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Mayoral candidates find little disagreement in City Club debate

The three major candidates for Portland mayor broke little ground and agreed on most issues during Friday afternoon's debate before the City Club of Portland.

Businesswoman Eileen Brady, former City Commissioner Charlie Hales and state Rep. Jefferson Smith spent on hour presenting their credentials to be mayor and responding to questions prepared by members of the long-standing civic organization. Judging by crowd reaction, none of the candidates appeared to score a clear home run or embarrass themselves with their answers.

Few significant policy differences emerged during the event. For example, all three candidates said future water and sewer rate increases need to be minimized and said ratepayer money should only be spent on programs directly related to the core missions of the water and sewer bureaus.

Brady, Hales and Smith also said Portland and Multnomah County governments needed to coordinate their budgeting to ensure each is providing appropriate services. All three called for a review of Resolution A, a decades-old agreement between the city and county that spelled out which jurisdiction would handle specific services. The agreement isn't being followed as it has been, they told City Club members.

Early tolls for I-5 bridge?

Disagreements emerged on some issues. Brady and Hales said some form of the proposed Columbia River Crossing should be built that includes a new light-rail line and improved access to bicyclists and pedestrians between Portland and Vancouver, Wash. Brady called for imposing crossing tolls early to manage existing congestion and said a new freeway connection to Hayden Island was as an important part of the project. Hales questioned the need for a new or at least enlarged Hayden Island interchange. Smith opposed the project, saying his position had cost him the support of construction unions.

All three also said the city needed to hold firm on the expiration dates for existing and future urban renewal areas to provide more general fund property taxes for local governments. Brady said the Portland Development Commission needs a new source of revenue for economic development projects, and proposed the creation of an economic development corporation.

Hales raised the possibility of local government consolidation to save money and reduced bureaucracy in his remarks, saying there are too many elected and appointed taxing authorities in Portland now. He said the effort might take a second term to accomplish, however.

Smith cited the proposed Oregon Sustainability Center as a project that needs to be dropped. Although Brady has said she wanted to proceed with green building project near Portland State University and Hales has proposed dropping the project at previous debates, neither discussed it before the City Club.

Ballots for the May 15 primary election will be mailed beginning April 27. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two will face off in the November general election.