Following much discussion, the CatlinSpeak staff has concluded that Jefferson Smith won the October 19 mayoral debate with fellow candidate Charlie Hales. Smith’s specific policy plans and intense passion were two factors that contributed to his win.
Regardless of his policies and ideas, Smith consistently spoke with passion and charisma. Throughout the debate he remained focused and prepared, and displayed his understanding of how to effectively communicate with and engage a large audience.
With tactics such as organizing arguments numerically and repeating syntactic structure and key words, he drove home his points with precision. He punctuated his words with hand gestures, vocal modulation, and tangible energy.
His charismatic faculty was most evident when he spoke about his local school district, David Douglas. In his opening remarks, he spoke with purpose, saying, “What’s happening in East Portland is a crisis.” Smith supported this statement with the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, backed up by the dates the statistics corresponded to. This combination of passion and preparation marked his performance throughout.
While Smith’s engaging rhetoric might have captivated more audience members, Hales also knew when to kick in the passion. When answering a question about sex trafficking, his entire demeanor changed and he discussed the topic with unmatched determination.
Said Hales, “This is a set of crimes that is particularly heinous… and we’ve got to be resolute and strong and effective in dealing with them, because these are our kids.”
Although Hales’ answers might have come across as vague at times, he pointed out that has the experience and the proof that his ideas lead to results. In his closing statement, he noted that his “10-year record of accomplishment” has brought the city a more diverse fire bureau, new community centers, and more transportation choices.
Several times throughout the debate, Hales expressed his love for Portland and its citizens. He demonstrated his sincere desire to connect with Portlanders during intermission and after the debate, by making an effort to talk with audience members and answer questions.
Passion and charisma aside, Smith beat Hales in terms of content Friday night. While we saw Hales give more specific answers than at January’s CatlinSpeak debate, he sometimes failed to completely answer our questions, and often could not match Smith’s thorough responses.
Smith’s constant note-taking and hyper focus paid off during the debate. He was the only candidate to utilize his question option during rebuttal, and he picked up on and answered all parts of our multi-part questions.
In answering questions, Smith also provided the more explicit ideas. On the issues of sex trafficking, excessive police force, and the Columbia River Crossing in particular, Smith was the clear victor.
He matched Hales’ serious tone and passion on the issue of human trafficking, but also provided more detailed solutions and credentials. He referenced the anti-trafficking bills he’s helped pass in the Oregon Legislature, and he also talked about having a police unit entirely dedicated to the issue and providing help to victims in the form of shelters and specialized care.
When asked about police brutality against the mentally ill, Smith again gave the more comprehensive response, laying out a four-point plan that included better police commitment to the issue, improving the police bureau culture, and officer training to better handle mental health issues, engaging the whole community, and creating a “real mental health triage center.”
On the issue of the CRC, where the candidates’ only direct exchange of the night occurred, Smith again brought a higher level of detail, and almost derailed Hales’ anti-CRC position. He endorsed the Common Sense Alternative, talked about how he’d fund the project, and focused on his main concerns––freight mobility and seismic safety––all while putting Hales on the defensive.
In addition to delivering stronger answers, Smith had a consistent and relatable message. He didn’t address the need to cooperate with other politicians in City Hall as much as Hales did, instead focusing on how citizens and the mayor’s office can work together to effect change. His emphasis on utilizing Portland’s “human capital” was impressive, and CatlinSpeak feels he presented ample policy ideas and specific goals to back up his overarching theme.
His final remarks brought his entire night’s worth of rhetoric full circle when he powerfully closed with, “I can’t do that, but we can do that, and I can help.”