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Eugene Weekly : News : 10.09.08




Mayoral Smackdown

Statements fly unchecked in mayor debates

by Alan Pittman

Attacks flew back and forth between Mayor Kitty Piercy and Jim Torrey during two recent debates in the tight race for mayor of Eugene. 

Here’s a look at some of the key arguments in the City Club and Fox TV mayoral debates and an effort at fact-checking the claims. 

Negativity

Piercy told Torrey, “Your entire campaign appears to be premised on the idea that Eugene is a terrible place. ... You don’t bring progress to a community by running it down.” Piercy said, “It is always easier to tear something down than to build it up.”

Torrey has used a record $430,000 in donations from developers, gravel pit companies and other pro-sprawl development and anti-environmental special interests in his campaign. Much of the money has gone to fund negative TV ads attacking Piercy, who has called the attacks lies.

But Torrey has said he’s a uniter, not a divider. He refused to say whom he supports for president. “That’s a question that divides people,” Torrey said.

In the last presidential election, Eugene was divided but two-thirds voted against George Bush. Torrey gave a $2,000 contribution to Bush’s re-election campaign. Piercy said she supports Obama and the values he brings to elective office.

Jobs

Both candidates claimed they would do a better job at creating jobs.

State data indicate that during Piercy’s three years in office, Lane County added an average of 198 jobs per month. During Torrey’s eight years as mayor, the county added an average of 176 jobs per month.

It’s unclear if any of these added jobs were actually “created” by Torrey or by Piercy. Piercy focuses on creating green jobs with her Sustainable Business Initiative.

Torrey said less building regulation and more urban sprawl will create jobs. The city largely enforces the state building code and can’t change it. Economists have found that inefficient sprawl can demand higher taxes for infrastructure, but they haven’t found that sprawl creates jobs.

Both Torrey and Piercy supported the big tax breaks given to Hynix. But Hynix closed, and economists believe that such tax breaks have little influence on business location decisions. 

Torrey has faulted Piercy for businesses moving to Springfield. But PeaceHealth and Symantec chose to move while Torrey was mayor, not while Piercy was on the job.

Police

Torrey said Piercy hasn’t spent enough on police.

When Torrey left office in 2005, the Eugene police budget was $25.7 million. After three years under Piercy, the police budget has grown to $42.4 million.

Torrey and Piercy both say that Eugene needs to spend even more on police. But that’s unclear. The city has never conducted an independent audit of the police department’s efficiency. Eugene now has more police officers per capita than Springfield and about the same officers per capita as Salem.

Torrey said crime has dramatically increased and “is the worst I can remember.” But since 1997, Eugene’s violent crime rate has fallen 53 percent, and Eugene’s property crime rate has fallen 43 percent, according to federal data.

Torrey charges that Piercy doesn’t respect the police. Piercy said she does and has frequently praised the police and supported police budget increases.

Piercy supports the city’s independent police auditor and measure on the ballot to protect the function in the city charter. 

Torrey won’t say whether he supports the charter measure. He has told The Register-Guard that he doesn’t want an independent auditor, but rather one controlled by the city manager. The Magaña police sex abuse scandal occurred under Torrey’s watch.

One of Torrey’s biggest campaign contributors ($20,000) is the police union, which strongly opposes the independent auditor. Union officials publicly attacked Piercy’s state of the city speech as a “bizarre” “three-ringed circus,” posted an ugly caricature of a councilor on its website and called the council an “infested bunch.”

Potholes

Torrey has accused Piercy of not doing enough to fill potholes. 

Under Torrey, the road repair backlog grew almost 2,000 percent, from a few million dollars to about $100 million. Under Piercy, the repair backlog  grew about 70 percent to $170 million. This year, under Piercy, the city will spend $5.5 million on street repair. In Torrey’s last year as mayor, the city was spending less than half that per year on street repair.

It’s unclear whether citizens view potholes as a high priority. Citizens voted against a gas tax increase for potholes, and polls show they’ll likely vote against a pothole property tax on the November ballot.

Budget

Torrey has called for at least $7 million more in annual spending on police and potholes without increasing taxes. But Torrey has repeatedly refused to say what he would cut. The city’s popular library appears to be a likely target. Under Piercy, the City Council voted to reduce taxes by moving a library levy into the general fund. 

Under Torrey, the city cut library spending. Torrey said he would prioritize by taking money from funded services he thinks are a lower priority and use the money for police and potholes. Torrey said taxpayers would then have to vote for a tax increase if they still wanted the services Torrey thought were a lower priority.