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'Other' Hales brings the world to Portland

City's new First Lady revels in challenges facing Portland


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - In her full-time work as director of First Stop Portland, Nancy Hales has been an unofficial ambassador to the city; now she'll do so in another role as First Lady of Portland. She's already started to make a fashion statement by supporting local companies. Here she wears Pendleton Woolen Mills' Portland Collection, which she likes for its durability and classic appeal. 'I'm trying very hard to wear Portland,' she says.The morning after winning the Portland mayoral race by a 2-to-1 margin, Charlie Hales gave much of the credit for his victory to his wife of eight years, Nancy Hales.

“She is my rock, my friend, my partner in all things,” the mayor-elect wrote to supporters Nov. 7. “This win is in large part due to her love of people, and her inspiring spirit.”

His words make Nancy Hales blush.

“We’re soul mates,” she told the Portland Tribune in an interview a week after the big win.

Having been a near-constant presence on the campaign trail, Nancy Hales has signaled that when her husband takes office Jan. 1, residents of Portland won’t just have a new mayor — they’ll have a First Lady, a seat that’s been largely vacant or invisible to the public for most of the past two decades.

Just what kind of a First Lady will she be? “I think Portland and I are going to have to figure that out; all suggestions welcome,” says 57-year-old Hales, who just returned Nov. 28 from a week-long trip to Brazil as part of her work at First Stop Portland.

Since the program began at PSU in 2009, it’s been Nancy’s job as director to organize “study tours” for national and international visitors who want to learn about a slice of Portland’s esteemed culture: everything from her beloved husband’s streetcar system to watersheds and eco districts, bike infrastructure, arts and culture and green buildings.

She’s no stranger to those policy issues which are shaped in City Hall each day. But she insists she’s “not a political person.”

“I don’t really know that much about politics, quite honestly,” she says. “I guess I look at (First Stop’s study tour topics) as causes, requiring good thinking and good strategy.”

When she was in the philanthropic sector, as president and chief executive officer of Vancouver, Wash.’s Southwest Community Foundation in the 17 years before her move to Portland in 2009, Hales says she thought of the issues yet another way: what was a good investment.

“I probably still carry that lens today,” she says. “I look at how this will ultimately make Portland a better place to live.”

That isn’t to say Nancy is blind to any of the controversy that is intertwined with the often heated political issues.

Earlier this month, she arranged a tour for 20 students and faculty members from a university in Melbourne, Australia, that included stops at the South Waterfront, a ride on the tram, a walk on the pedestrian bridge, trips on the streetcar, MAX and bus, and exploration of North Mississippi. It wasn’t just a sightseeing tour, Nancy says, but a real discussion of the successes and challenges of each project.

“People expect openness and honesty about this stuff,” she says. “You can’t discuss the South Waterfront without discussing the controversy.”

In fact, she says, some of the study tours actually focus on the city’s “disconnects,” like one that starts in the Pearl District and goes out to what her office started calling the Jade District, around 82nd Avenue.

“There’s so much excitement about the transit mall, and yet there’s so many people without homes,” Nancy says. “Visitors see this disconnect; you can’t ignore it. We have challenges with our whole city, being part of an effective network.”

Visitors often have ideas about what steps Portland should take, which they discuss during the debrief, and Nancy posts to her weekly blog. City officials involved in the talks also absorb the feedback.

More informally, Nancy admits, word gets back to Charlie as well. “Do I grab Hales by the lapel when I get home and say, ‘Oh gosh, guess what?’ “ she says. “Yes, sometimes.”

In fact, it’s spillover from her work at PSU that might have helped influence Charlie to run for office, she says. Over the years, they’ve hosted students at their home for Thanksgiving dinner and other meals, just to be hospitable. Inevitably talk turns to the city’s future.

“I’d have a lot of students who came to dinner say, ‘Why don’t we (the city) have this; why isn’t it this way,’ “ Nancy says. “I think they, to some degree, are responsible for this decision (to run for office). I think (Charlie) clocked back to the city he loves.”

Focusing on city business

By now, voters have heard Charlie Hales profess his love for his wife countless times. It was the reason he gave for living in Stevenson, Wash., for five years while he worked at HDR Inc., doing streetcar work around the country.

Hales told the media countless times he didn’t move across the river to evade Oregon’s income taxes; he moved to live with his wife between 2004 and 2009, when she left her work at the Southwest Community Foundation and they bought a home in Eastmoreland together.

His brood — Katelyn (now 25), Gavin (now 28) and Andy (now 31) — joined her brood — Rob (now 25) and Carolyn (now 28) — for a Brady Bunch-style blended family.

Moving to Portland wasn’t an option for Nancy while she worked at the foundation, she says: “I couldn’t leave. The foundation was geography-based. I made the commitment I would live in the community I served.”

