PORTLAND — The coalition supporting a ballot question that would allow voters to elect a mayor plans to raise more than $20,000 for the campaign, giving it a significant financial advantage over opponents of the measure.

The coalition, which is lead by the Portland Community Chamber and the League of Young Voters, has established a web site and a political action committee and has hired a manager.

The group kicked off the campaign on Tuesday at a press conference at City Hall.

The speakers, who included Portland Regional Chamber President Ron Ward, said an elected mayor would provide leadership and ensure more accountability to voters.

The campaign will tap into people’s dissatisfaction with the status quo, said Jed Rathband, who has been hired to manage the effort.

“We are going to ask voters if they are happy with city government,” he said in an interview. “If the answer is ‘no,’ we have a real choice for you: real leadership.”

Ward said the current system is prone to gridlock and prevents the city from moving quickly on economic development opportunities.

The diffuse political leadership means no one can be held accountable, he said.

“There is nobody’s job to get any particular initiative done,” he said.

City Councilor Cheryl Leeman, who is leading the campaign opposing the measure, said her group won’t raise nearly as much money.

“We clearly have a David and Goliath situation,” she said. “They have plenty of money and can raise money through the Chamber. We don’t have that.”

If Question 1 passes, voters would elect a mayor for a four-year term. As in the current system, the mayor would be a voting member of the City Council and chair its meetings.

Supporters say that the political capital gained by winning a popular election would make the mayor the city’s political leader, even though the council-appointed city manager would run the city day-to-day and create city budgets.

The mayor’s salary would be $66,000 plus the same benefits enjoyed by other city workers. The mayor’s minimum salary would be 1½ times the median household income in Portland, which now is $44,393.

Leeman has a 24-year record of success opposing efforts to strengthen the role of the mayor. In past campaigns, she argued that an elected mayor would wield too much power. This time, she said, the campaign will focus on the fact that the mayor would have no real authority beyond that of other members of the City Council

The current system is not perfect, Leeman said. “But it’s not so flawed we need to make a change. And that’s a pretty insignificant change. You are talking about the same thing we have now — a ceremonial position with no power but a substantial salary.”

Leeman said she’s putting together a committee of “district coordinators” who will campaign in their neighborhoods against the measure. She said she will announce who they are when she kicks off the campaign next week at a press conference at City Hall.

The coalition supporting the measure has created a political action committee called “Elect Our Mayor, Yes on 1!” It also launched a Web site, www.electourmayorportland.com and a Facebook page, “elect Portland’s next mayor.”

Chris O’Neil, a lobbyist for the chamber’s Portland chapter, said the chamber will likely ask members to contribute to the campaign but won’t underwrite it because it wants to be part of a broad coalition.

“There will be people from all over town that will contribute money to this,” he said.

The group’s executive steering committee includes Rathband, O’Neil, League of Young Voters director Will Everitt, former Charter Commission member John Spritz, former City Councilor Jim Cohen, and Creative Portland Corp. president Andy Graham.

The full steering committee includes the 10 members of the 12-member Charter Commission who are supporting the proposal. It held its first meeting this week.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at [email protected]