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Give Saltzman, Fish new terms

Our Opinion

Portlanders' impression of their City Council has been warped in the past year by the controversy surrounding Mayor Sam Adams and by the council's own propensity to misread the public mood as it dealt with contentious issues such as police shootings or the fate of Memorial Coliseum.

Behind the public controversies, however, the work at City Hall - much of it good - has continued, often under the quiet leadership of some of the same commissioners who've caught flak for their votes on more high-profile issues.

Two of those commissioners - Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish - are up for election in the May 18 primary. We believe that, while both still have room to grow as leaders, they have solid track records of achievement that warrant re-election.

Saltzman and Fish face opponents who offer detailed and sometimes accurate critiques of the incumbents and of the council as a whole. Here is a brief look at the issues raised and our recommendations:

Council Position 3: Dan Saltzman

Saltzman faces eight opponents in the May 18 primary - two of whom offer credible opposition. Mary Volm, former spokeswoman for the city, is very fluent in the issues Portland faces and makes a forceful case that the current commissioners emphasize the wrong priorities - giving Major League Soccer, for example, greater weight than basic city services.

Also impressive is Jesse Cornett, the former government relations director at Portland State University who, unlike Volm, succeeded in qualifying for the public financing that allows him to mount a realistic campaign against Saltzman. But while both Volm and Cornett have strengths, it is the three-term incumbent who is knee-deep in projects that are both worthy and in need of further nurturing.

Saltzman is the driver behind the popular Portland Children's Levy, which provides funding to nonprofit agencies that help prepare Portland children for school and keep them there. Volm and Cornett see Saltzman's support of such social programs as evidence that he would be better cast as a Multnomah County commissioner - but we agree with Saltzman that someone had to tackle these issues, and he was the one to do it.

It's also true that Saltzman has done more than focus on social services. He championed reform of the Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund and he points to the Big Pipe project as evidence that he and the city can complete complex initiatives on time and on budget. Appointed police commissioner by Adams, Saltzman has been embattled in the wake of recent shootings involving police officers. We hope to see Saltzman, if he retains the Police Bureau, move more resolutely toward policies, practices and training that better protect the public.

We believe Saltzman continues to grow from his experiences on the council. He is in the best position to put those lessons to use as the city focuses on the challenges of the future.

Position 2: Nick Fish

Fish, who has served on the council since being elected in 2008 to fill Erik Sten's unexpired term, doesn't face the formidable field of opponents that Saltzman does. The only candidate serious enough to even file a voters' pamphlet statement is Walt Nichols, a bookkeeper and neighborhood activist in Southeast Portland.

Nichols has some relevant experience as chair of his neighborhood association, but he doesn't as yet possess the credentials that Fish brings to the job.

Fish has done solid work overseeing the city's housing and parks bureaus. He is creating a new Portland Housing Bureau that will bring all housing programs under one roof, and he led the completion of the expensive, but much-needed Resource Access Center for the homeless.

Fish has struggled with the issue of homeless camps and he has broached the topic of floating new property tax levies to fund specific needs such as parks maintenance or housing. We are very wary of layering on additional property taxes in Portland - and Fish and the rest of the City Council should be too. But we appreciate that Fish is one of the more business-minded people on the council.

Both Fish and Saltzman have much more to offer as Portland looks forward to better economic times. Voters should re-elect them.