Hales vs. Smith: Mayoral debate targets East Portland’s economic future

No where else can you read exactly what Portland Mayoral Candidates Jefferson Smith and Charlie Hales said, when they appeared at the East Portland Chamber of Commerce debate …

Portland Chamber of Commerce President Judy Leach, with Adventist Medical Center, welcomes members and guests to their mayoral debate.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Early-rising business people started drifting into an auditorium at Adventist Medical Center (AMC) at about 7:30 a.m., on September 19, to learn more about Portland’s mayoral candidates – at a special East Portland Chamber of Commerce (EPCC) “Good Morning East Portland” meeting.

EPCC President Judy Leach, who is AMC’s Marketing Director, welcomed the assembly.

“It’s an honor to have East Portlanders here today” Leach said. “The East Portland Chamber of Commerce allows you to have a voice, and gives you a time to learn, to grow, and to be heard. [The Chamber] has always been very engaged in government affairs since its very inception.

“For business leaders who are in the room today, this is a chance to have really good interaction about the future of what business will look like here in East Portland. And, for citizens here today, thank you for being part of the dialogue.”

Moderator Nicholas M. M. Drum, of Warren Allen LLP, Attorneys at Law, sets the “ground rules” for the debate and introduces the mayoral candidates.

Leach addressed the debate’s moderator, Nicholas M. M. Drum, of Warren Allen LLP, Attorneys at Law – who, in turn introduced the candidates.

> Editor’s note: The moderator and both candidates spoke rapidly. While we believe we’ve captured almost all of what was said – this document is not a “certified transcript” of the proceedings. It does provide the opportunity to learn more about these candidates. Paragraph divisions are arbitrary. East Portland News has never endorsed, and does not endorse, any candidate for public office.

Mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith.

Jefferson Smith was born and raised here. He went to Grant High School, University of Oregon, and on to Harvard. He was involved in the Bus Project. In 2008 he was elected [Oregon State House Representative, D-Portland District 47], and reelected in 2010, representing the East-most districts in Portland.

“During his tenure the House, he worked on the budget committee, and he’s the one you can blame for putting our budget online,” Drum said. “He also worked in important ideas with water projects, human trafficking, as well as voter registration. He lives here in East Portland with his wife Katie, and his puppy ‘George Bailey’, who no doubt rules the house.”

Mayoral candidate Charlie Hales

Mr. Charlie Hales is a longtime member of the Portland community, having lived in the Pacific Northwest for more than 30 years. He graduated from the University of Virginia, and served in the Portland City Council from 1993 to 2002.

He served as the Parks Commissioner, head of Transportation and the Fire Bureau during his tenure. After that, he joined HDR Engineering and the teams of people creating new light rail and streetcar lines across the country. He has experience in both the public and private sector, and lives in Eastmoreland.

Question #1

While the City of Portland has suffered in general in this economic downturn, the Eastside is perhaps prominent in the size of its commercial decrease over the last couple of years. Small businesses are hurting for revenue; neighborhood businesses are simply doing their best to stay afloat.

What will you do, as mayor, to infuse the east side of the [Willamette] River’s business community with vibrancy?

Charlie Hales

You’re right. We’ve lost 26,000 jobs in this past recession. We are only slowly rebuilding that. And Portland [finds itself with] both the problem and an opportunity for growing new jobs here. We won’t have time for a full discussion of the options, so I hope you go to my website, www.CharlieHales.com, click, and look some of the things I put on the table.

First, [there’s a need to] reform the City’s permit process. It’s cumbersome; it slow – and, particularly when it comes to System Development Charges, too expensive. We want expand small business or build a new businesses, but the City’s over-reliance on this legitimate form of taxation has made it very difficult to grow or expand a business.

When I say “streamlining the permit process”, I mean make it modern and user-friendly like in Salt Lake City. That is, a system that’s entirely paperless, and entirely real-time, so you and the City are on the same page at all times.

Also I think the City can do more in terms of [assisting with] access to capital.

I propose a specific idea called Community Credit Portland, with the City using money that it banks [to make] leveraged loan guarantees for local small businesses. What you [will] get from me are specific ways, in the spirit of partnership, of finding ways the City of Portland can work with business. In this case, we are the “responsible regulator”, and a supporter of the people who employ us – [namely] our citizens.

Jefferson Smith

Part of what we’re facing in Portland with respect to job development is we’re finding a disproportional impact from downturns – a result of [City government’s] planning [process] for the last 20 years. Decisions, intentional ones, like to push lots of housing into this portion of town with insufficient commitment to building things like streets, stores and parks.

The concern that I have about continuing this trajectory is that it’s not only not working for our part of town – the people who live or at least work here – it’s not working for the whole City. As we gentrify North Portland, we’ve failed to invest in this part of town, moving 15,000 or 12,000 members of our minority communities from one portion of town to another.

City planning should see the whole picture. The first responsibility is job development; improving workforce readiness. For a lot of young people who are looking for choices in life we need to give a better way – a better route to better choices. [These are investing in programs like] early education, summer education, Ace Academy, and promoting work readiness.

Second is infrastructure decisions – that don’t only improve the central City [which is what the City is] primarily focused on right now [where] the one priority-one project is the highway interchange to Clark County. It will have impacts on I-205, but probably not positive ones. We also need infrastructure decisions that will be good for the century for going forward.

