General Election Candidates for Portland Mayor

A questionnaire was sent out for the November General Election to each candidate for Portland City Mayor and below are the answers submitted by each candidate.

1. Will job creation and economic development be your top priority once elected?
Charlie Hales Yes, but it is important to understand the broader context of what's involved in job creation and economic development. My top priority as Mayor is the health of our schools. A great public school system that succeeds for our kids is critical to our brand, the success of our local economy, our crime rate, and so much more. In particular, schools are critical to having an educated and able workforce and creating neighborhoods where people want to live and work. My vision for Portland is one where every neighborhood is safe, green and prosperous. While a strong school in every neighborhood will be my top priority, there is more in my agenda than schools. For example, I plan to keep all bureaus having to do with planning and economic development in my portfolio. I will take the lead and set the tone for our city as one that supports increasing the number of family wage jobs through business growth. There are detailed policy proposals on my website (; I hope you will review them and give me your thoughts.
Jefferson Smith Yes. My priority is getting the city working, better, and for more people. A few more specific areas of focus: job training (through educational institutions and incentives for on-the-job training), growing local small business (by streamlining regulations with a one-stop shop for business services, improving access to capital, and helping local companies find access to new markets and new customers), and building cost-conscious, 21st century infrastructure (with transportation improvements, neighborhood-scale public works, and building retrofits).
2. Please provide us with two or three specific examples of what you will do to improve the economy and create jobs.
Charlie Hales I have proposed a new program called, Community Credit Portland, which will leverage the money banked by the City to create more access to capital for small businesses. More information about this program is available on my website at I'll be a champion for our schools to prepare the workforce. We need to focus on supporting our education system and ensuring that people have access to workforce development programs. These priorities will help existing businesses and attract more business to Portland. We need to make it easier for businesses to navigate our permitting process and support a stronger regional effort through Greater Portland Inc., which you will see more about later in the questionnaire.
Jefferson Smith Let's strengthen the working relationship between City Hall, small businesses, and good corporate citizens. Let's grow local start-ups, with a focus on smart access to capital and helping small and mid-size businesses find new markets and new customers. We can address the dropout rate and job preparedness with stronger summer youth programs and better job training.
3. One of the biggest challenges facing state and local jurisdictions is the skyrocketing cost of public employee benefits. What are you prepared to do to address this crisis?
Charlie Hales I support State Treasure Ted Wheeler's efforts and ideas around reforming PERS at the statewide level. I also support the changes referred by the existing Council to reshape our Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund, which if passed will result in over $40 million of savings over the next five years.
Jefferson Smith School districts are seeing an 8% increase in PERS costs next year. The courts have ruled that we can't retroactively change what retirees were promised, but we need to look at options for continued reforms and make sure that we're hiring new employees into a system that is fair and financially sound. We can and should work with public safety unions during collective bargaining to look into FPD&R reforms. Significant reform to the statewide system will be a statewide matter, and I'll be involved in that effort. All of this said, we should be careful buying into the notion that public servants are primarily to blame for structural changes to our economy, high healthcare costs, and tax-breaks that have tightened our public budgets. We should see the whole picture.
4. The I-5 crossing project is the state's top transportation priority. It will improve safety, smooth freight delivery and create jobs. Do you support moving forward with this project now so we can secure more than $800 million in federal matching funds? If not, please explain why and what alternative you would pursue.
Charlie Hales It depends on what the phrase "moving forward with this project" means. I have been consistent from the beginning - I support a new span crossing the Columbia that includes light rail and bike and pedestrian mobility, and that doesn't require lifting. I don't believe the current version of the bridge is fundable, buildable and consistent with our values. But I do believe we can get to that pragmatic version of the project quickly and get it out of the planning phase and into construction. I have met with Governor Kitzhaber to discuss this project and expect to be an active partner with him in moving forward with a revised project. That's not just an intention; it's a track record. I'm the only candidate with experience working on complex projects like this and the only candidate with a deep understanding of how to get them done - on time and on budget. As Mayor, I will be part of the team that will move the project forward in a smaller, environmentally and financially-sound way that meets the initial goals - less congestion, more freight mobility and transportation options to connect Washington and Oregon with more than just cars.
