Illustration by Ryan Alexander-Tanner

ANY REAL DRAMA over Portland City Hall's looming vote on whether to embrace—but hopefully reject—entreaties to rejoin an FBI-led anti-terrorism task force after a decade of national iconoclasm vanished pretty quickly on Thursday, February 19.

Only one more city commissioner needed to side with Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish, resolute supporters for rapprochement with the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), to put the city back in. And Mayor Charlie Hales, master of ceremonies during council hearings, used the privilege of that post to explain where he stood almost immediately after the meeting began.

"We should participate," said Hales, who helped feed the city's initial JTTF rebellion with a lone vote to pull out in 2001 (the rest of the council voted to get out in 2005). "But with some very clear caveats."

Yes, Hales allowed, the FBI and the federal government have starred in some shame-worthy episodes over the years.

And yes, he still has concerns that Portland officers working for the FBI could be given work that violates Oregon's strict civil liberties laws—investigating and producing federal records about people in mosques and at protests who haven't committed crimes.

But just as weighty, he said, were a recent profusion of smaller-bore terror attacks, neighbor-on-neighbor massacres that looked nothing like September 11. He mentioned Copenhagen and Paris and the Boston Marathon. He said Portland had to face facts about "the radical evil in the world."

"I don't know how many people think Portland is in a bubble, and we're not part of that world. Maybe you could have maintained that notion after 9/11," he said in his office after the vote, noting the grander ambitions in the smoke over the Pentagon and World Trade Center. "But what's world dominant about the Boston Marathon? Or a Copenhagen [synagogue or café]? Nothing. There's nothing to distinguish those places from a sidewalk in Portland."

It was the mass shooting in Copenhagen, just days before the vote, that tipped him over the edge. Ironically, if Hales had held the vote just a week sooner—instead of adding extra time for JTTF critics to keep plying the council with arguments—he likely would have sided with Commissioners Steve Novick and Amanda Fritz and kept the city out.

"It was always a close call," he said when we met.

Hales was careful to tell the Oregonian he wasn't thinking politically, noting the outcry in the council chambers over a vote he admitted might not be popular in skeptical, idiosyncratic Portland (see: fluoride and vaccines).

But that doesn't mean Hales won't see some political gain. The Portland Business Alliance—its members deeply upset over Hales' handling of the street fee—were thrilled with his vote. Their wallets might open a little more easily next year (assuming Hales finally announces he's running for re-election).

And Hales even got to fire an unexpected zinger at one of his rumored rivals, retired Police Chief Mike Reese. Reese, you'll recall, flirted with a run against Hales in 2012 with notions he'd be the law-and-order darling of the business community.

Hales' reluctant comfort with the JTTF rests, in large part, on his faith in his new chief, Larry O'Dea—tasked with choosing officers willing to fink out the feds if Oregon laws and values are called into question.

I asked the mayor if he'd still feel so comfortable if Reese were chief.

"No," he said, "in a word."

It's as pointed as Hales has ever been about Reese. And it's proof that most decisions—even when they're earnest—remain wrapped in layers of intrigue.