We need to do more to help early-stage businesses. I think one opportunity is investing in the Gateway Education Center; seeing how public-private partnerships how we might provide a center of excellence in this transportation hub that is still, I think, an underutilized asset.

And, I think the other candidate agrees with me, to find better ways to navigate the City’s permitting system. In addition to a paperless system, I think we ought to have a small business ombudsman in the mayor’s office, or least in City Hall.

Charlie Hales rebuttal

You don’t have to wonder whether I’m capable of turning an idea into an actual change in a bureaucracy. I put in place the Combination Inspection Program – [which is] important if you’ve remodeled house or built one. Before, four inspectors would go into every new kitchen. Now we have one inspection. We put that in place and it is still there.

Under my leadership, we also developed facilities programs that when you do a tenant improvement there is less difficulty than there would’ve been without it.

Question #2

The east side of Portland has a pretty robust lower-class. You may or may not know that the working lower class generally has to travel well out of their locale to find the basic necessities like work, or even something like groceries.

The effect is twofold: Lower-class workers have to leave the community in order to make money; and also to spend money as well. This keeps economic growth out of those communities on East side.

What, as mayor, can you do to bring that economic growth to the communities that need most on our side of the river?

Mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith speaks about bringing economic growth to outer East Portland.

Jefferson Smith

We have places to spend money; but here, it’s harder to walk there. We have more strip malls, more convenience stores. Actually the northern portion of East Portland we have a good number of grocery stores. We don’t have bookstores. There’s a good section of the economy that we don’t have. Part of it is seeing the whole City.

As in my introductory remarks, and answers to the first question – how do we balance our investments, not only with respect to jobs and economic development, but with respect to how the City works. I’m just trying to see the whole picture.

A couple things we might, in addition, do.

I mentioned the Gateway Education Center. We can use Main Street investments, smaller scale urban renewal investments, and the Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative (NPI), to help us create more local business districts, so people don’t have to drive all the way downtown to buy a book – or even out to Hawthorne Street, we can do some of that shopping here.

But I also want to lobby some folks in the room because we need jobs and businesses in East Portland. Yes absolutely. We also need to make absolute sure that businesses have customers. And to do that, we need balanced investments in our parks and our schools.

Mayoral candidate Charlie Hales says what he’ll do to bring economic growth to outer East Portland.

Charlie Hales

Many of you in this room have worked on East Portland Action Plan. I respect that document, both today in this discussion, but also in the work that we do ahead – to make sure that it doesn’t become a “shelf study”. It’s taking some of these issues that we’re identifying in these questions, and turning them into real strategies and actions. I agree with Jefferson that the NPI is a good move for the City; to start focusing more of its economic development on smaller neighboring districts, outside of downtown. That’s a good start.

But I have also gone further, and said in order to do that, we have to start “ramping down” the amount the City has “locked up” in Urban Renewal Districts. We now have 14.3% of the City tied up in existing urban renewal districts. I totally disagree. There many things the current Portland City Council has done that I like. On this, I totally disagree with their decision

For example in the Pearl District, that was supposed to be a 20 year district; and then it was extended, and incurred more debt. The Pearl District was already a success when they made that decision. If, at that point, they’d stayed true to the spirit of urban renewal they would have said, “This bootstrapping scheme has worked, let’s declare victory. Let’s put a couple billion dollars of value back on the tax rolls to pay for all these public services that we all want Citywide.”

And then, we would have more capacity at the Portland Development Commission, to make something like the NPI more than a token effort.

The bigger picture, of we do with the PDC, and I’m committed to this … is start pulling in the “out-year” of when each of those districts and ends, so that we can reduce that 14.3% down to around 10%., Paying for services Citywide and giving PDC the maneuvering room to start making this new approach of smaller neighboring districts actually work – have enough money to make a difference.

Jefferson Smith rebuttal

I do not have a rebuttal.

Question #3

The economic climate has dampened the City’s budget. Portland Mayor Sam Adams reduced the budget by 6.6%. City bureaus have been required to cut their budgets. But, they’ve resorted to adding fees, and issuing fee increases, to “pass the buck” on to the consumer.


  • The Bureau of Development Services raised their fees 5% this year, and 8% in 2011.
  • The Bureau of Environmental Services has recently rolled out the Fats, Oils and Greases Program, a big scheme that taxes a lot of businesses on the east side disproportionally – along with their water and sewer bills going up – because they are a coffee shop, restaurant, or a laundry.

The City is simply passing the burden of a down economy under Portland businesses.

As mayor, would you support freezing, or severely limiting, fee rate increases to where they are, in order to stem this increased burden on Portlanders?

Charlie Hales

I’ve already mentioned that Systems Development Charges are pretty outrageous – its the City is trying to keep up with its own budget needs, by raising fees to smaller and smaller group of customers. This is not a good strategy. It would be better to have more people doing business, and pulling permits, and charging everyone a little less.

About the City budget process: If I’m your mayor, we’ll do our budget a little differently than they do it now. The problem with our form of government is that each Bureau, under their respective Commissioner, advocates what they want. This is the weakness of our “five mayor” form of government.

What I will do is assign all the Bureaus to myself for the first three months. This way, the City Council will be the “Board of Directors”, and will have to look at the whole picture of the whole City, and the whole enterprise of City government. We will do our budget in that environment – rather than each commissioner lobbying for what their Bureau needs.

