Portland mayoral candidate Jim Francesconi testily distanced himself Tuesday from a proposal to radically increase downtown parking fees during an election year. The dustup between Francesconi and outgoing mayor Vera Katz occurred during a public work session on a new budget for the Portland Department of Transportation. The issue was tabled for future discussion in a more private venue.
Under a budget proposal submitted by Katz, the city would have increased downtown's metered parking revenues by extending hours from 6pm to 8pm, charging on Sundays that are now free, and raising parking fines. The city says the increased revenue collected from the proposed fees is needed to pay for a planned major renovation of the downtown transit mall and to cover the costs of city street repairs. According to Katz's budget proposal, the parking plan would have generated an additional $2.4 to $4.5 million per year.
The Transportation Department has been under commissioner Francesconi's management since 2002. When the candidate realized Tuesday that his department managers had included the plan information in background materials provided to the mayor, he quickly put the brakes on it.
"... I have never recommended this," said Francesconi, according to the Oregonian, to which Katz responded, "It's in your own transportation budget."
"Either [he] wasn't paying attention to what was submitted or he authorized it," said commissioner Erik Sten, according to the Oregonian.
Francesconi's public embarrassments did not end with Tuesday's squabble. State elections officials have revealed that they are investigating at least two campaign finance complaints against the commissioner's campaign, including one that involves criminal penalties.
That complaint involves campaign contributions from downtown Portland developer Tom Moyer and his administrative assistant, Sonya Tune. Moyer gave Francesconi $500 and Tune gave $2000. According to the Oregonian, Tune claimed she could not afford to make the payment today, but could when she made it. It is a felony in Oregon to give campaign money under someone else's name and a felony to knowingly receive such money.
Francesconi's representatives quickly attempted to distance the candidate from the controversy, saying that his mayoral campaign does not know where it's money comes from.
The other complaint involves Francesconi's free use of the law offices of Portland corporate firm Ball Janik to make fundraising phone calls that would have been illegal if made from Francesconi's City Hall office. Since the scandal was revealed in an article by Willamette Week, the candidate has amended a campaign finance report to include "in-kind" contributions from Ball Janik.
Jim Francesconi has been a controversial candidate for mayor since announcing his intentions to run last year. In comments made at the time of his announcement, Francesconi said that Portland needed new vision in the mayor's seat, following years of Vera Katz at the helm. The candidate seemed to many to ignore the fact that he had literally been at Katz's right hand for 8 years of Katz's tenure.
The councilman has drawn criticism for his unabashed allegiance to Portland's biggest business interests, including the Portland Business Alliance. Comments Francesconi made before voting no on an anti-Iraq war resolution closely followed the words of a letter received from then-Alliance president Kim Kimbrough. Since the beginning of the war on Iraq 13 months ago, nearly 700 US soldiers and an unpublicized number of American and international 'civilian contractors' have been killed, in addition to thousands of Iraqi civilians.
It is unclear whether the issue of raising parking fees will return to public attention before May's election.