by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Jefferson Smith knocked on doors in North Portland on Saturday in the home stretch of the race. Ballots are mailed Oct. 19 for the Nov. 6 election.  Jefferson Smith, the mayoral candidate who pledged against negative campaigning, is now, for the second time in the race, dealing with rogue supporters who distributed negative campaign literature on his behalf.

Monday night, before a debate at Portland State University — the first live televised forum of the fall race — two women handed out fliers to attendees titled: “Mark Wiener, The real power in City Hall.”

Wiener is a longtime political consultant who helped elect Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioners Randy Leonard and Dan Saltzman to office.

He now leads the media consulting part of Hales’ campaign, including TV and mailers. Three other consultants are paid as well, including longtime strategist Liz Kaufman. The campaign has so far paid Wiener’s firm, Winning Mark, $34,450 for his services.

But at least two of Smith’s supporters find that troubling.

The flier distributed Monday night crowns Wiener the “King of City Hall.” It depicts Leonard, Saltzman, city commissioner candidate Mary Nolan and Hales as points on Wiener’s crown, with question marks over the latter two candidates’ heads since they haven’t been elected yet.

“If they prevail,” the flier reads, “Wiener’s kingdom will swell: Four out of five people running Portland will bow to him.” The flier urges voters not to support the “status quo.”

It’s at least the second piece of negative literature that rogue supporters of Smith are producing without his knowledge, his campaign manager Henry Kraemer says.

A single-sheet typed essay, titled “Troubling pattern for Hales,” was anonymously dropped into mailboxes along Northwest Old Germantown Road about two weeks ago.

Kraemer says the campaign did not know about either of the fliers before they were distributed.

After the first piece surfaced, Smith’s campaign managed to find out which supporter circulated it, and Smith addressed the issue during a public debate afterward.

The message was to “stick to positive messages and talk about the needs of the city, and staying out of the gutter,” Kraemer says. “We think politics should be a thing that builds people up, not tears people down.”

From the day he announced he would run for office, Smith pledged he would be a different kind of candidate. He’s disclosed campaign contributions within three business days, refused corporate donations, and said he would do no opposition research or negative advertising. His campaign doesn’t conduct polls, saying it’s the equivalent of holding out a finger to test which way the wind blows before taking a position on an issue.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Charlie Hales talks with voter Telly Gjinos at the Greek Festival on Saturday. Both candidates are looking to sway the 37 percent of undecideds in the race.

Evyn Mitchell, Hales’ campaign director, said this is the first she’d heard of the Wiener flier. She called it “disturbing and disappointing, and unworthy of our city.”

Already a rocky race

The negative campaign literature will hardly be the latest surprise in the rowdy mayoral race. To both Smith’s and Hales’ embarrassment, the fall campaign has been marred by a steady stream of revelations, including Smith’s sloppy driving record, his 1993 scuffle with a woman, Hales’ residency issues, his campaign plagiarism and both of the candidates’ shaky memories about past events.

“I don’t think anyone would dispute both have had a rather rocky introduction ...” says pollster Tim Hibbitts, principal of DHM Research. “They have both stumbled repeatedly with voters and I think voters might be wrestling with the decision, ‘Who do I dislike the least?’”

If it wasn’t cliche, the mayor’s race might even be a “Portlandia” sketch.

Only in Portland do two progressive candidates run on virtually the same policy platforms, while insisting that they differ sharply on the issues.

Only in Portland do two candidates try to be seen as the nicest, with self-imposed donor limits and passive-aggressive attacks rather than mudslinging.

And there’s something distinctly “Portland” about two candidates humbly acknowledging that they are “imperfect” candidates and “flawed human beings.” After all, Portlanders forgave Mayor Sam Adams after his sex scandal, even with the painful memory of Gov. Neil Goldschmidt lurking in the background.

No wonder nearly 40 percent of voters are undecided, having either been too tuned out or unable to jump fully on board with either Hales or Smith.

As those undecideds weigh their decision, a flurry of last-minute door-knocking, sign-waving, TV ads, social networking and phone-banking by the Smith and Hales campaigns will try to sway them over.

Case study of

an undecided voter

One of those in the undecided category is Elizabeth Artis, a 31-year-old Northeast Portland woman who owns a one-woman floral shop inside the Food Front Grocery.

Artis says she doesn’t own a TV, and lives in a house full of self-employed creatives like herself.

As she tries to grow her business into a brick-and-mortar shop, she feels a personal and professional stake in the mayor’s race.

Most of her friends are voting for Smith, based on image, she says.

But she felt she has more homework to do.

So she went to see the candidates square off at the Portland City Club’s Friday Forum last week, her ears perking up at the brief mention of ways to grow small businesses.

While she was impressed by Hales’ mention of a seed money program, she was disappointed she didn’t hear anything specific on that subject from Smith — despite the fact that he usually touts the “economic gardening” initiative he began in the state Legislature.

So she left the forum still undecided, her impressions of the two having changed, but still without a clear frontrunner.

“I like Jefferson’s approach and his value system,” she says. “He’s very charming. I like his ideals that are lofty. But I didn’t expect Charlie to be as casual and charming as he is. I thought he’d be a stuffy business guy, but he had some zingers, funny lines. He had examples of how he’d apply policy. He used more examples than Jefferson.”

In the next few weeks, Artis says, she’ll take advantage of the resources at her fingertips: the campaigns’ Facebook pages and web sites, and the endorsement questionnaires that are posted online.

When it comes to issues, both support the Portland Public Schools bond, the library tax district and the proposed arts tax. Both favor fluoridating the city’s water. They both oppose coal trains in Oregon.

The sharpest difference has been their position on the Columbia River Crossing. Smith is outright opposed to the current project, saying he was the only candidate “willing to embrace the facts from the beginning.” Hales doesn’t support the current project, but would support a slimmed-down version: “I do believe there’s something in there to move on.”

After months of running for this office, Smith and Hales now have just over three weeks to connect with a large chunk of voters starting to take notice of the mayor’s race.

“Probably like most voters, this down-to-the-wire thing is when we really pay attention,” Artis says. “I want to take this choice very seriously.”

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