Three years ago, the Portland Development Commission was one of the least trusted agencies in the city. A row over a controversial inner Eastside development left citizens questioning the way the agency operated and in whose best interests. So when Mark Rosenbaum accepted the —unpaid — job as commission chair he was looking at some major repair work. But he proved more than equal to the challenge. He has emerged as a strong, forward thinking leader – one of the better commissioners to take charge of the PDC.
Now Rosenbaum's term is up and, as the mayor elect, Sam Adams has the right to either ask Rosenbaum to continue — or to choose a new chair. It is hard to overestimate the importance of this job. That's why it will be a disaster for the city if Mayor-elect Sam Adams fails to ask Rosenbaum to continue for another four years. Adam's staff says he wants to appoint a new chair to the commission, someone with development experience. The job already is advertised on Adams' website. But if he allows Rosenbaum to slip away, Adams will lose the continuity that has taken the past four years to build.
Simply look at Rosenbaum's record. The owner of a financial services firm, he understands the complicated financial workings of urban renewal funding, plays well with both the private and public sectors, and has regained the trust of neighborhood and minority groups. Under his tenure, the PDC has moved forward with projects such as the aerial tram, Vanport Square, downtown renewal efforts and many other projects that are attracting jobs and business to our city. Through his efforts, the international nonprofit Mercy Corps and the University of Oregon are headquartered in Old Town. He brought a major insurance firm to Lents. At the same time, Rosenbaum retooled his agency to become more transparent and more responsive to the public.
In Rosenbaum's view, 50 percent of urban renewal funds should go to projects that bring jobs to the city. That way, a tax base that supports schools, affordable housing, parks and services can be built into our city. He also wants to see a "green" urban renewal district that will provide a bicycle and walking path between the gateway district and downtown. This kind of pragmatic development will do more for our city and our communities in the long term than quick fixes such as using development money to directly build schools.
And here in fact, is the rub. Rosenbaum is no pushover. He rightly opposed a move by several city commissioners to micromanage the PDC budget. He challenges City Council to think strategically, and to muster the political courage to raise separate funds for social projects — and allow urban renewal money to do what it does best — attract jobs and business to the city.
Rosenbaum is formidable, whether as an ally or as an opponent.
Sam Adams prides himself on being the strongest, smartest, best-informed person in any room. That's a comfortable feeling for a master politician who wants to call the shots. But it will spell danger if it influences who he chooses to appoint to key roles in the city. Adams should realize he is strong and talented enough to work with equally strong and talented people. Instead of letting Rosenbaum leave, he should reappoint him for another term. What is at stake is nothing less than our city's future.
What do you think?