All three candidates for Metro Council president are emphasizing the importance of a stronger Portland regional economy. Only one candidate, however, has a demonstrated ability to not only understand, but also to successfully foster a governmental environment that encourages private-sector job creation.
Given the dire need for better and far more career opportunities in the Portland area, that makes this the right moment for Metro to adopt a new attitude under the leadership of a new president - former Hillsboro Mayor Tom Hughes.
Hughes has shown exceptional leadership in helping Hillsboro and Washington County continue a role as an economic driver for Oregon. Under his watch, the Hillsboro area not only maintained what already was a healthy economic base, but extended those economic victories by landing such future-oriented companies as SolarWorld and Genentech.
Our endorsement of Hughes is based not just on his record, but also on the belief that his arrival at Metro can initiate a much-needed cultural change within the regional government. Metro must no longer be seen as an obstacle to economic growth. But it must be viewed as a greater partner to those local governments that fall within its tri-county boundaries - a partner that assists them in reaching their unique community aspirations.
Burkholder, Stacey have strengths
This endorsement of Hughes also doesn't come without reservations. He faces two opponents who have admirable qualifications quite specific to Metro's mission.
Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder possesses an in-depth knowledge of transportation, land use and other matters that fall directly into Metro's portfolio. A Northeast Portland resident and a noted advocate of biking, Burkholder has shown impressive growth and maturity as a Metro councilor as he has attempted to forge compromises around volatile issues, including the controversial Columbia River Crossing project.
But even if he loses this election, the region will retain the benefit of Burkholder's experience as he remains on the Metro council for another two years.
Regardless of the election outcome, the region also is likely to continue to benefit from the advocacy provided by Bob Stacey, the former executive director of 1,000 Friends of Oregon who also is running for Metro president. Stacey makes a strong case for his candidacy and he has impeccable environmental, land-use and transportation-planning credentials.
But we believe the issue of the day is the economy - and Hughes has the edge in advocating and successfully cultivating the type of economic development that Portland-area residents would support.
A two-part election?
With three formidable candidates vying in the May primary for an office that - while quite influential - isn't that well understood by the public, this election likely will carry over into a November runoff. If Hughes or one of his opponents doesn't gain more than 50 percent of the May vote, the two candidates with the most votes will head to the November general election ballot.
We would welcome such a runoff, because we believe it would give Hughes, if he is one of the finalists, a chance to sharpen his candidacy and provide greater clarity about what he hopes to accomplish at Metro. It's not at all easy to effect cultural change in an institution as entrenched as Metro - which has duties that range from regional transportation planning to management of the Oregon Zoo to solid waste disposal. As time goes on - and to retain our support and the support of others - Hughes needs to be much more specific about how he plans to accomplish all the things he favors.
Metro doesn't have economic development as part of its mission, but its involvement with transportation planning, infrastructure discussions and land use have direct impacts on the ability of communities to attract and retain good industries.
Hughes understands how this nexus between the public and private sectors works - and for that reason, voters should support him for Metro president in the May 18 primary election.