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Hales, Smith spar in televised mayor's debate

Personal issues surface in Monday evening showdown


Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith defended their pasts, traded barbs, and tossed out fresh ideas for solving city problems in a rapid-fire televised debate Monday evening.

The first televised debate of the General Election was held before a live audience at Portland State University and sponsored by the Portland Tribune, KOIN Local 6 and KPAM AM 860. It was televised live from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on KOIN, broadcast on KPAM, and streamed live on the Portland Tribune's website.

Hales and Smith agreed on most issues and neither candidate made a serious mistake that would likely affect the outcome of the close race. But there was undeniable tension between them as the campaign enters the final weeks before the Nov. 6 election.

At several points in the debate, Hales repeated a theme he has used since the Primary Election — that, as a former city commissioner, he is the only candidate with experience in Portland's unique "weak mayor" form of government. Hales also stressed that he is the only candidate with significant private sector experience as a consultant helping other cities start transit systems for the past 10 years.

Smith countered that he would be the first mayor elected from East Portland, a large section of the city he described as hurt by policies to increase density without upgrading the streets, sidewalks, parks and other amenities adopted by the council when Hales was on it. Smith, who represents portions of East Portland in the Oregon House, said his election as mayor would assure the council considers the entire city in future decisions.

Panelist Mike Donahue, a retired KOIN anchor, tried to pin both candidates down on what he referred to as skeletons in their closets. He first asked Smith if he should have been more forthcoming about personal issues that have surfaced throughout the campaign, including his poor driving record, lapsed Oregon State Bar license, fights during pick-up sports games, and, finally, the misdemeanor assault charged stemming from an incident in college when he injured a young woman.

Smith replied that he had tried to be honest about his driving record, had only lost his non-practicing law license, and did not bring up the college incident because it involved someone else, presumably the still-unnamed woman.

Donahue then asked Hales about issues that have surface during his campaign, including misstatements in campaign advertisements and his living in Washington while voting in Oregon. Hales said the misstatements were inadvertent and that living in Washington was temporary until his wife's children graduated from high school, at which point they moved to his house in Portland.

Other panelists included Portland Tribune reporter Steve Law and Tiffany Dollar, president of the Associated Students of Portland State University. Under questions from them and KOIN Local 6 viewers, both Hales and Smith said Metro should consider taking over TriMet to give the regional transit agency an elected board while it grapples with serious financial problems. Both also said weekly garbage service should to be restored to families with special needs, such as young children who are using a lot of diapers.

In quick succession, both candidates also said they support fluoridating Portland's water, support the $35-per-person city art tax on the November ballot, oppose coal trains traveling through North Portland, and believe the council needs to reconsider the policy that allows large apartment buildings to be built without parking. Hales said the review should be completed in less than a year.

When given a chance to question on another, Hales asked Smith why he supported legislation that limits the time law enforcement agencies can conduct criminal background checks on gun purchasers. Although Hales said the limitation makes it easier for felons to buy guns, Smith said it passed the Oregon House unanimously.

When Smith's turn came, he criticized Hales for saying he had accomplished everything he wanted to when he resigned in the middle of his second term. Smith contrasted the statement with what he said were the poor conditions in East Portland caused by the council's density policies. Hales replied that he built parks in East Portland as Parks Commission and would support a new bond measure to build even more there.

At the end of the debate, supporters in the audience congratulated both candidates on their performances.