In her campaign manager’s worst-case scenario, what if voters were to recall Councilor Claire Syrett on Sept. 6—who should the city council name as her replacement?
[00:00:10] Dan Isaacson: Let’s wave a magic wand, let’s pretend that that happens, you no longer have Councilor Syrett in there. The current city council, which just conveniently represents the entire city except for Ward Seven, so they—the entire city gets to decide who represents Ward Seven, not people in Ward Seven—get to decide who a replacement is. Do you think that the city council is going to approve somebody who is anathema to their views? No.
[00:00:34] John Q: Who’d be the top candidates?
[00:00:35] Dan Isaacson: I think that the council would be wise to consider somebody who is a passionate defender of Ward 7. That’s the only metric they should look at.
[00:00:48] John Q: Of course Dan sees voters— and the court— as supporting Councilor Syrett.
[00:00:54] Dan Isaacson: If you look at Eugene’s history, you see a pretty strong opposition to almost any forward momentum, going back decades. The people who predicted that the passage of the housing amendments in 2013 said there’d be five-story canyons down Willamette and West 11th. I go down West 11th. It’s been almost 10 years. I don’t see five-story canyons.
[00:01:17] You know, they said that HB 2001 would be literally the death of our neighborhoods. How about this? I will bet you a hundred bucks we come back here in 10 years and our neighborhoods are still here.
[00:01:27] We work in this hyperbole which denigrates our process of public policy. It undermines the people who are giving their lives up to help lead our city, and does it in a way that is not constructive to dialogue. You go out into neighborhoods and you scare the hell out of people thinking that the whole world’s going to end because these big, bad, people are in the background. And we don’t know who the boogeyman is, and we just changed the boogeyman.
See also: An opposing view
[00:01:50] But the record isn’t very good at predicting the future. It would be one thing if they could point to this and say, ‘I warned you about this and look what happened. You know, we warned you that on Willamette, we are going to expand the bus routes out there and it was going to cause an unbelievable amount of congestion and traffic was going to slow down’. And now look: Well guess what, we built it. And the time difference to go through Willamette would change by 10 seconds. That was it. Yet the average speed went down by almost 40%.
[00:02:19] So you look at River Road, for example, right? River Road has had an average of one death a year. It’s the second most deadly street in Eugene. They had a fatality right across the street from my house on New Year’s Eve two years ago. That’s why we’re putting in the crosswalk here, in about a month or so.
[00:02:34] I mean, it’s a drag race out here. I mean, people literally drag race on River Road. And rather than coming together as a community saying, ‘Here’s a problem, how can we solve it?’ We have the same people saying the same things, usually the same tactics, because to a certain degree, they work, and some people profit off of that. And that’s really unfortunate.
[00:02:52] John Q: He opposes use of the recall and encourages EmX opponents to stand for election.
[00:02:59] Dan Isaacson: If they want somebody on the city council who will do differently and represent their views, we have a process for that.
[00:03:06] It’s called a primary (election) and a general (election), and they should have put somebody up in 2020 to represent their views, campaigned like the system is designed to do and accepted the results. But instead she walloped the other person by 60% of the vote. And then instead of putting someone up the next time and getting walloped again, they decided to strategically place this right next to one of the biggest holidays in our country, in the hopes that no one’s paying attention and they can sneak somebody else in there.
[00:03:36] This has to do with subverting the vote to try to stick it to her for HB 2001, for everything else. It’s like a hodgepodge, right? You look at those mailers they’ve sent out to voters. It’s not, ‘This is our view on EmX. We disagree. We think that you believe with us, let’s get her out and put someone else on there.’
[00:03:53] It is an ‘everything thrown at the wall’ shotgun approach. Their campaign mailer literally says, ‘Are you upset with city council?’ and then lists five or 10 different things that have nothing to do with the EmX in the hopes that one of those resonates with some voter to get a vote. That is not how this process was designed to do.
[00:04:13] It is absolutely legal to do. But it is not what the voters intended when they allowed the recall process to be put in place to begin with.
[00:04:22] John Q: Did you want to go through, specifically, some of the points that they talked about?
[00:04:27] Dan Isaacson: Actually, I don’t want to do that because to do that legitimizes why we’re here. They lied on their SEL 350.
[00:04:35] John Q: That is the official state recall form.
[00:04:37] Dan Isaacson: The former secretary of state for our our state, Oregon, Bill Bradbury, will be in the Eugene Weekly this Thursday, talking about why lying on that form threatens the entire system. He doesn’t come out of retirement to give that interview because he just decided to dip his toe into Eugene politics. It’s a serious thing.
