It is hard to think of Ron Paul as a bureaucrat. How did a restaurateur
come to be Chief of Staff to Charlie Hales, the City Commissioner
for Planning & Development, Transportation, and Arts & Culture?
It was probably a combination of being in the right place at the
right time and the two personalities resonating with each other,
but wouldnt it be nice if it were indicative of a new wave
of politico one with soul who takes a holistic approach to
his job? In fact, Ron likens his work to holistic medicine, where
prevention is as important as treatment. He feels strongly that
politicians should ascribe to their own form of Hippocratic Oath
first do no harm.
Ron Paul comes from a family of lawyers father, mother,
brothers and even wife. His mother never gave up hoping he would
follow suit. In one classic exchange, she was going on about how
being a lawyer would open the door to the finer things in life,
like smoked salmon and caviar. Thinking he had the ultimate argument
Ron said, But Ma, I can get them for you wholesale!
Without missing a beat, his mother neatly overtrumped and declared,
See, I knew you should be a lawyer!
Although he built up successful chain of restaurants bearing his
name, from all reports Ron was too nice for the restaurant business.
He believed in things like nurturing employees and providing superb
food at reasonable prices. Ron has the sensibility of an artist
and views cooking as an art form. In fact, he points to a growing
awareness in the Pacific Northwest of food as a fine art. It is
the ultimate in the performing arts ephemeral and never the
same twice - but when food is commerce-driven, there can be no sense
of food as fine art. One of his pipe dreams was to create a studio
for cooking funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Who knows,
maybe in the new world he is helping to create
One of the most interesting aspects of Pauls character is
how he has gone about reinventing himself, moving from artist to
entrepreneur to politician. He believes that we are retooling ourselves
all the time. When arriving at lifes inevitable intersections,
we only need a bit of courage to change the warp and weft of our
lives. Just look at what interesting tapestries can emerge.
Ron feels particularly fortunate to be working with Charlie Hales.
He sees the three elements in Hales portfolio as being related
in a higher order to a sense of place, and the two share
a vision of the essence Portland. Charlie he says, is
trying to refine the goût de terroir of Portland,
that particular character that the native soil gives to a fine wine.
By providing the right infrastructure and planning they hope to
nurture the joy and excitement of the citys cultural alternatives
and choices. It is rather like a tapestry that needs to be
When asked how radical a departure politics was from the world
of the arts, he responded, There is still room for creativity,
but most of the work is reviewing and revising the work of others,
rather than creating from scratch. It is rather like making sausage
you can appreciate it when it is done, but you dont
necessarily want to know what went into it. He doesnt
think we have the right balance yet in the arts, primarily because
of lack of funding. Ron feels that art has a transcendental value
that informs what life is really about. Unfortunately, there
is not the same consciousness of its importance at the State level,
so we need to tap into local philanthropy.
Illustrating his holistic approach, Ron described how artists are
invited into the early planning stages of local projects in order
to make them a more aesthetic experience. They cooperate with volunteer
organizations on beautification projects such as Sharrett Square,
and have agreed with City Repairs Mark Lightman on other areas
in which to create special places. He points out that our only true
public space, as opposed to parks, is Pioneer Square, and that they
have plans to explore other potential areas.
One of the projects clearly close to Rons heart is establishing
a permanent 6 or 7 day a week home for the Portland Farmers Market.
The focus will be on fresh and prepared foods and the feasibility
study started a year ago. Portland had a rich history of markets
up to 1941 when the city expanded to the suburbs. The sites under
consideration have been narrowed down to a handful of central locations
on both the east and west side, and a final recommendation is expected
by spring. It is clear that the project doesnt pencil as a
private development, so it will be based on a public/private partnership.
The vendor community will provide the backbone of the operating
income, but private philanthropy will be needed to supplement public
One hopes that more of this kind of thinking will permeate both
the city and City Hall. Churchill once said that people get the
type of government they deserve. Ron Paul said, You can tell
the soul of a city by the way people look at you when you pass.
The joy of life has to be nurtured.
And how do you do that? By lightening up a little,
he said with an infectious grin.
Right on, Ron