While most people are still in summer vacation mode, there’s no slacking for the two men competing to be Portland’s next Mayor. Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith emerged from May’s primary as the lead contenders. Now they’re positioning themselves for what many expect will be a vigorous fall campaign.
Charlie Hales came out swinging last month. After recasting his campaign staff and partnering up with veteran consultant Mark Weiner, Hales talked to supporters atop a desk at his campaign headquarters. Digging into plates of homemade strawberry shortcake, supporters gathered ‘round to hear Hales lay out his vision.
“I just have three questions for you before we move on and eat more,” Hales joked. “Are you ready for victory in November? Are you ready to focus the Mayor’s office on things that matter? Are you ready to help?” Volunteers cheered vigorously.
Meanwhile, Jefferson Smith has not been idle since the rush of the primary.
“Now we have time to have a little bit more connection with people,” Smith likes to say. He’s meeting voters at events like Sunday Parkways, an open streets event in North Portland.
“I’m Jefferson Smith,” he says, extending a huge palm. “I’m running for Mayor.”
“Howdy!” sasy Cully resident Stephanie Lalley, “What’s that like?”
Both candidates are honing their messages to voters. Hales talks about going in-depth on subjects he’s spoken of before.
“We’re going to be out there talking about issues that matter in this great city,” Hales says. “We need great public schools in every neighborhood.We will gave a police bureau that works in partnership in the community to get in front of this problem of gang violence that is back. We will get in front of this as a community, and once again prove that Portland can make a difference in the lives of our children and keep them safe.”
He says he’ll be knocking on doors four days a week for the rest of the summer. He proved his skill at shoe-leather politics during primary season. But the ground game for the general election is pushing him in some new directions.
Hales was first out of the gate with a pledge to limit campaign donations. The campaigns had undertaken some quiet discussions about a mutual agreement, but Hales chose to move on his own. Since campaign finance reports haven’t been complete since then, so it’s hard to know what, if any effect the pledge has had.
Hales recently acknowledged what he called “a mis-step” - allegations reported by The Oregonian that someone affiliated with the campaign plagiarized lines from a newspaper story for a letter to the editor.
But he said there would be no further mis-steps.
Jefferson Smith said he aims for the kind of leadership that champions Portland’s most important values.
“We want to building the kind of campaign that’s advocating not for one portion of the city, but the whole city. To look toward the broader self-interest. And if I can help focus our attention not on a candidate but on the city and the people of the city, then that’s a conversation worth having.”
Smith says, if elected, he’d work to support homegrown businesses, find creative ways to solve problems, and, as he puts it, make the city work for everyone.
Back at Sunday Parkways, Smith got voter Stephanie Lalley this voter talking by asking about her dog, and telling her about his own. But Lalley didn’t waste time. She wanted to know what he’d do for neighborhood infrastructure.
“What do I have to do to get a sidewalk?” Lalleym asked. “For my dog and my kid? I feel like I might be talking to the right guy!”
“Right,” Smith nodded, “So do my neighbors, we don’t’ have a sidewalk on my street. So, it turns out sidewalks are expensive.”
Smith spent about five minutes telling Lalley about how sidewalks are funded now, and three things he thought should be done to free up money.
Lalley left saying the funding does indeed seem complicated.
The campaigns are well aware that they’re competing for voters who may not have considered voting for them in the past. About thirty thousand people voted for someone other than Hales or Smith in the primary - among them, Vince Young.
A 40-year Portland resident, he’s got a strong focus as a voter on job creation. The company that he works for moved from Portland to Beaverton for business reasons some time ago. He shared his thoughts at the fountain in Director Park, the place his favorite candidate, Eileen Brady, kicked off her campaign. Since Brady didn’t make it to the general election, he’s seeking someone with her focus on the feel of the city.
“I want someone who’s really married to the livability of Portland. That’s what our Mayor is here for, is to make a great city for us.”
Young has seen and heard Hales and Smith in action.
“I’m still torn between Charlie and Jefferson,” Young says.
And there’s an even bigger constituency in play: people who didn’t vote at all in May. In 2004, the city’s last close Mayoral race, more than twice as many people voted in the general election as in the primary. That means many likely voters may be out there right now, waiting to hear what the candidates have to say this summer.