[00:04:57] And to reverse course and try to argue, ‘Yeah, it may have lied and may have, and that may be bad. But I don’t like Claire and therefore it’s okay.’ Well, the end of that sentence is ‘Until.’ Until they come for your guy or your gal. And then that’s all we have is one recall after another recall after another recall, because this 500 group of people over here didn’t get what they want and now are saying that they’re, they feel unheard and this 500 group over here did the same thing.
[00:05:27] And that is not how our system was designed. They lied, they committed a fraudulent on the people. And they should be held accountable.
[00:05:34] John Q: Dan argues that the current plan of record was only used by the council to advance EmX, and it’s not the final plan. That distinction is essential as they ask the court to stop counting ballots.
[00:05:46] Dan Isaacson: Do you have any idea how many building plans never got built in 2007 that were slated to be built in 2010, because we had the economic downturn in the housing market? I don’t care what is on paper. At the end of the day, if there’s no money to build, it doesn’t get built.
[00:06:03] If the city council is telling you that they have serious reservations with it as currently stated yet, not even including what could be happening in the future, you cannot sit here and tell me that it is absolutely certain with 100% that what you saw six years ago is what will develop in four years or three years, or whenever it is. And anything other than an absolute affirmation that that is a lie, is a lie.
[00:06:32] But at the end of the day, you cannot tell me with a straight face that this was funded by the federal government. And if it’s not funded by the federal government, there’s not an account sitting somewhere that has an earmark for Lane County Eugene Oregon EmX expansion on River Road. It is not funded. And if it’s not funded, it doesn’t exist yet. Period.
[00:06:54] John Q: We went down this path with EmX and laying the pad for light rail with bus rapid transit. But you know, it’s not working out, man. And Rob Zako has said, we get one big project, one big transportation project we can do as a community. And people are saying, ‘Hey, we need an earthquake-proof bridge over the Willamette River. We propose an arterial bridge up by the Beltline there.’ Shouldn’t we be doing that instead of, I mean, we already have buses on River Road.
[00:07:24] Dan Isaacson: First off, I’m not a traffic engineer and I don’t speak with any sort of authority on EmX or its own kind of projections. What I would say is that when it comes to federal dollars, state dollars, it’s not a hometown buffet.
[00:07:38] They don’t just say, ‘Have yourself a walk through the treasury, grab yourself a bag and take whatever money you want for whatever project you want.’ That doesn’t exist.
So to compare one project with another and say, well, we could, we have this potential approval which we don’t have, for money that doesn’t exist quite yet, for an EmX bus route down River Road, for plans that haven’t been finalized yet, why don’t you take that imaginary money and go build a bridge that has hasn’t been mapped out yet with other federal dollars and other state dollars that don’t may or may not exist. I mean, it just, it’s an apples to orangutan comparison.
[00:08:13] You know, we have a real problem when it comes to public policy, most of the time we are reactionary. We wait until a problem exists. And then we, as a society get around and then point the fingers at all of our elected officials to say, ‘Why didn’t you do something?’ or ‘Why don’t you do something now?’
[00:08:28] This is an opportunity to be proactive. Ten years ago, we planned for about 36,000 people to move to the Eugene area. We’re 10 years in, the plan was to build about 9,000 units of housing. So it’s really easy to determine how well we’re tracking. Well, 18,000 people moved here, half the number we expected and we built 9,000 units of housing just right on schedule. The problem is most of that was university housing. Most of that doesn’t help working families who are trying to find a two-bedroom, three-bedroom for their family. That’s why we have a 1% vacancy rate.
[00:08:59] So when you go out at 5:00 p.m. at the corner of Beltline and River Road, and you look at the traffic buildup that they have, as it stands right now, where are those roads going to be when 18,000 people show up in the next 10 years? Where are they going to move?
[00:09:15] They’re not going to move to the South Hills of Eugene, you can’t build there. You can’t build further out Coburg Road, that’s pretty much all done. You have really two options. Well, three: You could expand the UGB (urban growth boundary) but that’s probably not going to happen very much, right, historically speaking. You have River Road and you have West Eugene. West Eugene has a lot of industrial land, so pockets of West 11th, that area, and right here in River Road.
[00:09:36] So if your issue is, ‘Man, it’s really congested at 5:00 p.m., what’s going to happen if we had a bus lane?’ I challenge you to tell me, what’s it going to look like when 18,000 people show up next, next year or next three years or five years.
[00:09:46] John Q: Dan said the earthquake may or may not happen in our lifetimes. But those 18,000 people are already arriving.
