Although the two remaining candidates for mayor of Portland––Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith––agree on many issues facing the city, several of their differences were brought out at the debate hosted by CatlinSpeak on October 19.
The Columbia River Crossing, especially, continues to provide one of the clearest distinctions that separate these candidates in the upcoming election. During the CatlinSpeak mayoral debate in January 2012, Hales noted that he “[supports] this project, and [supports] building this project in a form that we can afford.” Smith pointed out the financial problems with the proposed crossing and stated that he was looking for a “Plan B” involving either ending the project completely or significantly changing the current plan.
Nine months later, the candidates argued similar views. Smith stated that he thinks “We need something way different” than the proposed Columbia River Crossing. He would support something like the Common Sense Alternative, which is a multi-bridge plan that separates light rail, freight train, pedestrian and automobile needs. It also includes an upgrade of the existing I-5 Interstate Bridge and the nearby rail bridge.
Smith added that he thinks Hales would “want essentially [the Columbia River Crossing]. Maybe changing the height, maybe removing the Hayden Island interchange, but it’s essentially the CRC, with maybe a different name and slightly different flavor and a little less cost.”
Hales disagreed with Smith’s assumption, saying, “I don’t support the project in it’s current configuration, but [Smith is] right to say that I do believe there is a version of this project that could fit our values, make sense, be affordable, and actually get built sometime soon, rather than be stuck in endless planning.” He added that he supports a plan including the “main span,” and that light rail is a priority for him.
At one point in the debate, Hales pointed to his experience in politics and in dealing with politicians as a reason he is a good fit as mayor. He mentioned the Portland streetcar, a project he was instrumental in getting off the ground. While speaking about the Coos Bay coal issue, he brought up a meeting he had in Omaha, Nebraska, with a railroad company, in which he had to lobby them to allow a pedestrian and bicycle crossing on the Steel Bridge. He said he would meet with them again to try to change the rail routes, and that he knew it would be a compromise.
Hales said he would tell the railroad company, “Someday you’re going to want our cooperation. In this case, we want yours. Find some other ways than sending these trains through our neighborhoods.”
Smith didn’t believe the experience discrepancy was quite as wide as Hales made it seem. Said Smith, “So I’ve heard Charlie this evening talk––and I expect to hear it again as we move forward in the next 18 days––about the experience difference. That’s a discussion I’m willing to have. There is one candidate in this race who has been elected to anything in the last decade. There is one candidate in this race who started and ran a successful organization of any meaningful size. That candidate is me…. there is a person who is better ready on day one, that’s me.”
While they did agree on most of the general ideas behind the issues presented in the debate, they often disagreed on the specifics of how to approach the problems facing the city. In response to a question about changes that need to be made in Portland’s police force, Hales mentioned the need for community policing and the idea that police patrols should have a more personal relationship with the youth in their area, instead of being nameless, faceless, authority figures.
Smith stressed the need for a top to bottom change, putting an emphasis on better training for would-be officers, and keeping police chiefs in their role longer, because the chief has less power if people know he or she will likely be gone in less than two years.
Smith also criticized the Mobile Crisis Unit, calling it “not mobile and not a crisis unit,” due to the fact that it is in only one precinct and is unfit for first response. In response to a related question about gang violence and keeping youth safe, Hales again focused on community policing, while also mentioning the large number of successful nonprofits that are designed to help at-risk youth. Smith discussed the importance of keeping kids busy and off the streets with summer internships and jobs, and stressed the importance of youth leadership.