There's a new twist in the lingering saga of Kendra James. Two months of simmering controversy have tainted Portland's image in the black world.
African-Americans in the convention business are expressing concerns about coming to Portland. 'We are very sensitive to issues of brutality,' says Solomon Herbert, a California-based member of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners, who also doubles as the publisher of Black Meetings and Tourism magazine. 'We think back to what happened in Cincinnati, in Los Angeles after Rodney King, and we ask: 'Are we safe?' '
And Mayor Vera Katz is paying attention. She's seeking to speak with conventioneers who doubt Portland's inclusive intention. 'We will continue to offer a city that welcomes everyone,' Katz said in a statement to the Tribune.
Roy Jay of the Oregon Convention & Visitors Service Network, which is charged with attracting minority visitors and conventions to Portland and the state, recently sent a warning signal to elected officials and business leaders. He reminded them that the impasse between the black community and the Portland Police Bureau after the shooting death of James, and the corresponding negative publicity, is painting a less welcoming picture of Portland.
'As African-Americans and Hispanics scrutinize and analyze Portland's response to perceived minority violence, our positive hospitality image as a place where all people are welcomed has been severely tainted,' Jay wrote in a letter that was sent to, among others, Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Katz and Joe D'Alessandro, the executive director of the Portland Oregon Visitors Association.
A potential boycott of the city by black conventioneers is a real threat if the racial tension between police and the black community is not resolved. In June last year, the national board of the Union of Black Episcopalians voted to cancel its convention in Cincinnati. Likewise, the 10,000 members of the National Baptist Convention also boycotted Cincinnati after a year of tumultuous racial tension and conflict there.
If Portland is likewise boycotted, it would be a sad day for the city's visitors association, which shells out $300,000 annually (some of it with Jay's firm) to court minority conventions.
Last year alone, visitors to the Portland metro area spent about $2.4 billion, according to association estimates. The tourism sector of our economy generated 29,900 jobs and $650 million in profits. Travel spending funneled $106 million in tax revenue to local and state governments. The visitors also spend a whopping $716 million on accommodations and retail shopping and another $168 million for recreation and entertainment.
The fact is that the city's future and its reputation as a desirable tourist destination is a key factor in our overall economic development. That in itself should be enough to obliterate any reluctance to move forward with practicable police reforms.
D'Alessandro says Portland's image is still tarnished by the 1992 battle over Ballot Measure 9, which would have restricted the rights of gays and lesbians.
Police reforms would help, but so would a change in the temperament of our leaders, some of whom seem to pursue a reckless agenda at the expense of our city's reputation. At least in the name of balanced budgets, we need to roll out the welcome mat once again for minority conventions.