Friday, September 01, 2006

Left-handed Outreach From State Dems

Over the weekend I took the Joes to Mamma Mia Trattoria, the restaurant that has replaced the Elephant and Castle on 2nd Street in downtown Portland, and sits opposite the block from Mother's Bistro, the well-known home cooking institution. (For the record, the food was good but not special, and the decor is a little Mustang Ranch meets Bordello of Blood.) Both restaurants are owned by Lisa Schroeder, who generally seems to have a favorable reputation in town.

I've had some email conversation with Schroeder, back when a group of restauranteurs led by Ted Papas of Greek Cusina went on a crusade against food vendor carts--not because business was bad, mind you, but because the vendors competed via parking-lot rent prices and much smaller license fees. As noted in the Merc piece on the controversy, I thought that was elitist, petty, greedy and bad PR, and when I found out Schroeder was another owner involved, I sent her a bit of a nastygram.

Schroeder replied, was deferential and told me she had ended her involvement with the group (albeit only after the bad publicity). I thanked her for the response and let it go.

I always wondered how much of Papas' ad hoc downtown food guild was backed by ORA, the Oregon Restaurant Association. As a PAC they seem to throw a lot of money around, and they have a strong voice on food services issues, particularly in Portland. And one of the things they didn't want food service to deal with last year was paying all employees minimum wage, including waitstaff. The exemption proposal become a hot item in the Legislature, and eventually did not pass, with a fair bit of union help. Who testified on behalf of ORA? Lisa Schroeder. Free pass, revoked!

So Schroeder has been kind of a thorn for working people lately, particularly those in her industry. She should expect no favors from the party that consistently backs strong minimum and living wage laws, and come to think of it, why should I be subsidizing her efforts? It's not like she's the pasta Nazi, and you have to make nice because the food is to die for. It's noodles, sometimes with meat.

Noodles and meat sounded good to the Democratic Party of Oregon, though. They sat and pondered the numbers that 20 million women failed to vote in 2004, and rubbed their pates until they came up with the idea of a strategy luncheon. How can we better appeal to women, they will ask? (Men can come answer the question, the invitation says.) And they'll do it over mouthfuls of Lisa Schroeder's noodles and meat. Every lady who didn't vote, and who has an hour and $15 in order to listen to partycrats play What Do (Young, Single, Politically Uninterested) Women Want?-- raise your hand. Thought so.

It sucks that everything is so closely scrutinized in politics sometimes, but really, this is kind of basic. I am only tangentially knowledgeable about Portland's cuisine scene, and yet I'm well aware of who Schroeder is, which places she owns, and what she's stood for in the recent past. The DPO surely knows what I know, and they could have found somewhere else to eat.

Ordinarily I wouldn't pick at something like the choice of restaurant--y'know, you could say "that guy supports pro-life" or "that guy's soft on terror and he buys non-dolphin-safe tuna" and it would be overkill to play restaurant police over lunch. But there's just too much irony involved in having Schroeder host a "how do we hook young women" session, when young women are primarily considered with a decent, safe job and maybe even some health care options if they have a family. Polling suggests that these women do not feel like either party really serves them and their interests, only those who run business and lobby on behalf of them.

It certainly should be said that the Democrats--and Republicans--in Oregon have achieved one of the top minimum wages in the country, and to have waitstaff nonexempt is unusual indeed, so we're talking about a situation that is about as favorable as it gets. It's a tenuous hold as long as Republicans control the House, however, and if you're going to do outreach to take it back you've got to walk the talk. The free market will let Lisa Schroeder do just fine; take Democratic business to someone who's not working doubletime with the lobbyists.