Half a century ago, every four years meant Oregon’s May primary was testing time for presidential candidates — the national news media flocked to the state, clogged the bar at the Benson Hotel, and put Oregon on the political map. No one pays any mind to that now, to the benefit of local candidates who are no longer under the shadow of the White House.
Ballots are already in the mail for Oregon’s May 15 primary and a few legislative races and a Democratic contest for attorney general are drawing attention. But the best contest is in Portland, with three well-matched candidates for mayor.
Unless one wins 50 percent in the primary (highly unlikely) the top two contenders for mayor of Portland move to November. In addition to the three leading candidates, there are 20 others on the ballot; none are expected to draw many votes.
The candidates make up a diverse trio: Charlie Hales, 57, is a former city councilman who spent the last 10 years in private business; Eileen Brady, 51, has strong connections with the city’s environmental, sustainability and organic-food communities; Jefferson Smith, 38, a two-term legislator from Southeast Portland, is best known for organizing young political activists.
The eventual winner succeeds Sam Adams, whose single term began amidst high hopes and much attention as the city’s first openly gay mayor, but crumbled after a series of bad personal judgments and misleading or false statements. For a city of two minds about its Portlandia image, a major question will be whether to roll the dice again on a promising young candidate or take a time-out to regroup.
All three candidates are Democrats in this deep-blue city and all have talked and walked iconic Portland issues, including public transit, sustainability, and diversity. The debate has been largely civil, with candidates perhaps holding some ammo for the fall election. Two closing debates produced as many yawns as cheers. “After months of joint appearances at forums across Portland, the candidates have sometimes acted like family members who have been on vacation together too long,” The Oregonian’s Beth Slovic said of the City Club debate, finding little real debating going on.
Most of the public campaigning in the past several days has been on The Oregonian's PolitiFact site, a fact-checking feature. With ballots already in the mail, and many returned, a political "twilight zone" in effect descends on the last two weeks of a campaign in Oregon.
In seven posts dated May 5, Hales got the most attention, with four checks on statements by or about the candidate. PolitiFact judged Hales's positions as "True" or "Mostly True" on statements about a systems-development charge, but "False" or "Mostly False" on statements about school funding and seeking a city contract. Smith gained a "False" rating for a water-treatment statement; Brady got a "True" on claiming co-ownership of a publishing group and a "False" on a water-treatment statement.
There are, however, differences that will need a Fall airing-out. Perhaps the most critical decision for Portland and the entire metro area right now is getting design agreement and funding for the Columbia River Crossing, the much-awaited third bridge linking Portland and Vancouver. Smith has strongly opposed present plans, Brady and Hales want changes but seem willing to move ahead. There are many players at the table from local, state, and federal agencies, but the mayor has one of the seats.
Portland has been on a heady run for a decade or more, attracting national attention for its lively downtown and success in attracting talented young people and others looking for a livable urban environment. But beyond Portlandia are a host of problems faced by all big cities: underfunded and struggling schools, gang problems, unemployment, and infrastructure.
Only Hales is experienced in City Hall, after 10 years as a city councilman, and that seemed enough as The Oregonian and Willamette Week, the city’s alternative paper, agreed in supporting Hales for his experience (WW also did an outstanding job of profiling the three candidates).
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!