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Charlie Hales should be next mayor

Questions of style — as opposed to policy — are at the heart of the Portland mayor’s race.

The political differences between Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith are extremely thin. Both are solid Portland liberals who are willing to embrace Portland’s loftier aspirations, but who also firmly acknowledge that this city needs to work harder on basic functions such as public safety, garbage pickup, street paving and sewer and water services.

Given the philosophical similarities between the two candidates, voters should base their decision on temperament, talent and experience. On balance, we believe Charlie Hales is the right person for this job.

Hales is highly knowledgeable about city government — having served as a city commissioner from 1992 to 2002. His work experience spans both the public and private sectors. He has shown his ability to build coalitions, and he has an easygoing style that doesn’t necessarily excite passion, but that will allow him to work well with city commissioners and other partners who share the goal of moving Portland forward.

Hales’ opponent certainly has his strengths. Smith is smart — some might say brilliant — and he bubbles with ideas and energy. As a legislator representing an East Portland district, he won the respect of colleagues in both parties. Smith has a particular understanding of the disparities faced by residents of outer East Portland, whose neighborhoods often have been neglected as the city invested its dollars and attention elsewhere.

Smith, however, isn’t ready for the mayor’s job. His campaign has suffered from a steady stream of reports about his past unruly behavior and lapses in judgment. He has had to spend too much time apologizing for, or continually explaining and re-explaining, his driving record and disturbing incidents that date back to his college days.

We believe Smith is a different person today than he was 20 years ago, or even five or 10 years ago. But he still needs to put some distance between his present and his past. Voters need to see a consistent pattern of accomplishment for a longer period of time before they can trust him with one of the most important political jobs in Oregon.

Fortunately for voters, Hales has all the qualities necessary to be a good mayor. He has specific ideas for fostering a better business climate in Portland and for re-examining city priorities. He pledges to redirect resources away from pet projects and administrative overhead to better fund basic needs such as street paving and sidewalks.

These are the types of promises that many candidates make, but a defining difference for Hales is that he already understands how difficult it is to bring about meaningful change in a bureaucratic organization. He will come into the mayor’s office with a decade’s worth of knowledge about City Hall and with the added perspective of having worked in the private sector both before and after holding public office.

Hales and Smith have waged a vigorous campaign after emerging from the May primary as the top two candidates to replace Sam Adams, who did not seek re-election. These additional months of campaigning have shown that, while Smith is resilient and still holds potential, Charlie Hales is the person Portlanders should elect Nov. 6 as their next mayor.