Before Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith completed their closing statements at the CatlinSpeak mayoral debate on Friday, the CatlinSpeak staff observed each candidate’s offstage personality. We also talked to the candidates and audience members, and noticed several differences between their personalities.
Hales spent his time prior to the debate engaging with our staff and providing a look into the life of a mayoral candidate. Hales asked us many questions, including which Portland issues we felt strongest about, and our plans for college.
The CatlinSpeak staff conducted pre-debate interviews with the candidates to better understand their characters. When Kenneth Woods ’13 sat down with Hales, Woods confirmed Hales’ assertion that he was a “people person.” Hales greeted our staff with firm handshakes, and maintained eye contact the entire time. His general demeanor was one of calm confidence as he explained how his life experiences prepared him for the responsibility of being mayor.
Nancy Hales, his wife, joined him backstage, and discussed her husband’s decision to run for mayor. According to Ms. Hales, who teaches at Portland State University, she and PSU graduate students pushed Hales to run for mayor after realizing he had the capacity to effect change. Ms. Hales also talked about their home in Washington, and threw off notions of tax-dodging, explaining how they wanted to continue to raise her children in their Washington home until they finished school. The couple moved to Southeast Portland when their children left home.
Unlike Hales, Smith spent the time before the debate preparing in his dressing room. The CatlinSpeak staff only saw brief glimpses of Smith. Occasionally, Smith’s wife, Katy Lesowski, emerged from the room to ask for something for her husband, such as water. While we were disappointed not to have the opportunity to talk with Smith, we understood his determination and need to thoroughly prepare himself for the debate. This preparation likely aided Smith’s strong debate performance, which led CatlinSpeakto name him the winner of the debate
During Smith’s backstage interview with Ian Fyfield ’13, Smith displayed his typical energetic personality. During the initial questioning he was assertive, yet polite. However, when the prepared questioning ended, he pressured Ian to continue. Nervous, Ian stuttered, to which Smith replied, “well it looks like we are going to have to edit this out.” Later, Fyfield called this remark “jokey.”
This sentiment was echoed by many members of our staff after we took a photo with the candidates. While our pictures were being snapped, Smith suggested we pose with our thumbs up.
During intermission, Hales and Smith took the time to shake hands with the many people who wanted to meet them. This included many who were too young to vote. Smith, for example, approached a group of Catlin Gabel 8th grade students. These students agreed that while Smith made an effort to connect with them (at one point he had all of their names memorized), it might have been slightly insincere.
“It seemed like he was trying too hard,” said one 8th grader of Smith. “It just didn’t seem natural.”
However, Catlin Gabel junior Lewis Fitzgerald-Holland had a different perception of Smith after his conversations with the candidate. Lewis asked Smith about his position on water fluoridation. Smith responded that while he supported fluoridation, he was against the city council rushing to fluoridate our water. Smith even went so far as to sign Lewis’ petition to put fluoridation up for a vote.
“That kind of political activism I think is great, and it’s something I would look for in a mayor,” said Lewis about his interaction with Smith. Lewis also noted that he had a similar conversation with Hales, except Hales refused to sign the petition.
“He seemed to be saying that he wouldn’t sign it because he didn’t want to anger any voters or other groups,” Lewis told us. “I don’t like or support that kind of political pandering and that really put me off.” Something to keep in mind: Hales did not openly criticize the city council for implementing water fluoridation without a public vote.
While Smith was more introverted, and perhaps testy at times, Hales was extroverted and calm. While each candidate carried himself differently at the debate, both Hales and Smith impressed our staff with their love for Portland and enthusiasm for the opportunity to serve as mayor.