She was so committed to staying at her home to raise her children, where they went to high school across the street, that she never thought twice about the hour-long commute to work from Stevenson (along the Columbia River, just north of Cascade Locks) to Vancouver each day.

She thinks she might’ve even set a world record for most mileage on a Honda. “It was a ‘93 Honda, 425,000 miles,” she says. “I took a picture of the odometer and sent it to the Honda guys.”

Her foundation work wasn’t such a stretch from the work she does at First Stop now. She brought partners together to fund projects like student scholarships, homeless shelters, food banks and front porches for people’s homes. One of the signature projects was renovating Vancouver’s downtrodden Esther Short Park in 1998 with $2 million from the late Burgerville founder George Propstra and his wife, Carolyn, who wanted to model it after Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Nancy was still in Stevenson, raising her kids after an amicable divorce from her husband of 20 years, Bob Sourek. She’d met Sourek when they worked for the U.S. Forest Service, in the tiny town of Carson, Wash. She moved there after landing in Yakima, where she served as a community organizing volunteer for the AmeriCorps VISTA program. She’d moved west from her native New Jersey at 22. (She had a bittersweet election night, watching news coverage of Hurricane Sandy, with part of her hometown under water.)

At 25, Nancy married Sourek and they started a company, Bear Mountain Forest Products, that makes pellets and sawdust “logs” for woodburning stoves. Sourek still runs the company.

With a high-profile position in Skamania County, Nancy was asked to represent the county on the Columbia River Gorge Commission. In 1986, the commission adopted the country’s first National Scenic Area Management Plan, an accomplishment she holds dear to her heart.

Nancy also represented her county on a regional arts board, while Charlie represented the city of Portland on the same board. They ran into each other at arts events, she says, and realized they recognized each other from their graduate studies at Lewis & Clark College.

“Our paths just crossed a couple of times, and he said let me show you some of the cool stuff in Portland,” Nancy says.

On their first date, he took her to Peninsula Park — not to relax, but to learn about the city’s park system founders. “It was like a history lesson,” she laughs.

Their second date: pulling ivy at Forest Park.

Something clicked. Soon after Charlie took her on a city trip to China, and proposed at sunset on the wall of the ancient city of Xian. They married in 2004 in Portland’s Chinese Garden.

When Charlie traveled for HDR, Nancy says she would sometimes visit him at one of the cities he was in, and he’d revel in telling her all about the city’s street grid, the transit system and infrastructure.

“He’s very tactile, lives in the physical world; he wants to understand how it works,” she says. “I could care less about that. I want to pick up the phone and have someone fix it.”

They have other differences in art, books, cooking styles. But they find common ground in the outdoors: they love to canoe, bike and sail.

Portland doesn’t have a lot of First Ladies with political chops.

In the 1980s, former Mayor Bud Clark’s wife, Sigrid, was a violinist with the Oregon Symphony. Mayor Vera Katz, in office for 12 years, was not married. Former Mayor Tom Potter’s wife, Karin Hansen, was a high school teacher who did some youth advocacy work during her husband’s term but largely stayed out of the spotlight.

And Peter Zuckerman, domestic partner of Mayor Sam Adams, who is on his way out as Portland’s “First Gentleman,” is a writer who admits it’s unavoidable that city business comes up as a topic of conversation around the house.

“Sam and I ask each other hard questions, we clarify each other’s thoughts, we get excited about fresh ideas, we email each other news articles,” Zuckerman says. “I think political spouses have some influence. But we’re one influence among many, and we can also have careers and lives of our own.”


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Nancy Hales has been a leading advocate for the city through First Stop Portland, a public-private partnership.

First Stop’s mission blends public, private efforts

Portland's soon-to-be First Lady Nancy Hales’ trip to Brazil this past week was a follow-up to a summer visit by a dozen Brazilian textile leaders to Portland.

First Stop had led them on tours of and talks with representatives from Nike, Pendleton, Wieden + Kennedy, Ziba Design and Oregon College of Arts and Crafts, as well as emerging garment factories in various neighborhoods.

It was the start of an ongoing relationship, Nancy says: a couple weeks after the late-August visit, the Brazilian delegation asked Portlanders to come and bring their expertise to Senai University, the national apprenticeship agency. The school is working to boost the industries in a country where just 11 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds pursue higher education.

Senai paid for Nancy’s trip costs and most of Charlie’s. Accompanying the Hales were Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder and Scott Hamlin, cofounder of Portland’s Looptworks, a clothing company that uses upcycled materials.

During their tours of Brazil’s textile mills, Nancy says the biggest surprise was “the big disconnect seemed to be these very sophisticated facilities still using infrastructure that seemed not up to the task. ... The relationship between the private and public sector is a challenge.”