Secondly, in that process, the City is at a 6-to-1 ratio of people performing actual services to administrative overhead. That’s not the right number. It should be 10 to 1, or 12 to 1. Mayor Adams has 24 staff positions, Mayor Katz had 12. That’s pure overhead. One of the things we can do in the budget to reduce costs is to be a better, more streamlined organization.

By the way, we will spend Water Bureau money on water purposes – and only water purposes.

Jefferson Smith

If we’re going to address price we have to address cost. Too often the pressure in a political campaign is to offer things like reduction in Systems Development Charges. But then, having that promise “on the books”, we have to balance the budget somehow. I’m glad that Charlie is joining me and calling for trimming management in City government.

I carried the Bill in the Oregon House [of Representatives] to do this in the State government; [because] we should be looking for ways to save in management overhead costs.

Second, we shouldn’t be looking for tax breaks; and particularly for major projects we can’t afford. I’ve tried to show fiscal discipline in this campaign, be it the Columbia Crossing, or Sustainability Center, or water projects we don’t need – like capping reservoirs that don’t need to be capped, or curing us from Cryptosporidium that we don’t have.

That kind of focusing: First on cost, and then thinking about price, is the proper order.

I cannot promise that I will keep costs down. I can promise we will look for ways to save money.

Charlie Hales rebuttal

I have no rebuttal.

Question #4

“Jefferson, I would like to give you the opportunity to talk about the East Portland Action Plan, given that Charlie talked about it in his prior time,” Drum began this question.

The East Portland Action Plan (EPAP) has quietly worked to achieve meaningful success here in Eastside. The [Portland] Bureau of Transportation dedicated $8 million as part of its East Portland In Motion plan, to help promote the development of 82nd Avenue.

The [EPAP] was in Mayor Adams’ budget, but I believe this fiscal year, it’s been moved out, which would place it at risk; its a $280,000 budgetary item.

One, will you work to keep the “Plan” going; and two, what goals would you want to work [with], to see fulfilled, with the East Portland Action Plan, and how would you get that accomplished?

Jefferson Smith

To the first question, yes, we will fight for the budget.

The second question has a few elements. Part of what, I think, is most powerful and most important about the Action Plan is not “the paper” or even the expenditure of money, but it’s building a “power center” on this side of town. For the last 20+ years, the “squeaky wheel” has received the “grease”. Too often, our neighbors haven’t squeaked in a politically-relevant way, as loudly as those who live a little closer to City Hall. Making sure that we maintain that “clustered influence” is really important.

Beyond that, we have to make sure that it’s not a $250,000 “thank you” for doing something – this actually impacts larger resource deployment. You offered a couple of good examples, I’ll offer a couple pf counter examples to make sure it doesn’t happen anymore like this.

In the last stimulus round, even though 27% of the population lives east of 82nd Avenue, according to the Tribune: 1.5% of the stimulus dollars were spent here. And, only 3.3% of the transportation dollars [were spent here]. $11 million was spent for subsidized loans for energy retrofits for Portland schools, but zero dollars [went] to the David Douglas, Centennial, and Reynolds School Districts – they were not asked to apply.

What I hope is that the East Portland Action Plan can do “what’s on the page”, but can also influence the spending of larger amounts of dollars.

Charlie Hales

A little bit more about the budget, and where this East Portland In Motion project was lodged in it.

A couple of “blinking yellow lights” about the City’s budget: The City of Portland is not going broke. But there are some concerns about budgets at the moment. One is that the City Council, largely because of urban renewal, has run up debt, so that [debt] now takes about 25% of your property tax dollar – and less than 50% of the City’s property tax dollars is going into the General Fund.

The other is that there’s been a tendency to use each fund a little bit like an ATM, and do a lot of things ad-hoc. There a lot of one-time expenditures in the budget, that really are ongoing expenditures. The City’s responsibility for maintaining streets is not a short-term thing.

There also is a need to have a long term source of revenue to start building out the many miles unbuilt streets in the City, and [putting in the] missing sidewalks – a lot of those are in East Portland. I think even after we put the transportation budget into good shape, and explain to everybody how we’re spending their money [ with maintenance first], and then capital improvements – we are going to need additional revenue to build up the street system. We can’t just rely on the people who live in those streets to tax themselves to pay for those streets – at the current rate of progress will get this done in about 2,000 years. Oregon [needs to] have a different way to pay for paving streets, rather than waiting for an occasional federal grant, stimulus, or hoping people on the streets will build the streets.

If we make the “East Portland in Motion” program programmatic, part of the Transportation Bureau’s ongoing responsibility, then that’s the way to safety. Not a political wedge again of whose budgets they’re in this year.

Jefferson Smith rebuttal

I do not have a rebuttal.

Question #5

“Charlie, I’d like to talk to you, now that you brought up transportation – both candidates seem to be in favor of creating new fees or higher taxes to lower the cost of mass transit,” Drum continued…

This is a big issue on Eastside. Both candidates have stated that they would go to Salem and lobby for higher gas taxes in order to pay for public transportation. You both told Bike Walk Vote that you would want to get new funding mechanisms for walking and biking and public transportation.

We have had the seventh highest gas prices in America.

