AS I WRITE THIS, it's been less than 24 hours since Mayor Charlie Hales shocked (most of) Portland's political establishment.
In a blindsiding, 500-word announcement Monday afternoon, Hales upended conventional wisdom about the city's future by revealing that he'd end his mayoralty at a single term. On Monday morning, it was a certainty that either the mayor or State Treasurer Ted Wheeler would be at the helm of Portland City Hall when 2017 dawns. Now it's Wheeler's race, while the city waits and hopes for credible candidates to make it interesting.
The reverberations will calm down in coming weeks. We may even get more clarity into Hales' motives. For now, let's focus on the mayor's narrative: that he'd prefer to do his actual job rather than spend 40 hours a week slugging it out against Wheeler.
"There may be times in the life of a city where a mayor can pull that off because things are pretty stable and there aren't huge issues afoot," Hales told me in his office Monday. "Well, right now there are huge issues."
Sure, maybe it's a smokescreen. Maybe Hales, as some have speculated, has seen polling numbers that suggest he's got too far to climb (the mayor denies this). Maybe there's something else afoot. But there's also no doubt Hales is correct.
Look at the last month alone.
The mayor (in somewhat typical, somewhat frustrating Hales fashion) surprised the rest of city council by pulling out a housing "state of emergency" like a top-hat rabbit—then he put together a still-vague $30 million proposal to back it up.
Hales pushed a $25,000 demolition tax he hoped might slow the razing of Portland houses—catching flak from all sides.
And the mayor, pressed at a labor-friendly forum on October 21, said he'd reverse earlier tactics by voluntarily recognizing that some of the city's lowest-paid workers should be compensated at union rates.
It's perhaps the most dynamic four-week stretch of Hales' tenure, and it takes on a new light now that Hales—like Sam Adams and Tom Potter before him—has decided against running again.
Faced with an unending stream of criticism from Wheeler, Hales' dynamism could too easily be seen as a ploy. Now, his efforts can't be read quite so cynically. Now, Hales is just being a mayor, unencumbered by political considerations and free to pursue his agenda.
For some of his city council colleagues, the mayor's surprise announcement is reason for optimism. Commissioner Nick Fish remembers "a very good run" once Adams had become a lame duck, and says he looks forward to the mayor's "increased bandwidth" around housing.
Hales, meanwhile, looks forward to the freedom.
"I won't have people politically triangulating—'I don't know if I can help Hales on that or not, because he's running for office,'" the mayor said Monday. "I have a limited number of asks. Now they can all be for the agenda and not the marketing campaign."
Much has to be sorted out, but for now, it's nice to expect we'll get the mayor's best shot for the next 14 months—not political grasping.