Ryan Alexander-Tanner

FOR A GLIMPSE of the good that can happen when your mayor goes lame duck, look no further than the Portland City Council meeting on November 18.

At that meeting, a provision that Portland equity advocates have been pushing hard popped back up after more than seven months in the cold. It's called "ban the box," and it would limit most employers' ability to learn about an applicant's criminal convictions until after they'd offered the person the job.

You know about ban the box if you read the Mercury regularly. We wrote about the policy in April, when Mayor Charlie Hales—who'd been itching to ram the law through—suddenly pulled back amid concerns from the Portland Business Alliance (PBA).

And we wrote about it again in August, when it became clear the proposal maybe wasn't on its way back to council, like Hales said it would be. The state had passed a version of ban the box by then—one that was far more watered down than the policy Portland had considered—and the mayor's office seemed to believe that it would be best to give the statewide law a spin before getting hasty and enacting our own.

On November 18, that notion had disappeared altogether. The statewide law won't kick in until January, but city council appears ready to adopt its own far-stronger ban the box policy as soon as Wednesday, November 25 (it'd go into effect in July).

What changed? Well, the mayor's career plans, for starters.

When Hales took ban the box off the council calendar in August, he was busy soliciting campaign cash to keep strong political challengers at bay. He'd angered the PBA over the course of the year—most notably when he reversed course on inviting a mammoth propane terminal into North Portland—but there wasn't all-out animosity.

It might have made sense, at the time, to hold off on a measure advocates said would vastly improve ex-convicts' chances of getting a job—especially since the state had already taken a half-step.

Then Ted Wheeler happened. After months of speculation, the state treasurer and former Multnomah County chair announced in September that he'd go toe-to-toe with Hales, and it became clear that city business leaders had helped recruit Wheeler.

A little more than a month later, Hales decided not to run. At around the same time—voila!—ban the box came back up on his radar.

At an event in late October, Hales told me that's because it became clear to him that the state law didn't go far enough, and that he thought Portland needed something stronger. But nothing had changed in the state law. It was the same legislation his office had cited when putting ban the box on ice in August.

What changed, instead, was Hales' relationship with business leaders, and his need for their support.

He doesn't have to worry about the PBA much anymore, and Portlanders with a record—often unfairly cast aside because of past misdeeds—stand to win big.