With regard to fighting the dedicated streams of revenue for public transportation and biking, is it possible that you can do this, without “passing the buck” on to Portland businesses and individuals, in this down economy? How would you do it?

Charlie Hales

We need more money for transit, as well as for maintaining streets, but we can’t use gas taxes for that, not in Oregon. The Constitution requires that gas taxes go to roads. I don’t propose to change that.

We’ve looked at a couple of options for how to raise additional money for transportation other than the gas tax. Our gas taxes are not that high, but our gas prices are. It’s not the public sector that’s reaping the benefit of these high gas prices.

Nevertheless, [gasoline prices] are high and people are sensitive to that. [What is needed is] some kind of street utility fee, some kind of different way to pay for transportation. There have been a lot of experiments this on the State level. Ideally this will be done at the State or regional level and flow down to us by some formula – rather than making Portland more expensive than Beaverton in which to travel.

We’ve got a serious issue with TriMet being able to provide service, given their very high healthcare costs; and, the situation that they are in is an organization. I’m at work with them as a partner. The business community pays [a TriMet] payroll tax. [We need to] try and figure out how to keep TriMet healthy for the long run because they’re in a spiral, or at least a spiral of decline – cutting service in order to keep paying very high healthcare costs under their contract. No one’s winning in the long run, if that’s where they are five years from now.

Jefferson Smith

We have a transportation problem and I’m going to need your help. Gas tax revenues are not keeping pace with transportation needs. I don’t recall saying the primary fix for that would be a tax increase. I voted no on the last gas tax increase – one of five Democrats to do so – not because I hate gas taxes, but because of a campaign promise that I would not be in favor of gas tax increases unless it was good for our district – and unless it made it less necessary for people to drive, instead of make it more expensive for them to drive.

But we do need to figure out transportation revenue. And that’s not bicyclists’ fault. You probably read in the [daily newspaper] [a report] that essentially says the reason we have potholes in our streets is because we have bicycle lanes. We have a much bigger problem. We had a $300 million project [if we got] the last gas tax increase, and we now have $160 million project.

One thing that transit advocates, and truckers and businesses, are going to need to come together on – with the next transportation commissioner – is going to be a broad-based transportation package. I doubt – no, I don’t want to say I doubt – that one of the options might be gas tax increase.

Charlie Hales rebuttal

Another thing for transit is looking for some nontraditional sources of revenue as well, outside the general businesses burden that we have from the payroll tax. And funds from the fare box.

As you may know, I put the airport light-rail project together with Mayor Vera Katz and some others in a really unusual partnership. We built that thing without a general tax burden at all. We ought to look for that kind of nontraditional partnership on the operating level. What about every ticket to the Timbers game have a small surcharge, and for that [ticket] to be a free pass on the system, now we don’t have Fairless Square anymore? What if every boarding pass was automatically a transit pass? What if we had more school-to-work programs? I think there are new ways to find new sources, to avoid going toward the payroll tax.

Question #6

The City budget is a fixed, limited sum, in the present economic climate. There simply isn’t enough money to go around to fix every need the City of Portland has. We talked about putting money into transportation, prioritizing higher education – but there will simply not be enough money to meet every need of Portland.

First, what is the decision-making process you’d go through to figure out how to allocate the City’s resources – what does that thinking look like? Secondly, exactly what are your priorities regarding the limited sums of money that you’ll have to work with.

Jefferson Smith

I’d go through a prioritizing process with the people who are involved. In this case it would be Bureau directors, the Bureau heads. And you’ve got to hear from the City Commissioners, and have them involved to rank order the things they’d want to do.

And rank order [spending] based on how they are delivering, per dollar, the desired outcomes. In terms of my desired outcomes, I’m running for mayor to get the City working better for more people.

Thant means I want to reduce unemployment by 2%. Every time I say that I want to see this happen [however], it will have much more to do with the global economy, than [with] anything that I did.

Secondly, I want to get the City working better. I think last year we had 49% satisfaction with Bureau services; I’d like to get that up to 60%.

Third, I’d like the City working for more people by seeing the big picture and getting more people engaged. [Then, I] will make priorities according to that.

Most of the ideas you’ve heard from me, over the course of the campaign, from a “311 System” to being careful about major capital projects, or significant tax break proposals, have been motivated by a desire for cost savings.

One exception to that has been education – particularly early education, and summer education. I will advocate for that resource for education at the State, federal, and yes, at the City level.

Charlie Hales

I have already explained how I will conduct the budget process.

I will be forcing, in effect, the City Council to act like a “board of directors” because they wouldn’t have any turf to defend. We’ll also have to look at what we bring to this office. That’s a start.

[Voters should note that] we have pretty different backgrounds, between the two of us.

I spent the last 10 years in private business. Those of you in business know what the last 10 years has been like, it’s not that easy. And yet, I have helped our company grow every year – not very much, in a couple of years – but we still managed to grow. You have to be a good budgeter to do that. You have to bring your projects and on time, and on budget, as I have.

Secondly, I bring 10 years of experience as a City Commissioner. This is a very big, complex enterprise, and will not be new to me. I’ll be able to go in on day one, and be able to start it dealing with these difficulties.

The next few years are going to be “sailing close to the wind” as far as the budget is concerned. It’s going to be good management that I will bring to this job, and this is what is required.

