From the mercury blog
Sho Dozono and the Weirdest Press Conference Ever
Posted by Amy J. Ruiz on Wed, Apr 30 at 4:54 PM
Wow. For a man who wants to be mayor, Sho Dozono does not know the basic decorum or framework of a press conference.
Reporters stationed themselves inside Bush Gardens restaurant, and waited for Dozono, whose campaign had called a 3 pm press conference to discuss why the restaurant—in which he has a majority ownership—owes more than $18,000 in back taxes, rent and fees to the city (the restaurant is in the bottom of a city-owned SmartPark garage). Dozono has maintained that the restaurant withheld the rent purposefully, to give the business negotiating power to demand another rent reduction, since downtown construction has hurt business, he claims.
dozonobushgarden.jpgWhen he arrived, Dozono demanded that everyone step outside to hear his statement. He wanted the cameras and tape recorders to catch the deafening demolition noise from across the street—since it was “part of the problem” Bush Gardens has apparently been protesting by withholding rent and taxes. (Nevermind that they’ve been withholding the money since March 1, and have no record of negotiations with the city until last week when the city inquired about the back rent; Also, the demolition just started a week ago.) Reporters pointed out that they’d hardly be able to hear him over the noise. He didn’t care, and hastily read his statement. (I’d post the audio, but it’s worthless. UPDATE @ 6:09 PM: The statement went out over email, and it’s pasted at the end of the post.)
But when reporters dug in with questions, Dozono pushed his way through the crowd, and into the restaurant. (For the record, my list of questions included things like “how is a lack of parking a problem, when you’re in the bottom of a parking garage,” and “when did you first ask the city to renegotiate the rent, before or after you started withholding the rent?” and “why didn’t you put the withheld rent in an escrow account?” and “are you aware the city has forwarded the matter to the city attorney?”)
Perplexed, the gaggle of reporters trickled inside after Dozono, and tried to ask him questions again. As soon as three of us had surrounded him, he ducked away again. We tried again, and he evaded the questions.
More after the cut, including the campaign’s response to their beyond-the-cap fundraising total…
With Dozono essentially hiding in a corner, his back to reporters, the restaurant's manager, Masa Kimura, stepped in to answer what he could. He said Dozono hadn't been aware that taxes weren't paid. "He is not 100 percent involved," Kimura said. "The tax problem is my fault."
Then he said the taxes would be paid today. How much is that?, reporters asked. Kimura pulled out an envelope with the check, which had 18,469.75 scribbled in pencil on the front—the total owed. Then he pulled out a $4,253.68 check for taxes. How about the rent?, we asked. Kimura pulled out a second check, for $14,216.07.
Why Dozono didn't make those checks the centerpiece of his press conference, I have no idea. Instead, his statement focused on how the city has hurt business by allowed so much construction and development downtown (the project across from Bush Gardens is a private office and condo tower from Tom Moyer, and Dozono also referenced the bus mall project).
Tom Feely in the city's facilities department said—as of 4:45 this afternoon, an hour after the press conference wrapped up a few blocks away—that they had not received the payments. "If we receive the full amount that's due then we're all even," he says, and the city attorney would not proceed with a demand letter, the first step before taking "a tenant behind in their rent to court to evict them."
Between Dozono and his business partners and the restaurant's managers, I was unable to get an answer to my main question—when did they ask the city to renegotiate their rent to mitigate the private construction across the street? Residential tenants are always advised to document all conversations with their landlord, especially if they plan to withhold rent... where was Bush Gardens' documentation? Dozono said he didn't know, and pointed me back at the general manager, who earlier hadn't been able to answer that question. As the majority owner, I asked Dozono, isn't he ultimately accountable—as he would be accountable for problems within bureaus he'd oversee as mayor? He didn't answer, and tried to walk away.
I gave up on Dozono, and found his campaign manager to ask her about their current fundraising total—which, at $205,766.62, is more than $5K over Dozono's March 25 pledge "to cap fundraising at $200,000."
Amie Abbott said that the campaign is recording any contribution that comes in, which put them over the cap. "If we've met our cap, we can give the money back." Certainly they can—this is their own pledge, not a campaign finance rule—but Abbott didn't make it clear if they'd be returning over-the-cap contributions ASAP, or waiting until the campaign was over (an earlier conversation I'd had with the campaign treasurer—who stressed that she didn't speak for the campaign—indicated that they'd be holding themselves to $200K in spending, but keep the extra funds in reserve, in case Sam Adams suddenly broke his self-imposed cap and outspent their campaign.)
If they've met the cap, I asked Abbott, why would they go ahead with the May 9 $20-100 per person fundraiser? "If we have to give the money back, we will," she said. So have they changed the rules of their pledged cap? No, Abbott said. Then it seems like they've violated their own cap. No, she said, but didn't explain the distinction. "We haven't started the conversation about what we're doing," she added.
UPDATED WITH DOZONO'S OFFICIAL STATEMENT:
PORTLAND, Or.-Mayoral candidate Sho Dozono made the following statement today at a press conference today at Bush Garden restaurant. "Bush Garden is a landmark restaurant that has been in Portland for forty five years. It was a pioneer in the redevelopment of downtown, and as the first tenant of this building in 1978. In the past 30 years, it has paid $5 million in rent, taxes & fees. Now, for $16,000, the city wants to shut down a business that employs 30 people," Dozono said.
"The current construction across the street, the closing of the entire street in front of Bush Garden and the removal of two sides of parking are hurting the restaurant. Three feet from the entrance is a stairwell that is used as a public restroom and around the corner is a MAX stop that has crime issues that the business has asked the city to address," Dozono said.
"We have been without a lease since January because the city has been unable to provide us, or any other businesses assurances that they will work with us to help us stay open for business, and keep people employed. That is my bottom line - providing people with good jobs," Dozono said.
"I have helped fill the gap the last couple months to help the restaurant's operations manager, Masa Kimura make payroll during the construction across the street," Dozono said.
Dozono stated further, "I am disappointed that the city has turned this into a political football when we have been actively working with the city on negotiations."
This is about a much bigger issue, the city treats small businesses this way on a regular basis. The only reason it's an issue for the media is because I am running for mayor, but I'm glad they've called attention to it because we should be talking about it. How many of us have purposely avoided going to a business downtown in the last 6 months because you have no idea how to get through the construction? How many of us have been late for meetings going around the endless detours? The others go unnoticed and they go out of business without any attention," Dozono said.
"Under my leadership, I'll work with businesses to make sure that the grand plans for our future don't drive out family jobs today. TriMet ran a very successful program when they redeveloped Interstate Avenue. I'd like to see that kind of teamwork replicated throughout the city," Dozono said. "It is interesting to note," campaign manager, Amie Abott states, "that Commissioner Adams hired a research firm in Mississippi to dig up
information that could be used to eliminate his only competition. Even more interesting is that this all comes about during the Sauvie Island Bridge Project, a pet project proposed by Commissioner Adams and is not supported by most Portlanders. He intended to divert the public's attention away from an unfavorable project."