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Mayoral candidates dodge jabs on environmental issues

Jefferson Smith accuses Eileen Brady of being beholden to special interests

Portland mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith went on the offensive Wednesday night against rival and presumed frontrunner Eileen Brady, suggesting campaign contributions from special interests would influence her positions on the Columbia River Crossing project and on the Portland Harbor pollution cleanup.

Smith, Brady and the third top contender Charlie Hales debated environmental issues at Benson High School in a campaign forum sponsored by the Sierra Club, Oregon League of Conservation Voters and Oregon Environmental Council.

Earlier in the campaign it was Hales taking jabs at Brady, accusing her of exaggerating her role in the formation of the New Seasons grocery chain.

But on Wednesday, Hales largely stayed out of the fray, with Smith and Brady going at it.

Brady asked Smith, a state lawmaker representing part of East Portland, why he initially voted for a bill in the Legislature aimed at easing the siting of a liquified natural gas terminal, then voted against it. Smith said he misunderstood the intent of the bill because he was misled by other lawmakers.

At one point, Smith lamented that East Portland residents are heavier car users than in other parts of the city, despite a demographic mix that should benefit from more transit usage. He blamed that on the city's long neglect of the area.

In a light jab, Brady responded, 'I think we should get Jefferson a bicycle.'

Smith quickly retorted: "What you should get me is a New Seasons Market east of 42nd.'

Hales, a former city commissioner, depicted himself as the most ready to step in immediately to lead the city because of his past experience. 'This isn't a job for a CEO and it's not a legislative position,' he said, in an allusion to Brady and Smith's corporate and political backgrounds.

Hales twice cited restoration of Forest Park as a high priority. And he stressed the need to assure that all parties who polluted the Willamette River share in the costs of cleanup, including the U.S. Department of Defense and chemical manufacturer Arkema Inc., which both long ago ceased operating along the river.

PSU's cutting-edge building

Curiously, none of the three environmental panelists quizzed the candidates about the stalled Oregon Sustainability Center planned near Portland State University, which has been a high priority for their organizations. But Brady pointed out that she is the only one of the three candidates who supports funding for the cutting-edge green building, which failed to get the nod of the Legislature in 2011 and again this year.

Brady also said she hates the way Portland instituted curbside pickup of residential kitchen waste. She would have preferred the city introduce it in phases and more voluntarily, Brady said.

Smith repeatedly brought up his opposition to the Columbia River Crossing highway and light-rail project to Vancouver, calling it an unaffordable 'highway boondoggle.' When asked about toxic hot spots where residents are most exposed to air pollutants, Smith said the Columbia River Crossing project would drive up the rate of asthma in low-income communities along Interstate 5.

Smith contended he could have gotten more support from labor unions in the race if he simply endorsed the project, but he doesn't see how it could be funded, and questions if it's the best use of public funds.

Brady didn't discuss her support for the project, which isn't popular among environmental groups, but said she's proud to get the endorsements of labor unions and the Portland Business Alliance, strong supporters of the project.