[00:09:54] Dan Isaacson: What I would say is, there is a percentage (chance) that the Cascadia earthquake will happen. There is a 100% chance 18,000 people are moving here in the next 10 years. So if your question is, should we have if it is only those choices in this hypothetical scenario that you have, and there’s literally DeFazio’s last act with a pen stroke about to award X dollars to fund either A or either B, between a bridge that might fall, might replace earthquake that might happen at some point in the future, or 18,000 people who are in a crowd on this one street and create it into more of a drag strip?
[00:10:29] I’m choosing the drag strip. There are four people who are dead right now, including one right outside my house, because River Road is the second-most-dangerous road in our city. And it is dangerous, partly because we have an element in this city that is against any sort of movement whatsoever when it comes to development.
[00:10:51] Any sort of movement when it comes to progress, it is funded by the same people, it is argued by the same people, the tactics are exactly the same and their batting average is near zero. So the question is, Why are we continuing to listen to them as opposed to the people who are out there giving their lives every day to make this a better city. And their average is pretty damn good.
[00:11:13] John Q: The principle objections are: The council has been a rubber stamp and has not really looked into the ridership data on EmX. There was a vote to make EmX the locally preferred alternative, and couldn’t we have achieved all the safety goals by selecting the enhanced alternative, and why wasn’t that considered?
[00:11:36] Dan Isaacson: That is a question you’d have to ask the rest of the council. What I’d say is that what they asked staff to do was come back with the next stage of the plan and let us review it. And if we start recalling our elected members for asking for more information to flesh out more details that they may or may not approve, that may or may not have federal funding, may or may not this, may or may not that, that you will shut down public policy in its entirety.
[00:12:00] This is a long stage process of, they call it one to 10, we’re at Stage Four. The idea that four is the same as 10 wasn’t around when I did that elementary school addition and it isn’t around now. And at the end of the day, if you start saying to electeds, if you ask for information on Stage Five, we’re kicking your tushy out of office, you will stop transparency between elected officials and the public.
[00:12:25] If they wanted somebody on the council who was going to push back harder than on and represent their views as they feel, they had the opportunity in 2020, they have the opportunity in 2024 to put somebody in Ward Seven or any of the other races to represent their views. If their argument is, ‘We want somebody to represent our views,’ and that’s their option, but that’s not what they did.
[00:12:49] What they actually did was choose a process that does not gain them anything toward that goal. So what’s their goal? Why hasn’t somebody asked them what their Wednesday plan is?
[00:13:00] John Q: Looking on the Secretary of State website and noticed that a lot of the big donors were the Democratic Party of Oregon, Sen. Manning, Councilor Keating, Councilor Zelenka, candidate Dawn Lesley, former state Rep. Phil Barnhart, lot of local high-powered Democrats. And does the Democratic Party see this as a partisan issue? Because the council is not a partisan position. It’s officially nonpartisan.
[00:13:33] Dan Isaacson: Let me, can I ask you the same question back? I mean, the Eugene Business Alliance is the most conservative aspect of our business structure. Are you going to ask their, the other side if the Republican party is the, kind of, the go-to behind their campaign?
[00:13:47] John Q: They’re not listed as the donors on the secretary of state website.
[00:13:52] Dan Isaacson: Eugene Business Alliance is the largest contributor to the other side.
So I guess my question is. Are there people in the Democratic Party who support Claire? Yes, that’s clear. One’s support of someone is not indicative of the partisanship of the office. It is supporting other public officials who’ve gone through this and know the egregiousness of what happens when you start lying on this form.
John Q: On August 26, the Syrett campaign reported $1,000 from a political action committee affiliated with Peter DeFazio. Recall campaign manager Dan Isaacson, any final words?
Dan Isaacson: I would like to stress that at the end of the day, there’s a difference between a spirited debate and hatred toward the other side. I don’t hate Meta (Maxwell) or Paul Conte, or really anybody on their side. I believe they believe they’re right. And that is what you need for the system to work. If they don’t believe in their side, we don’t have sides, we don’t progress. And I just believe that they’re incorrect.
And regardless to whatever happens next Tuesday, I hope that we come away feeling heard in the process and that we accept the results and that we can come together and find some sort of pathway forward.
After a discussion of MovingAhead at the Neighborhood Leaders Council Transportation committee meeting Aug. 25, the Claire Syrett campaign was offered equal time to respond. Dan Isaacson participated in an interview Aug. 29. In one of his responses, Dan suggested we follow up with the council, so we did so with email to Councilor Syrett Aug. 31.
[Editor’s Note (Aug. 30, 3:43 p.m.): This story was edited to remove inaccurate statements by Dan Isaacson that Paul Conte was a top contributor to the campaign. Paul Conte said he has not donated a penny to the recall campaign, and his name does not appear among listed donors for the Recall Claire Syrett campaign at the Oregon Secretary of State website.]