PORTLAND, Ore (Reuters) - Portland Mayor Sam Adams is a self-described strong liberal, but despite sharing the politics of many anti-Wall Street protesters who rocked his city, he has also emerged as one of their harshest critics.
Adams told Reuters this week in an interview at City Hall in Portland that the movement had lost its focus.
The Oregon mayor’s running argument with the Occupy movement, much of it conducted openly over Twitter, points to a similar rift between left-wing protesters and liberal politicians in cities across the country, from Los Angeles to Atlanta.
Occupy protesters have denounced economic inequality and the perceived undue power of the wealthy. But they have also clashed with liberal politicians in ways that suggest the movement will not necessarily align with Democratic officials and candidates, political analysts said.
Adams is one of several mayors who, despite expressing sympathy with the Occupy movement, said his duty to maintain law and order compelled him to send in police to dismantle protest camps.
Demonstrations that began in September in New York against banks and corporations have shifted to include opposition to what protesters say is police brutality, as Occupy camps across the nation were forcibly shut down in recent weeks.
“I am a liberal progressive, but I also get to have an opinion on the movement, and I‘m going to put it out there,” Adams told Reuters. “Because any good movement has to be nimble, and this one so far hasn’t been.”
The mayor said he has watched the nationwide Occupy protests “devolve to fighting with liberal mayors in liberal cities.”
Portland, a city of 580,000 residents, has spent $1.5 million for police overtime to handle protesters. Before they were evicted last month in an operation with over 50 arrests, the Occupy Portland movement had up to 500 demonstrators camped downtown in a pair of parks.
Adams at one point used Twitter to call an Occupy event a “dance party in a public space.” The mayor said he has been encouraging protesters to aim their ire away from local governments and instead pursue a national grass-roots effort focused on changing national policies.
Adams, who is openly gay, touts his city’s accomplishments in spending $150 million over the past five years on help for the homeless and affordable housing.
Political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior fellow at the University of Southern California School of Policy, Planning and Development, disagreed that the protesters’ focus needed to be national.
“Why Washington and why not bring the debate down to the local level?” she said. “I find that to be a very elitist perspective.”
Occupy Portland activist Andrea Townsend, 28, an unemployed college graduate, said that she welcomed Adams’ Twitter dialogue, but also disagreed with him.
“The mayor just wants to dismiss the movement now,” Townsend said. “If he thinks he can take it over, that’s just silly. The movement can’t be co-opted.”
Occupy protesters in several cities, including Oakland, Los Angeles and Houston, have said they would try to shut down ports on Monday in an action aimed at striking a blow against corporations. Critics have said such a protest would mainly hurt working-class dock workers.
Rory Cooper, a spokesman for the conservative Heritage Foundation, said liberal and conservative mayors alike have faced the same problem with Occupy demonstrators.
“The mayors tolerated the lawlessness for a while, until they could no longer put up with vandalized buildings and harassed residents,” he said.
While the conservative Tea Party movement helped Republicans retake the U.S. House in the 2010 elections, political observers do not anticipate a similar outcome for the anti-Wall Street crowd.
“The difference is the Tea Party got to take over the Republican Party and begin to reshape it in its own image,” Jeffe said.
“It doesn’t appear that’s going to happen in any way quickly with the Democratic Party,” she added, citing a lack of cohesiveness so far in the Occupy movement and distrust of electoral politics.
Nevertheless, Brookings Institution senior fellow Bill Galston points to President Barack Obama’s major speech in Kansas this week, in which he warned of the danger of economic inequality, as showing the Occupy movement was shifting the national discussion.
“The president is staking his reelection campaign on this theme. That’s a big deal,” Galston said.
Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Cynthia Johnston