauer base overlap: progressive liberals. If both were to run, it's possible they would offset each other and neither would get elected.'

The mayoral field remains unsettled 11 months before the May 18, 2004, election. Around City Hall, odds are against Katz deciding to seek a fourth term. But even those close to her say they don't know what she'll announce when she discloses her plans, probably sometime next month.

City Commissioner Jim Francesconi isn't waiting to see what Katz does. He's running for mayor and is putting together a campaign staff. Commissioner Erik Sten also may run.

Blumenauer ratcheted up his noncandidacy for mayor this week by scheduling a series of public meetings that he describes as a look at critical issues facing Portland. It's a process that will help him decide whether to run for mayor, he says.

Don't read too much into the meetings, Blumenauer cautioned. True, he may run for mayor. He says he'll decide by mid-September. And true, some of those meetings will be outside his congressional district. But he sees the meetings as being more about policy than politics.

'It's not a declaration that I'm running,' he said. 'This comes up all the time, and it's something I will in fact consider, along with running for re-election' to Congress.

Don't expect a rematch of the 1992 Katz-Blumenauer race. Katz beat Blumenauer by 11 percentage points in the May 1992 election and by 15 points in the November runoff. Blumenauer's friends said he took the loss hard and probably wouldn't want a repeat.

The race changed their relationship as both served on the Portland City Council. But the two have gotten along well, friends said, since his election to Congress in 1996.

And in March they met for a talk that included the timing of their respective plans for 2004; friends expect them to meet again. The amiable comparing of notes comes in contrast to what happened last summer, when Francesconi told Katz he would run for mayor no matter what she decided. The announcement strained their relationship.

There are other electoral complications. Two groups are now circulating petitions to recall Katz. One, the Better Portland Alliance, said it would continue its campaign even if Katz decides not to run again. The group plans to run its own council candidates next year.

Blumenauer, however, would bring the experience and recognition generated by winning 12 local elections since 1972, not to mention $273,000 in congressional campaign money he could use for a mayoral race.

In recent months, the bow-tied congressman has taken some quiet steps toward entering the race, including talks with potential supporters. It's just 'due diligence,' a friend said.

'I'm having some conversations in that regard,' Blumenauer, a Democrat, said this week. 'It's fully my intention by the middle of September to have my own thinking crystallized and shortly thereafter make my own personal decisions.'

His decision to hold the meetings came days after completion of a poll he ordered to test his viability. The survey asked Portlanders how they feel about city issues, what they think of city government and whom they're likely to support among potential mayoral candidates.

The poll hasn't been made public. But people who have seen it said Blumenauer found the results very, very encouraging. His name recognition was high, and he did well in test races against potential candidates, they said.

Blumenauer said he always holds community meetings in the fall before each election year to see what's on the minds of voters. But this year his meetings will be all over the city, not just in his 3rd Congressional District neighborhoods on Portland's east side.

'It's going to be a good race no matter who wins,' said Lewis & Clark's Eisinger. 'All three of those candidates and there might be others are known in the community. None of them is loved by all, but all have reputations for caring deeply about Portland. They're going to fight fair and fight tough.'