Leading mayoral candidates campaign in person at Gateway

It’s clear they’ve been honing their outer East Portland ‘talking points’ – see what they had to say, when Portland mayoral candidates visited the Gateway Area Business Association …

GABA President Fred Sanchez, of Realty Brokers, welcomes members and guests to the March meeting.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The March meeting of the Gateway Area Business Association (GABA) dispensed with many of the usual light-hearted moments – such as the GABA Keystone Kops presenting their famous “Rubber Chicken Award” to a worthy member.

Instead, the 33 members and guests were offered the opportunity to learn more about the three leading Portland mayoral candidates: Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales, and Jefferson Smith.

Mayoral forum moderator Bruce McCain recalls how east Multnomah County was annexed into the City of Portland – with hard feelings, for some, which he says are lingering.

GABA Mayoral forum moderator and noted outer East Portland attorney Bruce McCain began by recalling that, had unincorporated east Multnomah County become the city of “Columbia Ridge”, it would have instantly become Oregon’s second-largest city. “Portland City Hall hasn’t always been favored, out here, because the thought is that City Hall can’t see past 82nd Avenue.”

Note: The candidates’ statements have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Portland mayoral candidate Eileen Brady says, “Portland can be a great place to live”.

Mayoral candidate Eileen Brady began her opening statement by commenting, “You’ve done a tremendous amount of work in this area; you’ve taken it to the next level.

“I am running for mayor because I am concerned about Portland,” Brady continued. “I think Portland is actually losing its momentum.  It’s losing its edge, and ultimately losing its talent. This includes our children.  Portland can be a great place to live. It can also be a very difficult place, as many of you know or your children know, in which to find a job, to make a living, or to open and grow a business.

“I get up every morning motivated by the thought that we can have both a livable city and a vibrant economy.  In order to do this, we have to break through the myth that we can’t have a ‘progressive city’ and a ‘vibrant economy’ at the same time.”

Brady told the group that her own background includes working with five “landmark” Portland organizations.

“Natures (grocery market), is where I started at $5 an hour, and worked my way up to the top of the company, and helped run the human resources Department. New Seasons Market, where I was a cofounder of a very successful business that started in my home. I was vice president of Portland’s Ecotrust for five years; and with Zenger Farm, I spent years helping to bring out their landmark program for school kids.  And currently I am part of the ‘Chinook Book’, a small publishing business, [a] green coupon guide.

“Plus [I bring] public policy background on boards and committees. In 2007, Governor Ted Kulongoski asked me to sit on the health fund board, working on legislation that passed in the middle of a recession, that allows access to healthcare for 94,000 more kids in the state.”

Playing to the crowd, Brady added, “When I look at this area, in Gateway, I see huge untapped potential. I’ll bring my entrepreneurial background to help you guys get the ‘Gateway Green’ project off the ground, the Gateway Education Center, to build out a workforce program for the kids here.

“I look forward to helping explore the riches of this area.  I think Portland is a good city, but it can be a great city.  It needs new leadership, and I’m excited to provide that leadership.”

Portland mayoral candidate Charlie Hales says, “I’m very proud of Portland”.

Mayoral candidate Charlie Hales began his opening statement, “I’m running for this office because I love the City; I’m very proud of Portland. We are a great city that has accomplished great things.  I think we have the capacity to solve problems that we now know are in front of us.”

Hales said he’s stepping back into the political arena, “Having spent two-thirds of my career in the private sector. I served as a Portland City Commissioner for 10 years. It was a time in the City when we got a great deal done. I led the Transportation Bureau. We put together the light rail to the airport, and got it done for less money for less than what they’ve spent so far just planning the Columbia River Crossing. And, we got it done 10 years ahead of schedule.

“I was Parks Commissioner, and we put the first bond measure together in 50 years to improve parks all over the city and start correcting some of the deficits and the neighborhoods that we’d annexed in East Portland and elsewhere. We built the East Portland Community Center, one of the proudest things I’ve ever done, in partnership with the David Douglas School, on the corner of Floyd light Middle school. That beautiful synergy between a neighborhood and that school continues to this day.