Jefferson Smith No. I do not support moving forward with the current project. (And committing to start the project within the next year commits us to essentially the current project...or further consulting costs without building anything.) All four key funding streams are doubtful, and we've spent over 150 million on consultants without breaking ground. Even if we get the $800 million that is about a quarter of the funding. Meanwhile, a realistic gas tax increase in Salem doesn't seem pending, and the tolling math doesn't add up. And there is no clear answer for 1) funding to deal with the Rose Quarter as bottlenecks move south or 2) the impact on Oregon's economy of subsidizing Clark County tax migration. We need to face facts around a Plan B -- something smaller, quicker, and cheaper that prioritizes seismic safety and freight mobility. I urge the project proponents to look for maximum flexibility in the federal request so we can look at better options. I confess to be no engineer, but an intriguing option I've seen can be seen by googling "Common Sense Alternative Portland." It has the great advantage of being structurally easier to phase. Overall, let's lead with facts. I expect to have moments like this in the future -- when we disagree on projects and proposals and would benefit from getting on the same side of the table approaching common problems and objectives. I recognize that we disagree on this issue and that I was not your first or second choice in the primary. However, I deeply appreciate the critical role your members play in Portland, and after the election I look forward to working together to lead our city.
5. Although all business is important, small businesses create most new jobs. Government regulation, fees and taxes hit small businesses particularly hard. Please give us two or three specific examples of initiatives you will take to reduce the government burden on small business and help them to grow jobs and increase wages.
Charlie Hales Early in my campaign I proposed a reduction in the business license fee for certified B-corporations by fifty percent to promote socially and environmentally responsible business growth in Portland. In order to qualify as a B-Corp, businesses must meet comprehensive and transparent social and environmental standards and demonstrate a material positive impact on their community, the environment and their employees. It just makes sense for us to say thank you and financially incentivize businesses that choose a better way. It just makes sense to say to socially responsible entrepreneurs across the country, set up shop in Portland. As Mayor you can count on me to streamline the commercial permitting process, making it easier to use and more cost-effective. I believe we should avoid duplicative bureaucracy and charge a single manager with the task of overseeing all permitting processes. I will lead the charge along with the Portland Development Commission, business and industry alliances to create more spaces like the Hive at the Leftbank Building, where start-ups can purchase memberships to a building with office space, conference rooms and other necessary business amenities. A space like this, with varying memberships, allows businesses to keep their costs down while still getting the use of a full service office. I have proposed a "Buy Oregon" rule, requiring City Hall to look first for products made in Oregon. I am adamant that Portland never follow the lead of Alaska and California, both of which recently bought bridges made in China. Finally, I support a re-examination of the City of Portland's System Development Charges. Earlier in the campaign, seeing little construction activity in the City and hearing about the effect our high SDCs are having on suppressing construction, I suggested that we consider a moratorium on the fees while they are reconsidered. That might still be appropriate for some types of projects like change of use, but more important is the need for a serious reconsideration of the level of these fees. I will make this review and revision a priority. This is what we need in our Mayor, someone who is willing to present ideas to address problems but is still willing to listen and learn and reassess to find the best solution for our City.
Jefferson Smith We can improve government service by working on continuous improvement for the speed and convenience of permitting. Let's work to expand paperless filing without undue convenience fees. Let's work with bureaus to set a goal to return all decisions within 120 days, and look at a website like the Secretary of State's "Business Xpress" site. I will work with you to build a small business office or ombudsman. We can help businesses grow jobs and increase wages with economic gardening approaches that are being piloted around the state and implemented successfully around the country, helping companies access new customers and new markets. I look forward to working with you on those efforts.
6. Will you support the city of Portland's continued participation in Greater Portland Inc., including both financial and leadership support? And how will you position the city to be a regional partner in economic development?
Charlie Hales You can count on me to be a champion of Greater Portland, Inc. I believe exports are a great way we can encourage local manufacturing and create more jobs. I believe that the targeted clusters outlined in the Portland Plan and PDC's Economic Development Plan are a good start. We need to continue to focus development resources on advanced manufacturing, athletic and outdoor apparel, clean tech and software. In addition, we need to keep an eye out for other sectors, such as our burgeoning food sector, that could expand their global reach with help from the City, Additionally, I will continue the partnership that has lead to the Metro Export Initiative. The region saw a doubling of its exports over the past decade, and the new Initiative has the intention of doubling our exports again over the course of five years. As Mayor, I will continue the path of utilizing the area's intellectual through collaborations with governments, agencies, and business and industry groups.
