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Dash for cash

Candidate’s off and running, but time crunch could be a Sho stopper
by: L.E. BASKOW, Sho Dozono (middle) shows off his first $5 contribution, from Chuck and Maybelle Breyer, at Woodstock Wine & Deli this week. Dozono’s daughter, Kristen (left), is wearing the “Vote For Sho” T-shirt.

Sho Dozono has launched what could be the shortest campaign for mayor in city history. When he filed for mayor Jan. 7, the businessman and civic leader vowed to drop his bid if he fails to collect 1,500 signed forms and accompanying $5 contributions from registered Portland voters in three weeks. That’s what it will take to qualify for the city’s public campaign financing program. And if Dozono doesn’t qualify, he said, “I’m history.” But if he succeeds, Dozono will have scored a one-two punch — proving he has grass-roots support and qualifying for up to $192,500 in campaign funds. Since the program went into effect two years ago, nobody, including well-connected incumbent Commissioner Erik Sten, ever has qualified in fewer than two months. That’s why, depending on whom you ask, Dozono’s gamble is either an exercise in hubris, a foolhardy miscalculation, a potential political masterstroke — or some combination of all three. “I think that if he makes the deadline for public financing he will be a formidable candidate,” said Dave Lister, a former candidate. “I just don’t know how he can possibly make it.” Dozono’s attitude always has been “damn the torpedoes and make things happen,” said his friend and supporter, Jack McGowan of the conservation group Solv. “Knowing Sho, I think it can be done.” Asked why he waited so long to announce, Dozono said it took him a while to finally decide. He chose the public campaign route because raising as much as $1 million to campaign “did not appeal to me.” He also concedes he hadn’t realized that by going the public financing route, he was tackling such a challenging task. “Frankly, I wasn’t looking at the rigors of the 1,500 (signatures),” he said, but then added, “I’m very confident that we’ll get this done by Jan. 31, if not sooner.” A popular guy Born in Japan, Dozono was 10 years old when he moved to the United States with his family. Despite an accent that could have set him apart, Dozono had no problem making friends. At Cleveland High School, he was voted the president of the “Men’s League,” essentially meaning the boys’ half of the school. In one photo, he flashes a muscular physique in his wrestling uniform; in the other he is pictured with a confident smile and lady-killer duds. He earned a degree in education at the University of Washington, completed his master’s in education at Portland State University in 1968 and spent three years with the U.S. Army in a noncombat role, stationed in Vancouver, Wash. He taught and coached football and wrestling at Grant High School for five years before leaving to join the family business, Azumano Travel. With the rise of the Internet, many travel businesses have gone under. Aided by contracts with the state and local governments, Azumano has survived, boasting 12 offices in three states. Dozono, 63 and a registered Democrat, also has been active in political circles, offering up his company offices for phone banks and supporting various campaigns on both the Democratic and Republican sides. Among other things, in 1996 he spearheaded planning for a march of 30,000 to protest school funding cuts. He also organized the Flight for Freedom, sending 1,000 Portlanders to New York City to help with relief efforts in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. According to friend McGowan, no planes were flying at the time, and “there were a lot of naysayers, (but) Sho never blinked.” For Dozono’s Sept. 11 relief efforts, McGowan’s group awarded him the Tom McCall Award. Dozono also has served on myriad committees and boards, including the board of the Port of Portland as well as the Portland Business Alliance. He also chaired the committee that recommended changing Portland’s form of government to give the mayor and a professional manager more control over the city’s bureaucracy — a proposal that was overwhelmingly defeated at the polls last year. ‘My conscience is clear’ Not all of Dozono’s efforts won him friends. In 2002, a Willamette Week cover story about Dozono focused on a lawsuit filed on behalf of the mother of a child of a deceased business partner of Dozono’s named Tad Ohno. Ohno left trust funds for his son and her mother, of which Dozono was trustee. But records show that despite his fiduciary responsibility, he used the contents of the trust funds to support his own businesses, loaning them a total of $1.25 million over four years. Dozono today says the article and its “allegations” were what caused him to wait so long before finally making up his mind. Asked to respond, Dozono says it was a “critical time” for his then-struggling businesses and that he did not realize he was doing anything wrong. “I was never a professional trustee,” he said. “I did what I thought was best for the trust. And I repaid any money borrowed with interest. Today my conscience is clear that I did my best as a trustee, recognizing that I made some errors. … I learned from my mistakes.” Lori Ohno did not agree that he fully repaid the trusts, and the trustee that succeeded Dozono, Ohno’s brother, filed a lawsuit for more than $800,000. Now married, Lori Ohno goes by the name Lori Lanning-Ralston. She said that the lawsuit was dropped because the statute of limitations had passed. She still is not a fan of Dozono. “Sho will do whatever it takes to look good, as long as he is not personally financially invested,” she said. “For example, he is running for mayor and looking for (public) funds.” First, the signatures Having signed up for the campaign financing system, Dozono must raise $7,500 in individual contributions. Also, to help gather that money, he can collect seed money of up to $20,000 in contributions of no more than $100. If he succeeds, the city will hand him $192,500, less whatever he raised in seed money — giving him a total of $200,000 to run a campaign. Dozono’s pre-campaign Web site, showyoursupportforsho .com, generated 350 e-mails from supporters. Of those, he said, some 200 lived within city limits, and it’s on those that he is relying to help him get the necessary signatures. His campaign is advised by consultant Len Bergstein and managed by Paige Richardson, who ran John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign in Oregon. Also working on the campaign is Amie Abbott, who works for the Portland Business Alliance. Abbott said she is confident Dozono can gather the signatures, noting that rallies are planned this Saturday at Woodstock Wine and Deli, and the following Saturday at Grant High School. Dozono said he is focused on gathering signatures, and will begin to campaign in earnest once that has been achieved. In taking on the perceived front-runner, city Commissioner Sam Adams, he seems to be taking a page out of the winning playbook employed by Mayor Tom Potter in his dark horse victory over the favored front-runner Jim Francesconi four years ago. For instance, Dozono is short on specifics about his agenda, other than to say he is pro-jobs, pro-schools and pro-transparency. “If we don’t have a great educational system, we will all be working for minimum wage,” he said. He also does not provide details on why he thinks he would be better than his opponent, other than to say he is not an “insider.” On the recent controversy over the proposed naming of a street after César Chávez, he criticized council members’ decision made overnight — and later dropped — to rename Fourth Avenue rather than North Interstate Avenue. “I think it’s really about communications style,” he said. “I really hope that my leadership can change how City Hall operates, privately and publicly. … I am not a backroom deal person.” Some skeptics point to Potter as an example of the danger in electing a mayor with no experience in elected office. But Dozono rejects the no-experience tag, calling himself “more than qualified” for the job. “If people look at my background in civic engagement they will see that I have not been a bystander,” he said. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.