On Tuesday morning, November 6, supporters of a proposal to rename Interstate Avenue for César E. Chávez held a press conference at Kaiser Town Hall on Interstate. Supporters like former Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz urged the city council to quit debating whether or not to continue processing the proposal, and to vote already.
"In Portland, 'we need more process' is code for 'we're still uncomfortable,'" Cruz said. The rename, she said, has been through two neighborhood meetings, two public hearings, and two city council meetings. "Now, after all of that discussion, it's time for our city council to make a tough decision. It's time for our next mayor to make a tough decision," she said, referring to City Commissioner Sam Adams.
But the rallying calling for an end to process may have been moot: Over the weekend, City Commissioner Erik Sten—the swing vote on a proposal calling for more process, perhaps in the form of a "Blue Ribbon" panel to analyze the issue—determined that additional process wouldn't work if the mayor and the rename committee weren't on board.
"I've been attempting for three weeks or so to try and at least mediate some process," Sten says. "[But] there's no way to mediate the process, particularly if the mayor won't take part. I don't think a Blue Ribbon Panel could be successful in this environment."
Despite calling the situation a "train wreck" and "a needlessly ugly vote on something that should be a celebration," Sten is likely to vote for the rename on November 15.
"Unfortunately, I think I'm voting on a false choice, a choice that's been created by politics. But the choice is really going to be, which aggrieved party do you stand with?"
Supporters of the rename hope that Sten will stand with them. "This symbol says to all of America that the City of Portland belongs to all cultural groups, and not just white men," LeRoy Haynes Jr., vice president of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, said at Tuesday's press conference. Though several of the speakers dismissed the idea that a 5-0 vote to rename the street was key—calling the rename a civil rights and justice issue, the supporters noted that civil rights measures in the US don't historically garner unanimous votes—there was pressure for Commissioners Randy Leonard and Adams to "keep their word" and join their colleagues in voting for the rename.
Meanwhile, Bill Mildenberger Jr. of the Nite Hawk Café & Lounge—a leader of the "Save Interstate Avenue" group—is angry that the rename appears likely. "We're overwhelmingly against the name change, but we support honoring [Chávez]," he says, bewildered that there's not a way to bridge that gap. "Aren't they listening to what we said, in overwhelming numbers?" Mildenberger said opponents of the Interstate rename are contemplating further action, perhaps a referendum.