Jefferson Smith Yes. Greater Portland, Inc. serves an important role. We can position the city as a regional partner by recruiting talent and developing our workforce. We can work together in building on our cluster strategy in attracting businesses attraction--and especially growing business here. We will work to build upon relationships with regional leaders; relationships I have already worked to build upon at the outset of this campaign and from my recent and current government experience.
7. Given the impending effective loss of tax increment financing as the city's economic development financial tool, how do you see the future of the Portland Development Commission?
Charlie Hales This is an important topic; I've put a lot thought into it. Again, I'd encourage your consideration of a detailed white paper on this subject that you can find on my website I believe that urban renewal districts can and should continue, but with a narrow purpose and a limited timeframe. And, we should be wary of creating new districts until we've retired some of the existing ones. The Portland Development Commission should continue in the direction it's been moving - working at the neighborhood level to help create opportunities for job growth, economic development and access to capital. It's important to note that urban renewal siphons money away from basic services. By enabling some URAs to expire we can free up the potential to use the tool where it is more needed and maximize the potential of local general fund revenue streams.
Jefferson Smith PDC needs to evolve as urban renewal becomes constrained and reformed. We need to work together here. We need to retire some districts and bring them back on the tax rolls, and we need to focus more on job creation, and more on neighborhood-scale public works. The PDC seems to be doing great work with small urban renewal districts, and the NPI might serve as part of the model going forward. We need to coordinate the work that's happening-- we have 5 Eco Districts, 3 Main Streets, and 6 neighborhood prosperity initiatives. Many people don't know the difference or see the overall strategy. We can also use this opportunity to shift the city's work toward a broader economic development agenda -- focused on job creation and small business growth by providing targeted services. And we need to work together to help PDC leverage its assets for maximum benefit -- including finding ways to generate revenue beyond taxes and tax breaks.
8. The city of Portland has identified a significant shortfall in industrial lands, and has limited resources to restore unused lands, such as brownfields. What will be your plan to ensure there is ready land for job development in the city? And how would you be handling the current discussions regarding West Hayden Island?
Charlie Hales We have available industrial land within the urban growth boundary and within the City of Portland; we just need to make it easier for business to use it. What we have is a shortage of immediately buildable industrial land. However, there are sites with good freight mobility and reasonable costs in East Portland that could attract new businesses if we rezoned. We also have vacant parcels in the McLoughlin corridor that, if bundled, are easily accessible and represent another part of the City that would help industry thrive. We also need places where the new economy can grow as we see with the start ups in the Central Eastside. We need to keep adapting our strategy to the needs of the evolving sectors in Portland's economy (see my white paper on the tech sector at Industrial lands need to be considered on a regional basis, we have to ensure that there are enough locations. I've done it. I've been on that committee. I have the patience and experience to negotiate the best solution. West Hayden Island is a perfect example. There has to be a responsible compromise, we have to do this the Portland way. I believe that is possible and that I can lead that negotiation to success as I have done in other difficult land use issues.
Jefferson Smith I've supported the Mayor's 300/500 acre compromise with three understandings: 1) a good deal for restoration of space and habitat, 2) a clear demonstration of need, including a look at the Port of Vancouver, and 3) and real local benefits. We should take the time we need to ensure those elements. We do need sufficient industrial lands to maintain a robust regional economy, which was part of the bargain struck when we created the UGB. At the same time, Portland's greatest economic advantage is to play to our distinctive strengths - which include a reputation for being a beautiful, healthy place. We need a real and proper balance. In the current discussions, I would make sure that we're including all stakeholders and actually listening to their input. And if and when we develop Hayden Island, we should be sure to negotiate a good deal for the restoration of open space and habitat.
9. Portland has some of the highest water and sewer rates in the country, and they continue to face upward pressure. How would you manage water and sewer costs, and provide much-needed rate relief to the city's residential, business and wholesale customers?
Charlie Hales The City's current leadership has strained the public trust by using ratepayer dollars for projects that are not core services for water and BES. This has to stop, both because the city is getting sued and we need to restore the public's trust. We need to review the Water and BES budgets in great detail to see where we can reduce costs, avoid unnecessary capital expenditures and end the use of these funds as an ATM for pet projects.
