CHARLIE HALES has begun the difficult dance of a mayor-elect hungry to assert his own power and priorities over a city council that remains, at least for the next 50 or so days, technically under the thumb of the people currently elected to run the place.
It's a new experience for Hales, who spent 10 years as a city commissioner a lifetime ago, all of them under one of the city's longest-serving mayors, Vera Katz. And, so far, the steps don't appear to be coming to him very easily.
At the same time as he's been reaching out to his colleagues, trying to forge social ties by inviting each commissioner to dinner with him and his wife, Hales has also managed to rankle them—creating some early doubts about his promise to run a drama-free, collegial, and efficient council.
Most significantly, commissioners and other city hall sources are incredibly skeptical of Hales' campaign promise to rip away all of their bureaus during next year's budget process.
Hales sees the move as a way to strip turf fights and territorialism from the discussions—which are expected to be bruising, what with an expected deficit of $24.5 million (before Mayor Sam Adams works one last bit of budget magic). That sounds good, but others in city hall say it's shockingly tone deaf about the reality of politics in city hall.
Leaving commissioners with sore feelings and more free time could backfire on Hales, who needs to make friends, and fast, to set about implementing a "basic services" platform that probably wouldn't have won so handily if his opponent, Jefferson Smith, hadn't self-destructed.
Compounding that, Hales has also blundered into a sensitive issue by announcing—on KATU, the morning after his victory over Smith—that he'd abandon Portland's court fight over the reinstatement of the cop who killed Aaron Campbell in 2010.
What makes that statement extra baffling (unless it's a nod to the Portland Police Association) is that there's no way Hales can do that on his own. The decision, although led by Adams, had to be blessed by city commissioners—who did so unanimously and emphatically.
There's no way, I'm told, Hales can peel off two other votes to give him his wish. Which is good, because the legal issue in play—the city's power to fire police officers in deadly force cases—really is just as important as the training standards and community policing Hales says he'd rather prioritize.
It's also fair to say that Adams, by refusing to relinquish the reins any sooner than he has to, isn't making things easier for Hales. The awkward mayoral duo was on display on Tuesday, November 13, during a hearing on the budget and the Portland Plan where the new commissioners were invited to join the old. Hales notably sat between Adams and Adams' strongest ally, Randy Leonard.
It was Adams' show to run, but Hales got off some of the last words. "This represents a great start," he said, leaving unspoken that the finish will be all his. And soon.