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Hales tackles Portland promise in first day on job as new mayor

Portland’s new mayor pledged to push hard for the “Portland promise” and use the “bully pulpit of the state’s largest city” to spur legislative action on schools.

Charlie Hales, who took the oath of office Wednesday morning in City Hall, told a full house in the Council Chambers that he also planned to reduce city bureau budgets — starting with the mayor’s office — and renew the city’s commitment to community policing.

“Our city’s best days are ahead,” Hales told the City Hall audience. “On this journey we will go together.”

Hales was elected in November to succeed Sam Adams, who left after one term in office. Hales, a former city commissioner, thanked several people who helped him during the election, including his wife, Nancy, and former Mayor Vera Katz, who he called a mentor.

Hales moved to Portland in 1979 from Northern Virginia and began working a few years later for the Homebuilders Association of Metropolitan Portland. He raised a family in Northeast and Southwest Portland and was elected in 1992 to the City Council.

Hales left office in 2002 to work as a senior vice president for Transit Planning at HDR Inc. in Portland, where he managed streetcar and rail projects in Cincinnati, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Sacramento, Salt Lake City and Scottsdale.

He and wife Nancy are fixing up a Tudor-style home in Eastmoreland.

During his short speech after being sworn in as mayor, Hales laid out three challenges facing the city: how the city spends tax dollars; how the Portland Police Bureau “keeps everyone safe and trust our police to do so”; and how the city makes a commitment to children through improved schools.

On the spending issue, Hales asked city bureaus to prepare budgets at 90 percent of their current levels. Leading by example, Hales said his office budget would “come in considerably lower than even the 90 percent level.”

On the policing issue, Hales said the police bureau would renew its commitment to community policing, which should “build real trust between excellent police officers and the neighborhoods they serve.” Hales said that as part of the change, he was working with Police Chief Mike Reese on changes to the bureau in the face of the federal settlement on excessive force issues.

On schools, Hales acknowledged his limitations as mayor to change school funding issue, but promised to push state lawmakers to provide the funding necessary to build better schools in every neighborhood. Even though the mayor does not have anything to do with schools or funding, he said many young parents told him during the campaign that they were worried about the quality of education in the city.

“We cannot renege on the Portland promise that you can live anywhere in this city and send your children to a great public school,” Hales said. “That’s the deal. Let’s keep it.”

Hales also said he planned to continue going door to door to listen to citizens’ concerns, even as he tackles the many issues facing the mayor’s office. A few hours each month could be spent knocking on doors and talking with people about issues and challenges, he said.

“I’m addicted to door-to-door, and I’m going to continue doing that,” Hales told the City Hall audience.