Now, having said that, I think there is another opportunity that will be in the first budget – it starts with making use of the people’s money more intelligently. And that is we have nine local governments on the spot where standing right now. If you add them all up there are nine governments. Port of Portland, Metro, Tri-Met, City of Portland, Multnomah County, ESD, school district, Portland Development Commission, community college – add them all up and is nine or 10, and that’s too many.

Those are accidents of history that we’ve accumulated [most of those] governments, many of which have elected officials, and staffs – and you know the rest. This is a big deal. I talked with [Multnomah County Chair] Jeff Cogen, and people in other positions of leadership, who are willing to take this on. It’s a big difficult issue, but could be important for the longer run, making a big difference to the cost of services, and the efficiency of what we do.

Jefferson Smith rebuttal

I agree that Charlie and I experience Portland differently.

I experience it as someone who was born here, who has lived here for the last five years and in Portland for more than the last 10 years; who has recent legislative experience including recent budget experience on the Ways & Means Subcommittee for General Government. [And, I] have an impression what it’s like to balance budgets, not during the 1990s when [we were] unloading truckloads of federal money, but in the current times when we get to figure out how to tighten belts. I’ll bring that with me to City Hall.

Question #7

The City’s spending pattern generally favors investing on the other side of the river, instead of out here near I-205. The statistics we heard [earlier today] show that it’s been a pretty disproportional spending of money.

As mayor, what specifically would you do to commit to an equal investment of resources, infrastructure, transportation and other needs we have in the side of the river, near the I-205 area?

Mayoral candidate Charlie Hales addresses the business needs of outer East Portland.

Charlie Hales

A major reason for that imbalance is that the City has poured a lot of money into urban renewal districts. Of course [money] comes from those districts, but then it has affected everybody else by diverting that tax revenue into PDC’s budget. Most of that effort has been downtown – the Pearl District and South Waterfront districts. I do believe we need to start ramping down those districts so we have the ability to focus that tool on other places, including East Portland, and new districts that we’re going to need. It’s the most significant thing we can do.

When I talk about budget equity it’s not about “spreading peanut butter evenly across the bread”. There are areas where there is significant underinvestment in bigger needs, like parks and East Portland. And that’s one of the areas I believe we can do more in terms of the next Parks bond measure, or Commissioner Nick Fish’s E205 Initiative for building out the neighborhood parks that are needed here in East Portland.

Now here’s something that’s pretty heartening from my experience as a candidate. I’ve knocked on a lot of doors – thousands of them, actually. And a lot of people in neighborhoods with streets, street trees, and who have sidewalks already, say “My street’s okay. But I’ve been reading about all of those unbuilt streets. I sure hope you focus on spending for street construction and transportation, starting to give those folks and those neighbors benefits that I already enjoy.”

I think it’s a goodhearted sign from citizens, and I encourage that.

Mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith talks about bringing economic growth to outer East Portland.

Jefferson Smith

It’s a matter of planning and a matter of will.

First let me say I am not running for mayor to represent any single portion of town. I have talked about East Portland at 177 out of 177 house parties. The case I’m making is not to wage geographic warfare. I make the case in every living room and on every back deck which I am invited to is that we are all in this together. We all benefit by how Southwest works, by how downtown works; we all benefit by addressing gang violence, we all benefit by an East Portland that works. We are all in this together.

The second is the will to do that. I am running, in part, because of the various things that I’ve applauded and trusted about the last 20 years of City government.

The [Vera] Katz, [Charlie] Hales, [Sam] Adams lineage and regime is not something I have been prepared to trust when it comes to investment in this part of town.

It is one thing to talk about that stuff during elections, and another to look at the actual track record of commitment to the area.

You can talk about the East Portland Community Center – but the greatest legacy of the last 20 years of City government, in terms of infrastructure investment hasn’t been infrastructure, has just been housing. And not high-enough-quality, affordable housing, but just zoning, so a lot more happens.

That is a trend we need to shift. Yes we need housing; we would also need services and amenities that makes the housing livable. We also need to make sure that people, as we talked about before, have shorter trips to shopping and work. It’s going to require a single picture. I’m not going to promise that our part of town will get every penny. But I will see the whole City [is treated fairly], particularly where I live.

Charlie Hales rebuttal

[He looks at the projected image on the screen behind him] I’m glad that picture is there; it was taken in front of the East Portland Community Center. There’s been one Parks bond measure in the last 50 years. I organized that Parks bond measure. It built two new community centers, one in Southwest Portland which never had one, and one here in East Portland. It built parks, like Ed Benedict Park, and John Luby Park, and Lincoln Park.

You don’t have to wonder, in my case, if I can turn the “nice words” about caring about East Portland parks into real things.

As I mentioned, I helped with the Airport Light Rail project, which connects Parkrose and Gateway to the Airport, making it an easy trip on the transit system.

You don’t have to wonder if I will prioritize transportation in East Portland – I’ve already done it.

Question #8

About the homeless problem: “As you’re well aware, there was a pretty scathing report that came out from the ‘federal department’ criticizing and rebuking the Portland Police Department for using excessive force with regard to the mentally ill,” Drum stated.

“In particular, it highlighted the gap that we have between mental health care available in Portland, the amount of homeless people that we have. Under Mayor Sam Adams, the City has spent tens of millions of dollars trying to deal with the homeless problem, and according to the statistics it’s only pretty much gotten worse.”

