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Nike Plays Role In Beaverton Election

In all of Oregon,  how many full-time mayors do you think there are?

Give up?

The answer is: two.

Everyone else is technically part-time. One of the full-timers is Portland mayor Tom Potter who’s leaving office after serving just one term.

But the only other full-time mayor has held down his job for nearly 16 years. However, as Rob Manning reports, Beaverton Mayor Rob Drake could soon be looking for work.

Drake might have easily turned his 16 years into a cool twenty, if it weren’t for a big spat he had with an enormous shoe company.

Julia Brim-Edwards is a spokeswoman for Nike.

Julia Brim-Edwards: “I think Rob Drake’s track record, at least over the past four years, has not been one that has been business friendly, or creating a climate where business felt it had a partner to work with.”

More specifically, Nike and the mayor fought a bitter public fight three years ago over  the possibility that Beaverton might annex Nike’s campus. Annexation could have cost Nike hundreds of thousands of dollars in city taxes.

At the time, Drake downplayed that possibility, but Nike took the city to court to get to the bottom of it. The judge in the case later reprimanded city staffers working under Drake for delays and other problems.

Now, Drake says if he’s re-elected, he would mend fences with Nike.

Rob Drake: “My point would be ‘listen, you’re going to need to work with me for the next four years, because I’m going to be here.’ I’m happy to reach out. You know, I’m a humble guy, and if I need to eat a little crow by calling, I’m happy to do it.”

But Nike has responded by doing what it can to avoid that situation altogether. It's endorsed city councilor Denny Doyle for mayor.

Denny Doyle: “In early February, Nike approached and said we’d like to talk and get your views on how you’d handle situations, and we did that. And I’m really tickled that they stepped up and said ‘we want to support your candidacy’.”

Nike has spent over $16,000 on polling and getting mailers out  for Doyle’s campaign. That’s helped him gain a 2-to-1 fundraising advantage over the incumbent.

Current mayor, Rob Drake, wishes Nike had stayed out of local politics, after state lawmakers settled the annexation dispute.

Rob Drake: “Nike should have just buttoned up the spat and gone home. I would have been happy to have left it that. Nike has now strongly supported my opponent. I guess broadly, you’d have to ask the question why is Nike trying to influence City Hall to the extent that it is, when it doesn’t want to be in the city?”

Drake’s opponent, Denny Doyle, and Nike officials, are quick to point out that hundreds of Nike employees live and even  work in Beaverton, even if the Nike campus is outside the city. But Drake argues if you agree that Nike has a beef, then the beef is with the whole city government, where his opponent has been a city councilor for 14 years.

But Denny Doyle disagrees. He argues that in Beaverton, the full-time mayor is basically like a CEO. And he lays the blame for city problems squarely at the feet of the current mayor.

Denny Doyle:  “The mayor’s office does all the day-to-day operations. They make most of the decisions. The council deals with policy. So the roles are tremendously different, and I’ve always felt it was the role of the council to support the administration.”

Both Doyle and Drake agree that the current race for Beaverton mayor is the most interesting City Hall contest in years, in part, thanks to the Nike controversy.  Several of those who publically endorsed incumbant Rob Drake declined to be interviewed for this story, in part because of the negative tone the campaigns have taken in recent weeks.

One issue permeating the race is whether the Nike dustup reflects an insensitivity to businesses. Mayor Drake says that Beaverton is very business-friendly. He says if he wins a fifth term, he’d focus on ways to help small businesses, through the city’s open technology business center.

Rob Drake: “It’s a software incubator. And these businesses come in with startup ideas, get a chance to mature and grow there, and then just recently, several of the businesses moved out and gotten bigger space, because they’re growing. They’re now really contributing to the economy.”

Drake says business growth is more likely to come from small business than luring a big company like Nike. But Denny Doyle says recruiting big businesses is a great idea. He says he'd start by giving downtown Beaverton more of an identity.

Denny Doyle: “I’m going to pursue that with a lot of vigor. That’s how we’re going to develop the economy, we’re going to bring family wage jobs in, and sell this city as a good place to relocate, for your think tanks, or brain-type businesses. Economic development has got to become a reality for us, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re perceived as a good place to do business.”

After 16 years, the match-up facing Beaverton voters seems to be change vs. stability.

Mayor Drake points to recent awards the city has won as evidence  that the city is on track. His supporters include many other local elected official and area business owners.

Denny Doyle is backed by city workers, the police union, and of course, Nike.

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