Portland Mayor Charlie Hales

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales

Christina Belasco/OPB

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales announced on Monday that he will not seek a second term in 2016. The news stunned many political watchers, who expected a two-way race between the incumbent mayor and state treasurer Ted Wheeler in 2016.

Hales said his decision had nothing to do with his chances of winning re-election — and if he had decided to run again, he would have won. Instead, he said the choice was about ensuring he could spend enough time on his current work as mayor.

“My whole proposition came down to this: there is big stuff afoot in Portland right now that I’m working on,” Hales told Think Out Loud guest host April Baer on Wednesday. “If I wanted to pour myself into running for office again, I have no doubt that I would win the next election.”

The surprise announcement leaves Oregon treasurer Ted Wheeler as the early favorite to become Portland’s next mayor. Wheeler was the first major candidate to challenge Hales, and his campaign picked up more steam in mid-October when the city’s last three mayors — Vera Katz, Tom Potter, and Sam Adams — all endorsed him.

Hales said he didn’t get those endorsements because he hadn’t started looking for them yet. “Again, people start campaigns earlier and earlier, that’s regrettable. I had geared up for campaigning, but had not gone around collecting all the endorsements that I would have yet,” he said.

Wheeler’s campaign released internal polling in late September showing the state treasurer leading by 13 percentage points, with 44 percent of voters remaining undecided. By contrast, Hales said his own polling suggested an even race with a large number of undecided voters.

But he also emphasized that the Portland mayoral race is now an open one, both because the election is still a year away, and because he will no longer be a candidate. With that in mind, Hales said he will “encourage people to step up and run, because it’s an open seat in the best city in the country at a very dynamic time.”

Hales has already started encouraging other people to run for his job. Willamette Week reported Tuesday that Hales met with Multnomah County chief operating officer Marissa Madrigal and encouraged her to run for mayor. Hales confirmed this report, and said he also planned to meet with other leaders to urge them to run for the position.

“I’ve been having conversations with young leaders like Marissa, and I think she’s very impressive,” he said. “I’d love to see her in the race.”

Hales said the big issues he plans to tackle — housing, homelessness, gang violence — will “be coming to a crescendo sometime in the next year,” which is why he opted not to spend that time running a political campaign. He said he will continue acting on the housing state of emergency he declared in September, including building more homeless shelters and advocating for inclusionary zoning during the Oregon Legislature’s next session.

Part of that effort involves increasing the percentage of urban renewal funds that go to affordable housing from 30 percent to 45 percent. Hales acknowledged that the track record for increasing housing affordability through urban renewal funds is a mixed one, but remained optimistic, citing the Pearl District as an example where those plans have “overperformed.”

The mayor also plans to “complete the culture changes in the Portland Police Bureau.” The city council Wednesday approved a new contract that removes the rule giving police lieutenants a 48-hour waiting period before answering questions about cases involving excessive force and adds financial incentives for officers to live in the city.

Hales expects Portland Police Chief Larry O’Dea to request more funding for police officers in the next budget cycle. The mayor described the number of Portland police officers as “pretty minimal” and said he was “favorably disposed” towards the idea.

With 14 months left as Portland’s mayor, Hales said he’s going to approach “the heart of the work” during his remaining time in office. While he’s glad he doesn’t have to worry about another election, the mayor says not to count him out, because there’s a lot of work to be done.

Quoting Monty Python, Hales said in a British accent, “Not dead yet.”