If you are Commissioner of Police, what would you do to get rid of this “bad national reputation”? Secondly, in regard to the homeless population, would you continue in the pattern set by Mayor Adams and his approach to homelessness, or would you do something different?

Jefferson Smith

That question deserves way more than a minute-and-a-half answer!

Starting with mental health. I don’t put much of that burden – I do put some of it – at the City’s feet. That’s a national trend that dates back to the 1980s. We’ve been under-investing in that the social safety net. That is a moral failing of our country.

What we can do about things in the near term:

We need an honest-to-goodness mental health triage crisis center. A place you can actually bring somebody who is suffering from mental health crisis. Many of our crisis centers need 24 hour cooling-off periods, which doesn’t help if you’re “James Chasse” or someone who’s in crisis.

Secondly, we need and honest-to-goodness mobile healthcare; a mobile mental health crisis unit. Right now, it is neither mobile, nor a crisis unit – its one vehicle, and is not allowed [as] first responder. We need to do better there.

We need to do better training our officers to address people with mental illness – but also in how to identify, profile, and solve problems and work with the community in addition to enforcing laws and making arrests.

Charlie Hales

First of all the policy of the State level of the institutionalizing mentally ill people and hoping that they would take the medication and stay in housing has not worked out. And so, clearly we need to go in another direction.

I believe that the state not only should commit to more humane facilities, [but should] built some of them in Portland. They’re building one in Salem and one in Junction City – so frankly, I’m confused by their strategy, since that population center is in Portland.

I agree that we need officers teamed with mental health professionals – one of the specifics being discussed – to respond to this Department of Justice critique of our situation in the City. I agree with Jefferson that having a crisis center, like we have with CHIERS [a roving response van] for public inebriates, is something critical that we don’t have in the system today.

Under my leadership the Portland Police Bureau will have a clear and consistent direction toward “community policing”, which means police officers spending more time in problem solving, and less on chasing 911 calls. We’ll have more of our officers assigned to patrol in order to be able to do that. We all know that it works better that way, we’ve seen it work better.

When it comes to homelessness, I think most of what’s being done, is done by nonprofits. Most of them are doing a wonderful job. In fact look at Central City Concern and Outside In – those providers are doing heroic work and making a difference.

But there are other homeless people, with more severe problems, out there. I think those nonprofits need more resources, more support from us all – it cannot all come from public funds. There are things that need to be fixed in Portland. One of the things that doesn’t need to be fixed in Portland is this amazing set of nonprofits who are working hard every day.

And for people who are suffering from mental illness, we need to have the police trained and practiced to employ de-escalation and get people to the very centers both Jefferson and I described – and then, into the hands of one of those nonprofits to help them get back into society. This is difficult and expensive work; but it’s less expensive because we have these amazing nonprofits doing this great work.

Jefferson Smith rebuttal

I’ll add two things on mental health and one on a law-enforcement.

I think we also need to look at regional solutions. There is an overstatement-bordering-on-myth that Portland, Oregon, is so friendly, it attracts people without homes from miles and miles away.

It is accurate that we serve a larger share of the population that is homeless than do Clark County and Washington County. We need to be looking at partnerships to address that disparity.

Secondly, we need to look at wraparound services. We’re seeing some good work, and Charlie mentioned some of it. Making sure that we’re helping people, with housing, jobs, and with treatment – recognizing that if we do only one of those, we might be “doing zero”.

Third, in respect to law enforcement, [we need to continue to do] things that we’re experimenting with like Rider Advocates; hoping to go forward with MAXAction at Lloyd Center; getting more community members connected with law enforcement, to get more eyes on the street. We can’t just expect we’re going to reduce the number of police officers and do a better job law enforcement.

Question #9

Mayor Adams has often described himself as a “cheerleader for Portland”, trying to bring businesses to the City of Portland. However, not only does it seem that we have a problem attracting businesses; we have a problem keeping them. Last year we lost Tazo Tea, which went from being a quirky Eastside Portland startup to a world brand – then “flew the coop”.

What can you do, as mayor, to ensure that businesses – particularly Eastside businesses – grow, and stay in Portland?

Charlie Hales

You have to be more than a cheerleader, but also do that. I do love Portland, that’s why my lawn signs say that. You have to be a good marketer to be a good mayor.

Then, we have to have the policies and administration in the City aligned so that’s not just fluff – which is more than just marketing.

Let me give you specific example. One of my first phone calls if I am elected mayor, would be to Tim Boyle, the CEO of Columbia Sportswear. They left Portland, unhappy after a real estate wrangle with Multnomah County. It’s a very unfortunate story. Here’s a homegrown business right next to the St. Johns Bridge, and it’s now in a grungy-looking rented space – in my opinion – in Beaverton. I’d love to have them back.

But in order to get them back, first we’ll need to “make the case”, and tell them that we care, and we’d like them to come back.

Secondly, we need to have a development commission set up to work with them.

Third, we need a permit process that [works properly]. In fact when I assign Bureaus, in addition to taking the Police Bureau – I will l also probably assign the Planning Bureau and the group of development services to myself, so we can have a coherent approach to the economic and permitting process in the City.

Having those folks under a single manager, reporting to the mayor, is the best opportunity we have, administratively, to be consistent in the message to the businesses we are trying to recruit.