“We also built Ed Benedict Park – and several others – with these partnerships that a wise leader will always build. That’s an important thing that I build to bring to this office.”

Highlighting his ability to help create partnerships, Hales added, “I believe that my experience of ‘getting things done’ that way here, will prove invaluable.

“Finally, I spent the last 10 years working with other cities all over the country. Portland is the greatest; I love Portland the best. But, there are some ‘best practices’ out there to pick up and use.”

Hales gave a “completely paperless building permit system” he’d seen in Salt Lake City as an example. “In office as your mayor, if you choose me for this role, there won’t be any learning curve. I’ll be able to start working with you as an effective partner from day one.”

Portland mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith says, if he’s elected mayor, “You’ll be able to knock on my door and yell at me, because I live very close”.

Mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith began his opening statement, “My name is Jefferson Smith. I [came to the GABA meeting today] primarily to say ‘thank you’ for honoring me in the 2008 Fun-O-Rama parade as the ‘Best Individual Entry’. “I cherish the award, he joked. “My wife is humiliated – and a little amused – by it.”

Smith said he lives about 15 blocks away from Russellville Park, where the GABA meetings are held. “I was born in Portland. I’m running for mayor; this is my own town, and I want to make it better. I went to Grant High School and the University of Oregon Law School.  My wife went to Floyd Light Middle School and to Reynolds – her brothers and sisters went to David Douglas schools.

“I serve this district in the [Oregon] State House [of Representatives]. I’m honored to do so. I’ve had a chance to lead and help pass State Budget transparency, putting the budget online. I helped pass the ‘Cool Schools Initiative’ to start retrofitting schools for energy efficiency. If we can get a David Douglas bond passed, we can access some of those funds to get lighting and airflow improved some of our local school district buildings.

“But then I talked to my constituents,” Smith continued. “In my district, it is not clear to them that in these 20 years post-annexation, that light rail and infill housing have been a boon into our neighborhoods. It is not clear to them that moving from 30 to 50% free or reduced-price lunches in the school district up to 80% free or reduced price lunches has been a boon to our city.  It is background.”

Smith said he’s also hearing from his constituents about the 59 miles of unpaved road in Portland. “I’m hearing about the need for more safety on the light rail line, and [about] the increase in violence and youth activity. I’m hearing about resource distribution east of 82nd Avenue that got 1.5% of the stimulus dollars, and 3 .3% of the transportation dollars.

“We need economic an development plan for more than strip clubs and underdeveloped strip malls.  And, recognizing there is precious little I could do about any of those things in the State House, I’m Jefferson Smith and I’m running for mayor.

“I say you won’t have to hope or pray or guess about whether or not I will prioritize this part of town, if and when I am elected mayor.  You’ll be able to knock on my door and yell at me, because I live very close.”

Portland mayoral candidates: Jefferson Smith, Charlie Hales, and Eileen Brady listen to McCain’s question: “Your thoughts on Economic Development”?

On Economic Development

Charlie Hales: I member a meeting at Floyd Light Middle School about 12 years ago where Mayor Vera Katz brought in a famous urbanist Peter Calthorpe – telling you how your ‘new neighborhood’ is going to be. The meeting got out of control; my staff referred to that meeting as ‘Saving Private Calthorpe’. I got up and said we needed to hear from the people; changes have to be a community-based effort. Community plans need partners in City Hall who can actually get them done.”

Portland mayoral candidate Charlie Hales talks about economic development.

“Like you, I’m frustrated, Hales continued. “After creating this urban renewal area, we don’t have as much progress to see.  But projects are in the germination stage – Gateway Green, the Gateway Education Center, and the reenergized Gateway effort. Community-generated strategies are something smart leaders should partner with and help make happen.”

