JEFFERSON SMITH'S concession all but came the week before, when the fading mayoral candidate decided to rework his campaign filings and toss thousands of dollars and, more importantly, hundreds of volunteer hours over to the team working to pass the vitally important Portland Public Schools construction bond.
But his defeat—especially with thousands of ballots already returned—became undeniable after a pair of polls released by OPB and the Oregonian on Monday, October 29, showed Smith down 19 and 20 points, respectively, to his rival in the race, Charlie Hales.
Smith had already been laying the groundwork for a graceful and magnanimous exit come November 6—the schools gesture and a smattering of subtle shifts in messaging that might serve the soon-to-be-former state legislator well if he ever decides to reignite his political ambitions. And Hales, a former city commissioner, has been taking on the mien of a mayor-elect—peppering his social media feeds with eight-point plans and "as your mayor, I will..." pronouncements.
That's an understandable move for Hales, no doubt privately savoring the scent of seeming inevitability. But it also suggests he's ignoring the deeper message lurking in Monday's poll results. Portlanders aren't embracing Hales—who has yet to top 50 percent in any survey. They're mostly rejecting Smith—who never recovered from his handling of reports that he hit a woman at a 1993 college party and then showed up at her house this fall to try to talk to her about it.
So here's what I'm proposing—in a suggestion aimed at anyone wringing their hands about what to do after jumping off the Smith bandwagon. Don't feel compelled to vote for Hales. To make sure Hales really understands where he sits in the eyes of voters—so that he's sufficiently humbled so as to strenuously avoid repeating his own litany of trust-busting campaign mistakes—write in someone else.
(Disclosure: I marked Hales on my ballot the day it came but haven't been able to make it official. I'll probably write in Sam Adams—although public defender and mental health advocate Chris O'Connor remains a solid dark horse.)
Hales will still win. Smith will still lose. But if we can help it, Hales will win with less than majority support—without what he can reasonably claim as a mandate. That's a fair outcome for a candidate who's mostly right on policy issues, but broke his promise on campaign contribution caps only after winning a slew of newspaper endorsements, bullied groups that didn't endorse him, and also let his campaign get caught in fibs.
If Hales wants real support, he'll need to spend the next four years earning it.