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Reeses run for mayor poses voter dilemma

Police chiefs often don't fare well on ballots, but race still up for grabs
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Although he has not yet formally announced running for Portland mayor, Police Chief Mike Reese has opened a committee to raise funds for the race.

Portland police chiefs have a mixed record running for mayor.

Mayor Bud Clark easily defeated former Chief Ron Still to win re-election in November 1988. But former Chief Tom Potter handily defeated Commissioner Jim Francesconi to be elected mayor in the 2004 general election.

Now Chief Mike Reese is showing signs of running for mayor in 2012. He admitted considering the race after being approached by supporters several weeks ago. Reese registered a campaign fundraising committee last Friday with the Oregon secretary of state's office. And he asked the Northwest Labor Council to allow him to participate in Tuesday night's mayoral forum, even though he later withdrew.

Pollster Tim Hibbitts says that although Reese could be a strong candidate, there is no guarantee he would win the race. Three major candidates have already been campaigning for months, locking up endorsements and raising contributions. New Seasons co-founder Eileen Brady has raised more than $276,000 in cash and in-kind contributions. Former Commissioner Charlie Hales has collected more than $191,000. And state Rep. Jefferson Smith has brought in more than $116,000.

'All four of them could win the election at this point. Portland is a big city and there's a lot of time to go before the election,' says Hibbitts.

The only publicly released poll with Reese in the race confirms that. A Survey USA poll commissioned by KATU-TV put Reese at 20 percent, Brady at 19 percent, Hales at 13 percent and Smith at 11 percent. A full 38 percent of likely voters are undecided, according to the poll.

'No one candidate should be labeled the 'leader' based on these results, and no one candidate should be dismissed based on these results. Instead, the contest should be characterized as fluid, and hotly contested, with twice as many voters sitting on the sidelines as are yet committed to any one candidate,' according to Survey USA.

The race could be decided in the May 2012 primary election if any candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote. If not, the top two vote-getters will face each other in the November 2012 general election.

'Needs to define himself'

Political observers contacted by the Portland Tribune say Reese has both strengths and potential weaknesses as a candidate. Under his leadership, police broke up the Occupy Portland encampment in Chapman and Lownsdale squares with a minimal amount of force, especially compared to some previous mass demonstrations. But the bureau is also being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for possible civil rights violations, some of which occurred since he was appointed chief by Mayor Sam Adams in May 2010.

Perhaps the biggest unknown is where Reese stands on the many issues of interest to Portlanders. Reese began to clear that up in a statement he asked to be read in his absence at Tuesday's labor forum. Among other things, it said he supports the Columbia River Crossing project and allowing the Port of Portland to develop a portion of West Hayden Island. It did not address many other issues, however, such as the possible creation of an independent utility commission to set water and sewer rates.

'Reese needs to define himself to voters who want more than just a police chief for mayor,' says one observer, who asked to remain anonymous.

Reese is also finding the responsibilities of his job an issue. After asking to appear at the labor debate, Reese pulled out because of the ongoing Occupy Portland protests. State law prohibits public employees from engaging in political activities during work hours. As the withdrawal shows, the police chief does not work a strict 8-to-5 schedule.

The withdrawal allowed the other candidates to seize the limelight. Hales was prepared with a plan to eliminate upper management positions and eliminate positions that overlap with Multnomah County services to fund basic services, like sidewalks in those parts of town without them.

'We can cut through Portland's bureaucracy to place workers where they can help people provide fundamental services to every Portland resident,' Hales said of his plan to create a City Capital Fund.

Reese could take a leave of absence, resign or retire. That would force Adams to appoint an interim or permanent chief to replace him, at a time when the protesters are presenting unprecedented logistical problems to the bureau.