Jefferson Smith Portland's high sewer and water rates have increased too steeply in recent years. I support an independent review board to ensure that increases are needed before they are proposed, and I support keeping the accountability of elected officials by requiring a vote to increase rates. We should also make sure we have a robust public process around issues like adding fluoride to our water. The city is being sued for spending water and sewer money on projects like the Rose Festival Headquarters, scholarships, and a water house. As Mayor, I will lead efforts to reach a settlement. We should spend water and sewer money on water- and sewer-related expenses, while keeping in mind long-term costs. We also need to work with our federal allies and build stronger records so we're not needlessly capping reservoirs or building treatment plants for cryptosporidium we don't have. Cities like New York have saved around 13% working with companies that institute reforms. I'd like to see if we can find the same cost savings with bureau incentives and in-house expertise.
10. The impending Superfund clean-up at the Portland Harbor is expected to result in substantial costs to North Portland employers and the city of Portland, potentially driving up water and sewer rates. How will you work with the impacted businesses to ensure that the harbor clean-up costs are reasonable?
Charlie Hales As Mayor, I'm clear that no one wants to get stuck with the bill. We have to come up with a plan with the EPA that can address the problem and get some of the problems cleaned up and negotiate a solution that everyone can live with. The cleanup plan will be a carefully negotiated balance. We cannot kid ourselves, it's a big burden and it will have to be shared. As Mayor, I will establish the City of Portland as a convener, make every attempt to use our local businesses to conduct the cleanup, and bring the responsible parties together to work quickly toward a protective and efficient cleanup that returns our river to our community.
Jefferson Smith A fundamental role of the city is to make sure we protect the health and safety of our people -- including from toxics in our air and water. Portland should lead by example, and work to hold responsible parties accountable. The city should invest in clean-ups early when they are a PRP, and continue using community resources, like the Portland Harbor Superfund fee, to get industrial lands working again and to restore habitat in environmentally damaged areas. We'll also work with the federal government to seek additional resources, including to seek enhanced CERCLA funding. Oregon gets fewer federal defense dollars than most states. I'd like to work with you to explore deploying our lobbying and federal partners to get Pentagon money for river cleanup. After all, WWII Navy activity is a key factor in our Willamette challenge. (And a good argument can be made that Portland has more to gain by pushing for federal dollars for this than for a highway commuter project to Clark County.)
11. Businesses, large and small, and individuals tell frequent stories about the difficulties they run into while navigating Portland's complex permitting/regulatory system and they cite fees, such as system development charges, that are significantly higher than those charged in other jurisdictions. How would you redesign the city's permitting/regulatory/fee structure to make it more user-friendly?
Charlie Hales I feel very strongly about this issue and will be a leader for the city in streamlining our complicated permitting process to make it easier for new and growing businesses in Portland. While many of the reforms that we established for residential permits are still in place, the complexity and inconsistency of commercial development review has become severe. I will initiate a full review of codes, fees and processes. If Salt Lake City can have a user-friendly online permitting process, so can Portland. Let's make it easier for people to access the information they need by clearly and concisely putting it in one place.
Jefferson Smith We can improve government processes. Let's go paperless for permitting, without convenience fees, aim to return all decisions within 120 days, and look at a website like the Secretary of State's "Business Xpress". We can enhance concierge services to help projects navigate bureaus. A 311 system for all non-emergency government phone calls could help with easy access. We will set positive objectives for our teams and track average response time and success rates. I will have senior official within my office or OMF whose job will be to improve government operations and reduce hassle, including a "three-bounce" rule. If a person calls and is bounced around the city three times without getting a meaningful start, that person's next call can be the mayor's office.
12. Small business is an incredibly important part of our local economy, but many of our small, locally owned businesses find Portland a difficult place to maintain their companies because, in addition to the other fees imposed by local government, the city and Multnomah County have local business income taxes that are levied by no other jurisdiction in the West. Will you support providing relief to small, locally owned businesses by fulfilling the city's long-time commitment to raise the owners' compensation deduction to $125,000?
Charlie Hales I support reducing the impact of the business license tax on small businesses, and if increasing the Owners Compensation Deduction is the best way to do so, then let's discuss the right dollar amount to arrive at the impact that we want.
Jefferson Smith I am open to a conversation about relaxing the BLF to accomplish targeted goals, but I can't promise revenue cuts while we're already facing big budget cuts. Though the business license fee is an important part of the city's general fund, I recognize it can impact competitiveness, especially combined with a state tax structure that relies so heavily upon the personal income tax. I also recognize that after recent cuts and spending down reserves, we're facing further revenue shortfalls and more cuts to vital services. I won't make promises without knowing the tradeoffs, but if you'll work with me, I promise a good-faith look at this as the budget improves.
