PORTLAND, Ore. -- The three top candidates running for Mayor of Portland appeared in a live debate at KGW Studios Monday at 7 p.m.
Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales, and Jefferson Smith fielded a wide range of questions during the debate, co-sponsored by KGW NewsChannel 8 and The Oregonian.
Asked about how they'd support schools, Charlie Hales said: “I’ve been there every time for schools in this community, as an activist, as a parent, as a city official.” Hales showed a letter from 1997 in which he advocated to his city council fellows at the time advocating for education grants. Hales suggested dipping into the City’s reserves, saying “If this isn’t a rainy day, what is?”
“If I was mayor right now, I’d do whatever I can to make sure we have no more teacher layoffs," said Eileen Brady.” Brady said she’d do what then-Mayor Vera Katz did to bring all players into the room, with everyone expected to give a little.
“There’s no higher priority in budgets than making schools work,” said Jefferson Smith, but he cautioned against committing to a particular dollar amount for schools based on his experiences managing large public budgets during difficult economic circumstances.
Columbia River Crossing
The proposed multi-billion dollar bridge project across the Columbia between Portland and Vancouver drew divided responses from the candidates.
Brady said she believed the city should move forward with the CRC project. She said it needed to be “skinnied down” and brought into fiscal priorities of today, but that it should go forward.
Smith characterized Brady’s view as inconsistent with the facts, that the project was not abiding by fiscal realities and not buildable in its existing form.
Hales said: “I support a fundable, buildable project. But that’s not what we have now. “There’s no bridge in there,” adding: “What I bring to this office is 20 years of experience at making these projects happen.”
The candidates were also asked how they would handle Occupy Portland protesters as Mayor.
"We’ve got one of the biggest wealth disparities in this country since World War II. It’s also true most of the people I know aren’t sure they can trust ANY of us," said Smith. He said the city needed to enforce the First Amendment and enforce the law but added: “We’re not Oakland, and we shouldn’t have been.” Smith quoted Patrick Swayze training bouncers: "Be nice, be nice, be nice…until it’s time not to be nice."
“The middle class does need an advocate because there is a disparity in this country and the middle class is hurting,” said Hales. “So when you look back at the Occupy movement, and the two parks, I’m a former Parks Commissioner, so it was pretty hard to watch those go downhill so fast.”
Brady urged voters to "listen closely to what the demonstrators are trying to tell us." She said she had "gotten to know some of the Occupy Portland leaders. I am engaging in a dialogue already and look forward to continuing that dialogue," adding: "De-escalation is clearly the path we need to pursue."
The candidates also responded to questions submitted via Facebook, including a question asking how accessible they would be via social media.
Eileen Brady praised Mayor Adams' accessibility and promised she would personally respond to citizens on Twitter. Smith said engagement was about more than Twitter, and called for moving City Council meetings out to different parts of the city to make the meetings more accessible. Hales added that he would hold evening meetings to make it easier for working citizens to attend, and promised to get out in the community to meet with citizens, saying face to face contact was just as important as social media.
The High Road
When given the opportunity to question each other on character issues that had been raised earlier in the campaign, the candidates mostly refrained from criticizing each other, saying they preferred to talk about the issues.
“I think it says a lot about Portland that we’ve conducted a positive campaign," said Charlie Hales. "We should be running on our merits, so I won’t add anything and we will continue to focus on our own strengths.”
"Voters don’t care whether Charlie Hales paid his tax bill," added Smith. "They are worried about paying their water bill."
The candidates were asked about their plan for Portland’s soaring sewer rates. Brady said the city needed to get serious about bringing water rates down, and recommended looking at forming an independent body to review spending in the water bureau. Smith urged being on the lookout for ‘boondoggle’ spending. Hales said he wanted to look at water and sewer bills at the line item level, and criticized Brady’s suggestion for an independent review body, saying there already was a review process - the Portland City Council.
During the hour-long debate, the candidates took questions from KGW Straight Talk host Laural Porter and Oregonian City Hall reporter Beth Slovic. The candidates also answered questions posed by voters on the KGW Facebook page and the Oregonian Facebook page.
On Demand Video:
Watch Closing statements: