HOW MANY TIMES have we heard this year's mayoral race framed as the following: Charlie Hales, the cerebral, details-obsessed wonk vs. Jefferson Smith, the hot-headed crotch-puncher who specializes in the big picture?
It's neat. It's pat and easily digestible. It's also incorrect.
Because despite prominent coverage of Smith's obvious irascibility—cursing at hecklers during Cameron Whitten's hunger strike rally and his scuffles playing sports—Smith isn't the only candidate who sometimes lets his passion get the better of him when he ought to know better.
At least three times, the Mercury has learned, a peeved and punchy Hales has aimed either "rude," "less than professional," or "fairly aggressive" text messages and calls at members of influential groups who decided not to throw their endorsement his way.
The rebukes were irksome enough that leaders of two of the groups, the Portland Firefighters Association (PFFA) and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters (OLCV), wondered aloud whether they could salvage a good relationship with Hales if he manages to beat Smith in the November runoff. That suggests the stakes for Hales' outbursts might be just a bit higher than Smith's, even though Smith's have caught the public's fancy.
"You let bygones be bygones," said Doug Moore, executive director of OLCV and a longtime hand on Capitol Hill. "This makes it harder for him to do that going forward. It does not portend well."
The PFFA's Jim Forquer contrasted Hales' response with Eileen Brady's after his union backed Smith in the primary.
Brady, he said, took pains to say she had a "tremendous amount of respect" for firefighters' work. Not Hales. Hales, Forquer said, called and sharply asked why he was "driving my team off a cliff."
"Is there a chance for a relationship?" Forquer asks. "I'm not sure."
Gwen Sullivan, president of the Portland Association of Teachers, was the most reserved in her comments about Hales—precisely because she wants to have a relationship with whoever winds up mayor. Sullivan confirmed receiving "rude" texts and said Hales was "extremely" disappointed, but she declined to share them or comment further.
The criticisms follow a report on Blogtown that some group—maybe Hales' campaign, but probably not—was testing negative messages about Smith by calling up potential voters with something of an attack poll. Hales' campaign won't say if it's their poll or not, only that they're inquiring about both candidates' dirty laundry. An independent negative campaign would have been a good way for Hales to get around his pledge to personally campaign positively and accept only $600 apiece from donors.
So Hales had to be pressed to say something he'd been loath to articulate before: "I will actively discourage any of our supporters from being involved in independent expenditures," he told me when we sat down this week.
Hales, at least, copped to reports of his temper. He said OLCV's complaints about calls amounted more to a he-said-he-said, but he didn't deny bluntly expressing his disappointment with the firefighters and teachers. He also said he'd put the campaign behind him and start listening if elected.
"I've never said anything to hurt someone, but I'm certainly blunt," he said when we sat down. "I've not mastered the art of saying nothing."
Then again, neither has Smith. Which means irritability is a problem both candidates suffer from.