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Eugene Weekly : News : 5.8.08




Torrey vs. Piercy Debate

Torrey misleads with crime ad, unfunded spending

BY ALAN PITTMAN

Developers, gravel, construction, timber and other pro-sprawl and freeway interests have spent nearly $200,000 to defeat Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy.

The recordbreaking war chest has gone mostly to TV attack ads for her opponent Jim Torrey.

Piercy said in a City Club debate last week, "I've looked at the deluge of Jim Torrey ads, and I frankly don't recognize his Eugene. Neither should you. It's fictional."

One recent Torrey ad aired on KEZI during prime time and hyped crime. In the ad, Torrey said Eugene has "one of the highest property crime rates in the country." Torrey said he's "running for mayor to help keep our homes, neighborhoods, schools and downtown area safe."

But FBI data show that Eugene is one of the safest cities in the nation. Of 254 U.S. cities with more than 100,000 people, Eugene now ranks 216th in violent crime rate and 82nd in property crime rate.

Eugene's crime rate is similar to Salem's but far lower than that of Springfield, a city whose policies Torrey has said Eugene should emulate. Eugene's violent crime rate is less than half that in Springfield, according to the latest FBI data. Eugene's property crime rate is 21 percent less than Springfield's.

Torrey's ad also claims Eugene's police department has "serious staff deficiencies." If that's the case, it's had little apparent effect on crime. In the last decade Eugene's violent crime rate has fallen 62 percent, and its property crime rate has fallen 27 percent, according to FBI data. Eugene has about the same number of police officers as Salem, a similar nearby city of nearly identical size.

In the ad, Torrey attacked Piercy, alleging that she "keeps treating the [city police] officers with little or no respect."

Torrey has the backing of the Eugene police union, which opposed the creation of an independent police auditor, a position that Piercy supports. Piercy reminded the City Club that the Magaña/Lara police officer sex abuse scandal that spurred the vote for a ballot measure to create the auditor occurred while Torrey was mayor. Despite the scandal and harsh public attacks from the union, Piercy said in a recent speech, "The vast majority of our officers serve our community with honor."

Piercy said at the debate that when it comes to comparing her and Torrey, "you have real stark choices between us. This is a pitched battle for Eugene's future. Do you want unbridled growth or to continue down the path of smart growth that assures good jobs and livability?"

Torrey responded to an audience question of whether the Gateway area is his vision of what Eugene's future growth should look like. "What the future ought to look like is frankly where the business community can in fact be successful," Torrey said.

"The money tells the story clearly," Piercy said at the debate. "Jim Torrey has piles of money from construction and development [interests] who would just like to construct and build without constraint."

Piercy pointed to campaign contributions that Torrey had made to President George W. Bush. "My opponent supports the president and this war and his financial policies," which include causing a county budget crisis by cutting local federal support, Piercy said.

Torrey responded that he is a political "independent." But in 2004, Torrey ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate as a Republican, and his current campaign includes thousands of dollars in contributions from local Republican leaders.

Torrey faulted Piercy for not appointing more north Eugene conservatives to city committees. Piercy called Torrey's claim that she wasn't being inclusive "ridiculous." She pointed to the thousands of meetings she has attended throughout the city and "folks of all stripes" she has appointed to committees.

While Torrey was mayor, environmental opponents also accused him of stacking committees with political supporters. "He was a bulldozer," said Councilor Bonny Bettman. Torrey's committee appointments "always were orchestrated to have a majority of homebuilders and Chamber of Commerce."

Torrey accused Piercy of not doing enough to fill potholes. But Piercy said since she became mayor, the city has spent $17 million on a street repair problem that began under Torrey.

While Torrey was mayor, he opposed redirecting to potholes money that the city was spending on new streets to subsidize sprawling development on the edge of town, Bettman pointed out.

At the debate, Torrey repeated calls for spending millions more on potholes and police without raising taxes or saying what services he'd cut to pay for it. He added potential millions more in spending on a new sports complex at Civic Stadium, also without saying how he'd pay for it.

Torrey also said he would stop spending from the city's reserve funds. That would force $5 million in cuts in the current budget, but, again, Torrey didn't say what services he would cut.

Piercy said she opposes former acting City Manager Angel Jones' proposal to eliminate the Lane Regional Air Pollution Authority in a budget cut. "I don't believe our council or I would be in support of getting rid of LRAPA."