Jefferson Smith

I want to push back on the premise of your question.

We are, I think, gaining more company growth, and we’re losing companies that “fly the coop”.

Most of our job growth has not come from attracting out-of-state businesses, but in fact comes from [nurturing] early-stage homegrown businesses. I may have my numbers jumbled, but I think in Oregon, 1998 to 2008, companies with over 100 employees lost 10,000 jobs; companies with under 100 employees gained 200,000 jobs. Nonresident businesses lost 90,000 jobs, I think; resident businesses, I think, gained 160,000 jobs. This is not peculiar to Oregon, is not peculiar to Portland – that is the nature of that is happening with municipalities and cities across the country.

We need to be thinking about not just how we are doing at “economic hunting”, but also how we’re doing at “economic gardening” – growing the companies that we have.

How might we do that? Agreed, part of that is just making the City work. But the hugest part of that is having an investment in “human capital”. There are stories of successful cities that have human capital doing excellent things. We mess with that at our peril. That’s why education has to be a top priority. That’s why being a wonderful place to live has to be a top priority.

In terms of specific things, but I think that too often politicians focus on addressing job development, because we want to give business voters, and [our] donors, sort of interesting promises – and, we can overstate what we can do.

But there are a couple things. We can learn from Littleton, Colorado, which pivoted from just trying to attract replacement companies, to helping early-stage businesses succeed with CEO mentorship, with circulation of capital, and linking space. Not just vacant space, but [working] like Michigan Venture Accelerator, which links capital access to create sort of an “incubator on steroids”, as well as helping homegrown business access new customers and markets.

I think we can help, not only those “1 to 10 employee” firms, but those “10 to 100 employee” firms, to grow – our next Intel, our next Nike. Our next big company is not someone we begged to come here, but something we grow here.

Charlie Hales rebuttal

Another piece of this is that we are a “small business city”. It’s great if we can recruit large business – I’d like to bring [Columbia Sportswear] home – but the most important thing the City Portland can do is be an effective partner to small businesses in some of the things we talked about earlier.

The other thing is for the mayor to pay attention to the needs and situations of businesses.

One of the teachable moments that I’ve had during this campaign, was in a neighborhood meeting at Nabisco, on Columbia Boulevard. To everyone’s knowledge, no serving mayor had ever visited Nabisco in 60 years, to stop by and say, “Hi, how’s it going?” A little deliberate outreach to the City’s businesses is a good use of the mayor’s time.

Question #10

“We’ve talked a lot about the ‘nitty-gritty things’ about politics, and I want to zoom up to 30,000 foot level,” Drum said, setting the stage for the next question.

“The cost of living in Portland is pretty high. The person making $50,000 here spends 11% more in Portland than in Denver; 6% more than in Indianapolis; 26% more than in San Antonio and even 1.5% more than in Seattle. Money simply goes farther in other comparable cities. At the same time Portland is an average income city, and our citizens make approximately $2,000 less than the average citizen of a comparable city.

As mayor, what measures can you take to bring Portland back in line with the national trend, in terms of cost of living on an average income?

Jefferson Smith

We’re a nice place to live, that is what generates demand; and demand is much of which generates price. I will continue to work to make this a nice place to live.

Therefore I can’t promise that we will ever be [a] cheaper [place to live] all the time. People might want to come here, and I hope they do, because this is this a sign that we’re the place we should be.

But we do have to address costs. A piece of good news: Fewer people in East Portland use “active transportation”. I don’t think it’s because our seniors would rather have access to an accessible bus; I don’t think it’s because folks would rather spend the money on a car – a lot of people can’t afford the insurance. But I do think we need shorter trips, so we [need to] plan our City better. That sometimes a is surprising element of cost.

We need also be looking at all the things we’ve tried to address in terms of cost-drivers of water rates and sewer rates – the other side of that ledger is how we pay for all that stuff.

That’s why I want us to be looking at an economic development strategy that fits our distinctive strengths. We’re not going to be Denver, Phoenix, or Houston – but with our rainier weather, we will be Portland, Oregon.

We will need infrastructure priorities for the City. Not the highway interchanges out-of-state that help people avoid Oregon income tax and land-use laws, but instead, infrastructure investments that benefit the City. We’re going to need the kind of business strategy that isn’t trying merely to hope for the next big attraction event – “have larynx, will travel”, and happy to be involved in business attraction – but how can we help those early-stage businesses.

Charlie Hales

We should look to our own costs, something the City government should do. I’m not sure what all of the drivers of those cost differences that you describe are – but obviously among them are housing.

We are in an expensive housing market. I agree that because we are a popular place to live, that market effect is still there for housing. But, there are some things going on that I think we can encourage that will help.

The Proud Ground experiments going on SE 122nd Avenue – where we have home ownership being made affordable to working people – we should have more of it.

Having an effective transit system allows people to get to work without the expense of the car or expensive gasoline – this is important. We made some progress here. We spent $1 billion less a year in the metropolitan area than the same number of people do other metropolitan areas. $1 billion less mess, because people are able to get to a bus. That is a big cost driver for a lot of working people. Having an effective working transit system is one more piece of the picture.

Having an effective park system doesn’t affect the cost of living. But, one of the things the public sector can do to make sure the things we enjoy as citizens, streets and transportation and parks are provided affordably and effectively, so those are not things that we have to buy privately.

