Mayoral candidates debate issues at KGW

Mayoral candidates debate issues at KGW

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by Frank Mungeam, KGW.com Staff

kgw.com

Posted on October 24, 2012 at 8:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 25 at 2:12 PM

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PORTLAND -- The two candidates for mayor of Portland appeared in a one-hour debate at the KGW Studios on Wednesday, October 24 at 7 p.m. The debate was co-sponsored by The Oregonian and KGW NewsChannel 8.

Candidates Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith faced questions from a panel of journalists and also from the public during the hour-long live broadcast.

The debate was moderated by KGW's Tracy Barry. Questioning the candidates was Oregonian reporter Beth Slovic and KGW anchor Laural Porter.

More: Watch the debate

Jefferson Smith vowed he would make the city more friendly for job creation, emphasizing that "nearly all job growth comes from...newer businesses."

On schools, Charlie Hales said the legislature had "failed in their commitment to public schools," and the mayor would need to be responsible for advocating for sufficient school funding.

Asked to explain how their positions differed on the Columbia River Crossing project, Smith said: "I haven’t promised to get that done in the first year of my administration. It’s not a responsible one."

Smith said he would call for a new, quick and open process, saying "much too much of this has taken on a life of its own. The process in this thing has been just as broken as the plan."

Hales countered that, "You can’t just stamp your feet and say clever things and hope it goes away." He said he believed there was a version of the CRC plan that needs to happen, and said, "We need to build a version of this project that fits our values, that we can afford, and that we can get started on soon. I want to be part of the team to figure out how to make this thing happen, soon."

Asked via Facebook about reducing the downtown panhandling problem, Smith said: "Any time we discuss a panhandler, I hope our first reaction is not: 'How do we crack down?" Smith said the city had a "moral responsibility" to address the underlying problem. "Right now, we have the biggest wealth disparity in this country since WWII. Second, got to spend resources better. We gotta help the whole person. We also have to make the downtown more inviting."

Both candidates faced tough questions about their character and past conduct.

Asked about quitting his City Council post midterm, Hales said: "I have made mistakes on my watch, and I have taken responsibility for that."

But he bristled when challenged about moving from Portland to Stevenson, Washington.  He continued voting in Oregon, while not paying Oregon income taxes. Hales said he did that because his wife's child was in school there. "That was never about taxes, that was always about family. "

Asked about a college misdemeanor charge for striking a woman, Jefferson Smith acknowledged he'd made mistakes but asked people to consider the reports of others who were there at the time.

On the matter of seven license suspensions, Smith admitted: "It’s embarrassing. I have said…I have a terrible driving record. I have apologized for that." He stressed his work ethic, and willingness to learn from those experiences: "I can work really hard, I admit my mistakes, and I’ll work to do better."

Both candidates defended the other over suggestions that neither was worthy of the position of mayor of Portland.

"I’ve said if I weren’t running myself, I’d vote for Jefferson because I believe he is committed to public service," said Hales.

Smith said of Hales: "He is a far better person than has been portrayed in the media. I would not call him a lightweight by any stretch," adding he thought Hales could be one of the best mayors of Portland in recent history. 

Smith drew laughter from the audience, in response to another character question, when he quipped: "'Lightweight' is one of the nicer things The Oregonian has said about me."

Asked whether Portland road maintenance was suffering because of excess spending on bike projects, both candidates challenged the premise. 

Hales said he was "really proud of the fact that Portland is a city that gives people a choice on how they travel," noting that Portland is a city where people do ride bikes "and that’s good because they are taking up a whole lot less road space than cars - 16,000 a day commuting on bikes."

But he also emphasized his commitment to improve road conditions. "When I was in charge of roads, we had less budget but better maintained roads."

Smith also disputed the bikes versus cars image, describing it as a "growing mythology that we can’t fund transportation projects because of bikes." He said the real focus should be to get beyond the debate of bikes versus cars and instead focus on an "age friendly transportation system. We’ve got to see the whole picture when we invest in transportation."

On the question of composting, Hales said Portland's composting initiative "felt like a mandate" rather than an opportunity to be a better citizen. He said the lesson was that how things are done matters, and he voiced his support for a weekly garbage option for those that wanted it.

In his closing statement, Hales stressed his experience, saying: "The nuts and bolts of running a city may not be interesting to some people but they are to me. This job needs someone with the ability to focus…and get things done. And that's me."

Jefferson Smith closed with a tribute to Portland: "I don’t know if I’ll be elected Mayor or not. But this town is better than I am, better than any of us." He said that, working together, we could all make the city better - "and I can help."

Join the discussion on Twitter by using the hashtag #pdxmayor.

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