We had a wild primary contest for mayor in Portland this year that ended last night with state Rep. Jefferson Smith - far behind in money and opposed by powerful special interests - making a strong showing and the run-off in November. He'll face former Portland City Commissioner Charlie Hales, a person I like, who held office in the 90s. Few gave Smith's campaign any chance of success and to make the run-off his campaign had to secure support from a coalition of Portlanders that in the end overwhelmed the $1 million + war chest of Eileen Brady, who had strong support from downtown business interests but came in third after leading in the polls most of the last year.
What makes Smith's campaign special - and I was glad to play a small role in it - was that he brought together a coalition that covered everyone from the police union to the Occupy Portland protesters. He argued that as Portlanders we have common problems that will require diverse people - from both sides of the river in our divided city - to seek common ground. Smith actually offered public policy proposals and demanded a positive campaign. He made the campaign about Portland's future and not just himself. Most importantly, from my perspective, he argued that for Portland to be great no neighborhood or group of people can be left behind. His campaign staff and supporters modeled real diversity. In the end, Smith ran a campaign based on values. People responded.
My hope is that Eileen Brady finds ways to remain involved in our city's public debates. Like many, I've been particularly impressed with her work on health care in Oregon. Her focus on creating jobs in the campaign was spot on. But history has shown that Portlanders don't like to feel they are being bought. After watching her this year, however, I see her as someone who could make a valuable contribution to public life for many years with her passion for the city and our environment. I wouldn't rule her out as a future candidate.
Hales took the top spot last night. He was the safe choice for many. Like I said, I like Hales. I worked with him when he served on the City Council. Portland is a better city because of his tenure on the council. But Portland is a different city from when he was first elected in 1992. He's smart as a whip but I don't see him understanding the changes and challenges faced by Portland with the same insight that Smith brings to this race. His continued support for the failed Columbia River Crossing - a bridge that hasn't been built and might never be built but has already cost taxpayers tens of millions in consultant fees - is example #1 of this. Portland needs better vision.
As we move toward November I fully expect both Jefferson Smith and Charlie Hales to run positive campaigns. That's what Portland needs. We are a unique city in that we tend to produce good candidates who actually care about public service.