“First, [we need to answer] the question ‘Did we mean it?’ when we designated Gateway as the only other Regional Center with the downtown core.  Because of the access, and its visibility and available land – this is a place of great opportunity and great promise; I still believe that it should be a Regional Center.”

Specifically, Hales said, government could directly help small business by providing loans, such as the “Community Credit Plan”, based on the 95-year-old “experiment in the state of North Dakota that will allow the City to leverage loan guarantees for small businesses with the use amount of money we process through the banking system every year.”

Secondly, regarding “Systems Development Charges”, Hales suggested, “Fees have suppressed new construction in the City.  We have to revisit those fees; and, for a short time, [we have to] have a moratorium on some of those fees to get things going.”

Portland mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith presents his “three points” about economic development.

Jefferson Smith: “I would talk about three things: Having a well-managed city; seeing the ‘big picture’ and customer base; [and] specific things we can do in this part of town.

“Although we run [for office] on what ‘polls best’, the first responsibility of the mayor to make sure that the city functions well. The best thing the mayor can do [is support] economic development – make it a little easier to access permits.

“I have proposed we [create] a three-digit telephone number for all nonemergency government telephone calls. Just like we have 911 for emergency services, we have 311 for everything else – a permit question – or a bat in your house. You’ll know who to call.

“Making the City work well is a passion of mine.  I worked with the Governor on outcomes-based budgeting and policy planning.  I’ve been a chief executive of an organization, and have had to meet a payroll.

“About seeing the big picture: We need jobs. But, we also need customers. If we don’t think about how this part of town works for people – with park;, the ability to move north and south; with sufficient school facilities; with managing the public safety and crime – all the tax breaks we promise will not be enough to get an anchor retailer, or smaller retailers, out here into neighborhood-scale PDC investments.

“The third thing: I think there are some specific projects we should keep in mind – Gateway Green, Gateway Education Center – and thinking about main street projects that can work, improving the infrastructure, making sure we’re doing ‘smart things’ with urban renewal dollars.

Portland mayoral candidate Eileen Brady says her “business and job development” experience makes her “uniquely qualified” to be mayor.

Eileen Brady: “I have a background of 25 years of business development and job development in this town; I bring that to this job. I think this makes me uniquely qualified to be mayor at this moment in time.

“Here’s what I can tell you about opening grocery stores – Natures and New Seasons markets – in the past 25 years: It is very hard to do business in Portland. It can be slow, it can be frustrating, and it can cost a lot of money – even for a sustainable or green grocery store. Every time we open a store, it’s 150 to 200 neighborhood jobs, with health care [included].  We need to have the red carpet rolled out for people who want to be the good strong employers in our city.

“In order to do this, we need to accelerate our permitting process. Not only should this be less bureaucratic and online, it has to be fast and service-oriented.  It has to ask how we can help you get your service business open.

“It’s so important, I plan to take the Bureau of Development Services into my portfolio as mayor.  If you’re serious about economic development, you’re going to take BDS into portfolio.  We can’t have fee reductions and SDC reductions across the board, but we can do targeted ones, and we can do that in Gateway.

“What I see in Gateway – the jobs are primarily in retail and healthcare. These are local-economy businesses. While they’re very important, they do not drive economic development in a given area.  We also have to have ‘Traded Sector’ businesses that include light manufacture, software development – products that are going to be sold outside of the region. For every one of those jobs you create, you create about 2.2 other jobs – these are ‘magic jobs’.   I commit that, from day one, I will be on the phone recruiting businesses to Portland, specifically to Gateway.”

Moderator Bruce McCain asks candidates to comment on supporting education in Portland.

“When the Portland City Council talks about helping education, they have only one school system in mind – Portland Public Schools,” moderator McCain stated. “Does the City Council, and Mayor, have a role to play in education?  If so what is it?  Secondly, what will it take to remind colleagues that there are schoolchildren east of 82nd Avenue?”

Portland mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith speaks about being “good partners” with public schools.

Jefferson Smith: “The City and mayor and play no formal role. But the value proposition of living in the City of Portland is directly linked to the quality of education and the quality of our schools, so there is some responsibility. The role is probably two parts: One is to be a good partner in education enterprises that are happening.  Second, having some targeted priorities of ways to help.

About being “good partners”, Smith said that sharing resources, such as providing TriMet Youth Passes to Parkrose and David Douglas students as is done for students enrolled in the Portland Public Schools system.

“Next, is to advocate. This is something, again, that you don’t have to merely hope for – you can watch what I’ve done, not only as a state legislator but in the last decade, in advocating and canvassing, endorsing it, as an elected official, for the Parkrose Schools Bond.

“Targeted expenditures” are another form of support, Smith went on. “Summer Enrichment Programs, youth employment and afterschool programs are important I would love to see GABA partner with organizations to create robust summer enrichment programs.”

Portland mayoral candidate Eileen Brady calls for a better educated and skilled workforce.

Eileen Brady: “I’m a mother of four grown children, all of whom have been in the Portland Public School system – a system that is in trouble. Our on-time graduation rates, as you know, have gotten better – but only 5% better – which means 59% on-time graduation rates. If you’re a Hispanic student, it’s 46%, if you’re Native American, it’s 41%. It is abysmal. We are not serving our kids well.

Brady said Portland’s mayor has a “bully pulpit” to demand a “21st-Century school system that graduates tradespeople, artisans, problem-solvers, scientists, bilingual global citizens – citizens and students that are actually prepared for work in the 21st Century.

“Yesterday, I was meeting with a group of manufacturers, and asked if they were hiring. 75% of them raised their hands; they’re hiring 50, 200, 250 employees. Where are these employees coming from?  We do not know. We [in Portland] do not have enough skilled labor for these jobs.

“It will be my job, as mayor, to convene these employers with the school districts, and say that we need to make the curriculum match the actual jobs that are available in this town.  We’ve got to connect the two, and we have to do it immediately, so our kids can have opportunities, and we can build our city into a much stronger and vibrant community.

Portland mayoral candidate Charlie Hales says he’s advocated for helping all of Portland’s school districts.

Charlie Hales: “I agree with a lot of my colleagues here said about the objectives: That the mayor must be a partner, fundraiser, and advocate for schools – and the school-to-work connections are critical.

“But I want to go to the next level of this issue. I talk about education at every coffee klatch, and in every forum. It’s one of the reasons I’m running for this office. We’ve been holding public education together in this city with duct tape and bake sales for 20 years.  We have to do better than that.  We have to do better than that for our kids, and the integrity of our neighborhoods, and for the whole nature of our City.

“I’ve said from the beginning of this campaign we are a great city, and that we should set high goals: To get everyone working, every kid graduating, and make every neighborhood a complete community.

Hales added that although he has the support of former Mayor Vera Katz for his candidacy, she and he have disagreed about providing funding to Portland Public Schools. “I told her that we should give equitable support for all our students, in all districts in our city. I know that all of the school districts in the city of Portland need to be partners with the mayor.  I will be that can partner, as I have before.”

Police Bureau “Lightening Round”

Observing that time was short and that the session was about to end, McCain asked, “If elected will you keep the Portland Police Bureau in your portfolio?”

Eileen Brady: Yes.

Charlie Hales: Yes.

Jefferson Smith: Almost certainly.

And that concluded this forum

Candidates forum scheduled for April 12
The Gateway Area Business Association meets again on this date 11:30 a.m. and ends promptly at 1:00 p.m.

This month: Multnomah County Commissioner Candidate and State Offices Forum, moderated by noted attorney Bruce McCain.

It’s at the Russellville Park West Building in the Theater – 23 SE 103rd, Portland. Lunch: $8. Directions: From SE 102nd, turn east on SE Ankeny Street towards SE 103rd, turn left into underground parking, and take the elevator up to Theater. For more information, see their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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