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Q and A with former POVA prez Joe DAlessandro

Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person
by: STEVEN MCALPIN, From his new home in San Francisco, former POVA President Joe D’Alessandro will miss Pioneer Courthouse Square and Piazza Italia, but not the state capital.

There's something about leaving a place that lets you see it in a different light, or at least speak of it more directly.

For the past 10 years, Joe D'Alessandro's job as president of the Portland Oregon Visitors Association has been to sell people on Portland. And he's been good at it, by all accounts. He left a few weeks ago, and this week he begins his new job as president of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau.

We caught up with D'Alessandro in San Francisco and asked for a look back at the place he's left behind.

Portland Tribune: What is the Portland attraction nobody appreciates?

Joe D'Alessandro: The neighborhoods. Visitors come to Portland, they may go downtown or to the Pearl, but they don't always appreciate the neighborhoods that give Portland its personality. That includes Hawthorne or Sellwood or Mississippi. The neighborhoods are a step away from most tourists.

Tribune: But do out-of-town tourists want to see a neighborhood?

D'Alessandro: Absolutely. People typically want to go somewhere different; they want to find out what is indigenous to an area. It's just like San Francisco. You'll go shopping on Union Street or then to find restaurants. I think Alberta is increasingly charming, great restaurants and shops, and all the neighborhoods, the more people get to understand and visitors visit them, the more they'll understand Portland.

Tribune: Is Portland really strange, or is that something we like to think about ourselves?

D'Alessandro: I don't think Portland is strange or weird. The bumper sticker 'Keep Portland weird' is not well-placed. Portland is quirky. We have quirky outlooks on life. We do quirky things at the ballot box. It's the very nature of how Portland celebrates everything from Last Thursday on Alberta to the way the businesses on Hawthorne will support arts events that just aren't mainstream.

Tribune: It's a cold and rainy winter's eve in San Francisco. You're homesick for Portland. What image will come to mind?

D'Alessandro: You know what I'm going to remember? Two years ago we were living at Northwest 23rd and Pettygrove and it snowed, a big snow right around New Year's. I'll never forget the magic of walking down 23rd in the middle of the street because there were no cars, and it was dead silent and all sorts of people were around and everybody was talking to everybody and meeting their neighbors. It was a pure Portland magical day, a pedestrian haven, nobody in a hurry to get to work. Everyone just discovering their neighborhood.

Tribune: A year from now, when you come back to visit Portland, what are the places you will have to visit?

D'Alessandro: I would go to Pioneer Courthouse Square. It's kind of the soul of the city in many ways, and I feel you really get a sense of being in Portland there. Two, I would go to a little Italian restaurant in the Pearl called Piazza Italia. I know everyone who works there, I love speaking Italian with the staff, and it just provides a real comfortable feeling. It's been a great place for us, whether there's a soccer game on or an evening with friends. It's a great little taste of Italy in Portland.

Tribune: And what about Portland will you not miss?

D'Alessandro: I will definitely not miss the OCA (Oregon Citizens Alliance, which sponsored anti-gay rights ballot measures in the 1990s). I think the hostility and hatred they promote in Portland is divisive. It's not happening here in San Francisco. I won't miss that divisive politics that is happening in Portland. I think that Salem has been a shame the last few years because nothing progressive is coming out of Salem - it's all about divisive politics. I think Portland has lost a lot because of what's coming out of Salem.