13. Portland has one of the best downtowns in the nation, but we constantly hear from local residents and visitors who find our downtown streets unwelcoming because of the transients who are allowed to sit on sidewalks, frequently with their dogs and belongings, sometimes engaging in aggressive panhandling. How will you address this persistent livability issue? Would you support a stronger sit-lie ordinance? And do you support maintaining - and enforcing - the city's prohibition against camping?
Charlie Hales We can't have a solution that simply moves the problem from one part of downtown to another. Clearly we have challenges we have to address downtown. Enhancing the City's nuanced approach will be the best way to help our homeless residents and make downtown a welcoming environment for all. New approaches are starting to take effect. For example, Central City Concern is participating in a low yield bond program that has had initial success in workforce training. But we still have further to go. As Mayor, I will be committed to working with Multnomah County and all of the nonprofit service providers in addressing mental health issues. We will work with organizations that help people find housing and employment options and we will train a police bureau to de-escalate wherever possible, protecting the safety of everyone in Portland. There is great interest in the City getting these issues right. You have my commitment to keeping our downtown the livable center of a livable city, and to exploring all ideas and partnerships will help us make that vision real on the streets.
Jefferson Smith The sidewalk management plan is a start not an end. The city can build on the work that's been done and find better solutions that balance civil rights with a desire for sidewalks free of obstruction and harassment. Homelessness is not a crime, but it's criminal that so many are homeless in our city. This is largely not City Hall's fault, but we can't abdicate our responsibility to make things better. In the context of recent court decisions, more eyes on the street can reduce crime and harassment. Portland Police, Street Roots vendors, street musicians, food sellers, Downtown Clean & Safe personnel, and others can help us set a safe and welcoming tone. Finally, we need a permanent source of funding for housing and a partnership with the state, county, and nonprofits to address the root causes of homelessness - resources for veterans, people with traumatic brain injuries (which includes many recent veterans as well as most people with time on the street) & addiction. We need regional solutions.
14. Public safety is a top priority for the business community, so much so that the downtown Clean & Safe District actually fully funds four police positions in our downtown core. Will you commit to, at a minimum, maintaining the number of sworn officers we have in Portland today and, over time, growing that number to a level that is more appropriate for a city of our size, in terms of the number of officers per capita? And will you support continued funding for CHIERS and the Service Coordination Team?
Charlie Hales I plan to keep the Police Bureau in my portfolio when elected. As the Police Commissioner, I will focus on a true return to community policing so we have more officers on patrol and officers out of their cars on the streets. Our police officers will have strong relationships in the neighborhoods they serve - including downtown, making it easier from them to do their jobs and for our residents to feel safe. What's even more important to the number of officers is how many of them are committed to patrol. I will work with Chief Reese to increase the number of officers who are out of the building and on patrol.
Jefferson Smith We should make public safety a budget priority - by prioritizing front line services and cutting big projects we can't afford - to get more officers in our communities every day. The city of Seattle has one officer for every 455 residents. Portland has just one for every 605 citizens. That affects the ability of our officers to be community focused. I will do everything I can in a tough budget environment to prioritize getting more feet on the street. I support funding the CHIERS and Service Coordination Teams.
15. As the city's population grows at the same time our ability to expand our existing transportation infrastructure remains limited, how will you balance the need to accommodate more trips by alternative modes of transportation while preserving access for freight and automobile mobility? Please give specific examples.
Charlie Hales As you know, I have been a longtime advocate for a multi-modal approach to transportation in the city and the region. It's the Portland way to have choices and I will work to build on what we have that makes this city so special. First and foremost, we need to fix what we have by filling the potholes and prioritizing basic maintenance so the roads are safe for everyone, no matter how many wheels they are on. I believe we can build a balanced approach to ensuring freight mobility, as well as good access for all modes throughout the City and region. I will also work as an active partner to TriMet to make sure people have access to regular and reliable public transportation across the city.
Jefferson Smith I will focus first on safety - the most basic of basics - which impacts Portlanders whatever mode of travel they choose. We need to keep up with basic maintenance and address hazardous roads. I'll prioritize that over mega-projects like the CRC. I'll look for cost-saving alternatives like those explored in the Out of the Mud initiative. Our current funding for PBOT budget is inadequate to meet basic needs. I have talked with stakeholders ranging from laborers to homebuilders about new funding mechanisms not entirely dependent on declining gas tax revenues. This will require a big tent and business leadership, and I would love to have your help and leadership.