Jefferson Smith rebuttal

Talking about housing, we do need to figure out how are you going to fit an additional 5,000 to 6,000 people in the City every year.

If we don’t figure out solutions for housing, then it gets built out in the suburbs, and housing prices increase within the City. We need to do that while we’re making smart parks, streets, sidewalks and transit investments within the City.

Question #11

What are your priorities with the Portland Development Commission?

Charlie Hales

First figure out what its mission is. It’s in kind of a confused state at the moment.

Is it a real estate redevelopment agency, in a classic urban renewal agency mode? Or, is it a job creation agency? Or some of each?

I think we need to have a discussion – and not take a year to do it – but it needs to involve the Portland City Council, the PDC, and the people in the community that care about these issues.

I think we need to have less of the City in the Urban Renewal Districts – but that that’s still a valid tool, when we look places like Gateway, with the Rose Quarter, to use urban renewal that way.

Secondly PDC picks sectors in the economy where they’re focusing their economic development effort. I think it’s probably good idea, but I don’t think they have their priorities right. One of those sectors, for example, is food. We’re a State, region, and City where we produce a lot of agricultural products and add value to them, whether they’re wine, beer, or jam, and then sell them to the world. I think that’s an area to give emphasis to.

Jefferson Smith

Mission clarification, new tools, return on investment, managing displacement, and seeing the whole picture.

There is a cultural tension in the PDC, as it’s been described to me in different ways. Property development versus economic development versus community development. But I think what we should be looking for is the kind of investment that clarify the mission not by picking, but by coalescing.

I mentioned the Michigan Venture Accelerator as an idea, where with University of Michigan work with public and private partners, they bought a $40 million facility for $10 million [to keep it from being] “empty geography”. They combined it with technical assistance, capital access, et cetera, to make it an innovative ecosystem. That kind of investment could bring together the property expertise and economic development desire of the PDC.

We’re going to need new tools, because urban renewal cannot serve all of our needs. We also need to make sure, in our investment, that we have community engagement, so we’re not just displacing communities, and having as many unintended consequences as we ever had in the past.

Closing Statements

Mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith makes his closing statement.

Jefferson Smith

Running for mayor is a humbling thing. Running for mayor in one’s hometown is a humbling thing. There are days that you wonder if anyone is worthy to do the job, given the wonderful City that we are.

I have certainly made mistakes in my life.

But the distinctive strength that I hope that we’ll invest in is our people. The economists I like best are those that say that the companies and cities that compete best are those that compete, not merely by trying to erode their weaknesses, but try to compete by investing in their distinct strengths. We have wonderful strength not because we have the deepest port, not because we have the sunniest weather, not because we have the most famous university.

We’re the City we are because we have had just about the most committed compassionate creative human beings of any major City in the country. The leadership strength I bring, and I bring weaknesses too, my leadership strength is understanding that human capital will yield physical capital – more than [is the case] the other way around. I recognizing that if we make sure that every neighborhood works, than neighbors will work, and we will have a better City. It is recognizing that where power should lie is not where it is always has lain for the last 20 years – but [it should] be invested in our people.

I will look to try to engage and empower those people to do great things. The most important thing I have to ask for is not your vote. If I win this race, the thing that I’m going ask for is your help. Because what has made this City great is our people, and it is going to take a lot of people to run the City. I appreciate your time.

Mayoral candidate Charlie Hales makes his closing statement.

Charlie Hales

First of all thank you for putting this together. The first experience that I had here was walking the halls with my son in my arms. It always feels good to come back here – with a good night sleep first.

What we need in a mayor, and I think I bring these things, is leadership, experience, and focus. What does that word, “leadership”, mean when we are talking about the mayor of Portland?

First of all it is the capacity to listen to people. If you talk to people who came before the City Council when I was a City Commissioner, or to those who worked with me as employees of the Bureaus – and I hope you do – I think you’ll find that they say that “the guy actually listened, and sometimes changed his mind in a public hearing, and had not made his mind up before that public hearing.”

The second thing in leadership is judgment. It is the ability to weigh competing claims, listen to the advocacy of both sides, and get to a good result.

Third is a spirit of partnership. We always say “I” too much, when running for office. We get things done in partnerships – like the one I helped put together to build the Airport Light Rail.

Next is the ability to make it happen. To turn these nice words that we say, in rooms like these, into real things.

After that, the next thing we need is understanding how the City works, and how business works – and obviously I bring those.

Another thing is focus. I’m focused on this place. My wife will tell you that I’m a local wonk, stopping to look at public intersections, street trees, the design of buildings – and she has to put up with me.

But, this is where I live – at street level in the City. I spent my whole career in one capacity or another, thinking how to make City life work better. Because I love this place, I love cities, and I love this one – I look forward to working with you, if I’m elected as your mayor, in that spirit of partnership bringing leadership, experience, and focus to the most public administration job in our town.

Thank you for your advocacy and thank you for being here today.

Meet with the Chamber …
The East Portland Chamber of Commerce meets in different locations on Wednesday mornings. See our Community Calendar to learn where they’ll be meeting this week. Or, for more information, see their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

Comments are closed.

© 2005-2023 David F. Ashton East PDX News™. All Rights Reserved.