UPDATE: Candidate will not appeal ruling against public funds
Portland businessman Sho Dozono is staying in the race for mayor despite a decision last week blocking his use of public campaign funds.
The other major candidate in the race, Commissioner Sam Adams, said he welcomed the decision because it would ensure a full debate about the issues facing the mayor's office.
Dozono also told reporters Monday morning that he will not appeal the ruling, even though he is convinced he could have won it.
On March 20, state Administrative Law Judge David K. Gerstenfeld overturned city Auditor Gary Blackmer's ruling that allowed Dozono access to $161,171 for his campaign through the Voter-Owned Election system.
Gerstenfeld said Blackmer's March 5 decision was contrary to city elections code. Four mayoral candidates, including city Commissioner Sam Adams, challenged Blackmer's ruling, saying it failed to take into account the value of a $27,295 poll commissioned by Portland lobbyist Len Bergstein in December that was provided to Dozono.
Although Blackmer said information from the poll was provided before Dozono was a declared candidate, the challenges claimed the poll violated the city's $12,000 limit on in-kind contributions for the primary election.
Dozono talked during the weekend with friends and family members about his decision.
On Friday, Dozono said he was 'disappointed' in the ruling and doubtful he could run a viable race with the $20,000 or so remaining in his account.
'It would be very difficult, that's for sure,' he said.
A short time later, Adams told the Portland Tribune that he spent $10,000 in campaign funds challenging City Auditor Gary Blackmer's decision to certify Dozono for funding.
Referring to the $27,295 poll commissioned by lobbyist Len Bergstein that resulting in the decertification, Adams said, 'Dozono could have saved himself a lot of time and me a lot of money if he'd just been upfront about the (in-kind) contribution earlier.'
At the same time, Adams said he hoped Dozono would stay in the race.
'I think it's important to have a debate about the mayor's office,' Adams said.
Although Dozono did not formally ask for private contributions during the press availability, he suggested he might stay in the race if the public indicates it is willing to support his campaign financially.
'I believe it is important to have a viable choice for mayor, and if people agree with that, maybe that can happen,' he said, indicating he had received many calls and e-mails in support of him staying in the race since the ruling was released.
'Took him at his word'
Gerstenfeld's decision came after a six-hour hearing Monday on challenges to city Auditor Gary Blackmer's March 5 decision certifying Dozono for public financing. Mayoral candidates City Commissioner Sam Adams, Beryl McNair and Craig Gier claimed that the poll commissioned in December and shared with Dozono violated the city's $12,000 limit on in-kind contributions.
Adams praised the ruling as upholding election laws.
Dozono said he did not even know there was in-kind contributions limit until after he has seen the poll.
'I didn't know there was a limit on in-kind contributions until I picked up my packet of the rules,' he said.
Blackmer said the poll was done before Dozono was a declared candidate and didn't fall under city public campaign financing rules.
Gerstenfeld said Blackmer's decision was 'contrary to the text and context of the (city) code provisions and for that reason cannot stand.'
Blackmer said he appreciated the 'thoughtful review' by Gerstenfeld. 'He had all the necessary facts for his final order, and we respect his decision.'
Dozono said he was "shocked" when the Blackmer's decision was challenged because he believed he was following the rules.
'At no point did Gary say you can't do that,' said Dozono. 'I took him at his word.'
Although Dozono said he still supports the VOE program, he believes the rules need to be clarified for future candidates.
'There are differences between state and city rules,' said Dozono.
Candidates clash at debate
In a mayoral debate held prior to the announcement of Thursday's ruling, Adams and Dozono each presented himself as the best candidate to change City Hall as mayor of Portland. (The Portland Tribune co-sponsored the debate.)
After working in City Hall for 12 years, Adams said he frequently found himself at odds with current Mayor Tom Potter.
'I'm running to shake up the office of mayor and get Portland moving forward again,' Adams said in his opening remarks. Later, Adams suggested that although Potter was well-intentioned, he was not a good fit for the mayor's office.
Dozono repeatedly cited his 32 years as owner of Azumano Travel to say that he would bring business experience to the mayor's office. He criticized the council for spending more than $32 million in one-time funds this year, saying the money should have been saved to respond to the recession, which Dozono claimed already has arrived.
'Citizens call that savings; government calls it one-time or surplus money that should be spent,' Dozono said.
But both Adams and Dozono repeatedly cited their records of working in politics to show that they were best qualified to get things done.
Adams referred to his former employer Mayor Vera Katz on a number of occasions, especially her work to raise funds for Portland schools.
Dozono also referred to school-funding efforts, noting that Potter appointed him to chair the committee that prepared the school finance plan to keep schools open.
The debate, held at Portland State University, attracted a standing-room-only crowd of several hundred people, who seemed roughly divided in their support of the two candidates. Both received occasional applause for their answers, and neither seemed to alienate the audience with any of their responses.
The prearranged format prevented the candidates from responding to the other's answers. Nevertheless, Dozono occasionally criticized Adams and the rest of the council for spending money on pet projects while letting basic services suffer.
Perhaps the biggest clash between the two candidates came on the issue of transportation funding. Dozono questioned why the council has spent millions on the Portland Aerial Tram and Portland streetcar system while allowing the backlog of poorly maintained streets to grow.
'We need to be fiscally responsible,' Dozono said.
Adams responded that the tram and streetcar money was not available for maintenance work, but said he had doubled the amount of general fund dollars going to the Portland Office of Transportation during his first term on the council.
'It's easy in an election year to talk about these problems, but it's harder to do something about them,' Adams said.
Adams also seemed to hedge on whether his street maintenance fee would appear on the November general election ballot, saying at one point that he hoped it would.
After noting that Portland has fewer police per capita than most similar cities, Dozono said, 'We can have a streetcar on every corner, but we can't afford to hire enough police.'
Adams did not criticize Dozono directly, noting that the audience at a Wednesday-morning debate had chastised both men for their negative comments toward each other.
Adams, in his closing statement, took a poke at his reputation for being a detail-obsessed policy wonk.
'If you elect me, I'll be your workaholic,' he said.
Dozono used the admission to reinforce his differences with Adams, however.
'I have never been a policy wonk,' he said. 'If I'm elected mayor, I can hire all the policy wonks I need.'
By agreement of the debate sponsors and candidates, questions were limited to three major issues: transportation, public safety and economic development.
Although 13 candidates have filed in the mayor race, a poll conducted for the Portland Tribune and KPTV (12) in early February showed that only Adams and Dozono have a chance of winning.
At that time, Adams led Dozono by a margin of 41 percent to 20 percent, with 2 percent for other candidates and 36 percent undecided. The poll was conducted by Davis, Hibbitts and Midghall Inc.
Reporter Kevin Harden contributed to this story.