Nancy spoke on a panel at the conference as well as Burkholder and Hamlin; at the last minute Charlie was asked to say a few words as well. He spoke about the city’s sustainability hub, specifically a topic he talks about a lot: the significance of finding good partners.

The Brazil delegation plans to return to Portland in the spring. Nancy is excited about the recruitment possibilities for PSU, as well as the new knowledge exchange — the ultimate goal for every study tour First Stop leads.

“Brazil is an emerging market," she says. "It’s very important for our region.”

It wasn't the city's first official trip to Brazil.

Mayor Sam Adams took a June 2011 trip to the country, which led to the signing of a memorandum of understanding in 2012 with

Sustainable Hub, a São Paulo, Brazil-based clean tech consulting firm, to establish partnerships between clean tech firms in Portland and those in São Paulo.

A report issued this week by the Brookings Institution identifies the Brazilian partnership as part of the "We Build Green Cities" brand initiative led by Greater Portland Inc., a public-private economic development organization.

"The Brazil market, while certainly potentially lucrative, is complex enough to require a permanent partner in São Paulo," the report states. "A local presence will effectively leverage

Sustainable Hub’s on-the-ground knowledge and

local contacts and better assist Portland firms trying to crack the Brazilian market."

The memorandum also highlights the academic exchange between PSU and Senai.

Supporters kick in

First Stop has its origins in 2009, when developer Dike Dame approached PSU with an idea, says Larry Wallack, dean of PSU’s College of Urban and Public Affairs.

Dame served on the college’s advisory board and was Homer Williams’ partner on the Pearl District and South Waterfront developments. Wallack recalls that Dame said something to the effect of, “We get calls from people all over the world; they want to come and visit and see all about the sustainability. Would you be interested if we could help you raise money, then we can send these people to you and work with you?”

First Stop Portland was born, and Dame and Williams hosted a couple of lunches to bring business people on board.

The university created, listed and posted the position of director, and 100 people applied, Wallack says. Nancy's skills more than made the cut, he says: “If we’d had 1,000 or 2,000 applications, we couldn’t have ended up with someone better than Nancy Hales.”

In addition to her 35 years in public service, Hales holds a bachelors degree in economics from the University of Vermont and a masters in public administration, with honors, from Lewis & Clark College.

Last year, First Stop ran on a budget of $201,201, its biggest chunk being $74,000 in cash contributions from a dozen local business and development donors — most of Portland's biggest hitters. They include GBD Architects; Melvin Mark Capital Group; Williams & Dame; Howard S. Wright Constructors; Russell Development; Gerding Edlen Development Co.; Alta Planning & Design; Hoffman Construction; THA Architects; Davis, Hibbitts & Midgdall Inc.; JE Dunn; Atelier Drieseitl + PLACE; and Walker Macy.

HDR Inc., Charlie’s former company, is not one of the contributors; the firm gave in-kind support to produce color brochures for tours at First Stop’s startup. HDR hasn’t been a contributor, in-kind or in cash, since then, Nancy says.

First Stop's other funding comes from Metro ($15,000), the city of Portland ($25,000), PSU ($38,000); and the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, which supports many projects at PSU ($49,000).

PSU also supports the indirect costs, including office space and students and faculty who help; Nancy has just one paid part-time assistant to run the program.

The city’s donation of $25,000 last year included a one-time grant from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Nancy says she'd requested it to cover a larger-than-anticipated amount of interest from students, who required training and part-time work-study payment.

Before last year, the city’s annual contribution to First Stop had been $12,000.

Wallack says he doesn’t anticipate any change in funding in January just because Nancy’s husband will be in charge of the city budget.

“We hope the same level of funding and same level of scrutiny will continue,” Wallack says.

Reached by phone this week, Charlie Hales told the Tribune that First Stop won't get any favoritism.

"It's a budget decision like every other financial commitment for the following year that hasn't been made yet," he says. "I don't know if we'll be contributing the city's contribution to that program or not."

If the city does continue its funding support of First Stop, he says, he'd avoid any potential conflict of interest in the process by following the city charter guidelines, recusing himself from the vote.

That would likely be done by breaking that part of the budget out as a special appropriation, he says.

On another money matter, the mayor-elect is defending the appropriateness of his Dec. 4 fundraising reception at the Gilt Club, a way to pay back his campaign debt. His self-imposed $600 limit on campaign contributions is over now that the campaign has ended, he says: "It wasn't a lifetime commitment."

When he was criticized by some in October for amending his limit to allow large contributions from unions — reasoning that they represented many individual contributions from union members — Hales says that was an unwarranted attack as well.

Imposing a campaign limitation "is a blessing and a curse," he says. "It does make a point, to change the game, but at the same time opens the door" to scrutiny. "We were trying something new," he adds. "This was a noble experiment; it worked. That's not saying it'll be the same the next time around."