Charles “Streetcar” Lewis?

by Steve, October 9th, 2008

You probably don’t have the inclination to watch an hour and ten minutes of Amanda Fritz and Charles Lewis taking questions from the editorial board of Willamette Week, so I’ll break it down for you.

At the end of the interview, the candidates are asked if they have any nicknames. When pressed, Lewis came up with “Bruiser,” from his high school football glory days. (Fritz gave “OK Mama,” from way back in the days of CB radios.)

Bruiser is kind of ironic; Lewis has reinvented himself since the primary. Gone is the angry young man looking to settle scores with the Portland Development Commission (PDC), the city agency that snubbed his non-profit in favor of a glitzy new theatre complex for Portland Center Stage. (I noticed the new, non-combative Lewis at the City Club debate.)

When pressed on his past beef with PDC, Lewis allowed that “I had some issues with them.” But now? “I’m really excited about some of the things that are happening,” he said. “Downtown Portland is a vibrant, bustling city in large part because of PDC and the efforts that they have put there.” (Starting at 51:18.)

Sheesh, don’t tell his number one fan, Jack Bog.

But that’s not all. In an attempt to differentiate himself from Fritz, he’s suddenly fully on board with another bugaboo of BoJack: “…the east-side streetcar, you know, it’s something that I am in favor of seeing; I want to see that investment,” says Lewis. It’s “something I believe we should have….” (Starting at 27:55)

Well, with Chris “Streetcar” Smith out of the race, I guess somebody had to pick up that moniker. And it sure wasn’t going to be Fritz, who has been steadfast in her insistence on funding basic infrastructure first.

Lewis also seeks to differentiate himself from Fritz on the city’s bio-fuels mandate. “I ran my amphibious bus on 100% biodiesel,” says Lewis, “I think it’s important to have a wide variety of fuel sources… I understand the impact on food prices….”

Fritz wants to re-evaluate the mandate “in light of the impact on food prices, in light of the fact that we cannot grow our way out of burning fuel for recreational or other uses,” she says. “We need to be focusing as well on conservation and on alternative modes, including … rail, pedestrian and bikes.” (Starting at 33:17)

An issue that came up during the City Club debate was Lewis’ unconditional support for the local option Children’s Investment Fund, which is up for renewal on next month’s ballot as Portland Measure 26-94. Both candidates support the measure, though Fritz has consistently questioned whether the city is the correct jurisdiction for this. She has already reached agreement with county commissioners to lobby the state legislature to obviate this local fund.

“Essentially, we need to be getting music programs back into the schools in the school day for every child in every county in Oregon,” says Fritz, “and by funding after-school programs, particularly for enrichment, we haven’t lobbied at the legislature as hard as we might otherwise have done….”

Fritz notes some of the good things this levy funds. “If those programs are cost-effective in Portland, they should also be provided in Prineville and Pendleton,” she says. “And we need to have the city of Portland playing at the state level and … have the same sense of urgency which I believe has been lacking because we’ve chosen to fund some of these very, very worthy programs … locally rather than insisting on statewide solution with the appropriate jurisdiction providing the funding.” (Starting at 35:25)

Lewis, whose non-profit receives funding from this levy, thinks the city is the proper jurisdiction for funding these things.

Perhaps the most significant difference that emerges in this interview is on the drug and prostitution exclusion zones that recently expired, and that Lewis would like to see reinstated.

These zones, which an old friend referred to as “Martial Law Zones”, gave police extra-judicial authority to prevent freedom of movement and association. Citizens arrested for certain crimes would be excluded from these zones, regardless of whether their cases were ever heard by a jury.

“That’s part of livin’ in a civilized society,” says Lewis, “that the community can make rules on where people are allowed and not allowed to go, with the prime example being if somebody is, you know, criminal, you can say, ‘you’re goin’ to jail, and that’s the only place you’re allowed to be,’ and so I think we do have that right.”

Never mind those sticky bits about due process, presumption of innocence, or a jury of your peers. If a cop says your 86’ed, your 86’ed.

Fortunately, Fritz gets it.

“Civil rights and the constitution are very important,” she says. “We can solve that problem without infringing on people’s civil rights and without doing things which are possibly unconstitutional.” (Starting at 37:38)

(I’m sorry they didn’t get into a discussion of zoning adult businesses, something that clearly contributes to vice in areas where they are concentrated. Rather than the libertarian approach of letting de facto red light districts sprout along strips like 82nd Ave, regardless of the location of schools, we have the ability — even within the strong free speech protections of the Oregon constitution — to zone adult businesses. If they can do it in Tigard, we can do it in Portland.)

In the end, there is no doubt that Fritz is the stronger candidate. Of course anything can happen, but Lewis’ puzzling shifts since the primary, along with his lack of experience make him appear a very risky choice for city council.