GOOD OL' Charlie Hales. The former city commissioner—hoping he's one of two mayoral candidates to make the runoff to replace Sam Adams this November—has managed to bask in a heady glow of good news.
Hales' campaign released an internal poll that showed him breaking away from State Representative Jefferson Smith and closing in on longtime frontrunner Eileen Brady, the businesswoman whose family helped start News Seasons. The Oregonian's editorial writers decided he was their pick to run city hall—giving him a solid endorsement published on April Fool's Day.
Then, just this Monday, April 9, Hales unveiled a pair of TV spots touting his candidacy (as well as his O endorsement)—following Brady's much-richer campaign by just a week.
But for me—and for other (non-campaigning) political observers who don't want their names in the paper—the needle scratched last Thursday, April 5, courtesy of Hales' own mouth.
It was in the middle of Oregon Public Broadcasting's big mayoral debate, and Hales, while discussing public safety, mentioned the time he went on a ride-along with a cop, Chris Burley, who'd been "shot in the leg by a gang member" in May 2010.
Burley was shot, yes. But not by a gang member.
The man who shot Burley was Keaton Otis, a young, mentally ill African American man who'd been pulled over because his hoodie and nice car looked suspicious. After the paranoid, delusional Otis was Tasered in the ensuing traffic stop, he grabbed for the unregistered gun in his glove box—managing two shots, police say, before officers fired dozens at him.
Ever since, Otis' name—and the concern that racial profiling sparked his encounter with police—have become part of the mantra of police accountability groups.
"He should have checked his facts," says JoAnn Hardesty, an Albina Ministerial Alliance coalition member, who said she was put off by the miscue.
"I'm sorry if I offended anybody by not knowing all the particulars," Hales said when I asked him, hazarding that he doesn't have "encyclopedic knowledge" of every police shooting.
He says he was just trying to highlight that Burley, even after being shot, maintained an "impressive attitude about reaching out to young people. That's an attitude I want to see in the bureau."
That's fair. But Hales—running as mayor, and therefore Portland's next police commissioner—should have known Otis' name and story (whether he agrees with Otis' defenders or not). Otis' name was in the news just days before the OPB debate, invoked on the steps of city hall, during a rally to decry an arbitrator's order to reinstate the police officer who killed Aaron Campbell.
It bothers me that Hales didn't remember. And that he wasn't that bothered he didn't. Because when candidates talk about police accountability, this is the language they need to be speaking.