THE BEATIFIC LOOK on Mayor Charlie Hales' face was the tell.
Portland City Council was more than two hours into an often-strident hearing on the fate of homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too (R2DToo) last Thursday, October 3. And Hales—a pointedly silent co-conspirator in Commissioner Amanda Fritz's plan to move the rest area into a little-trafficked rump of the Pearl District—had found a way to escape the firing squad of enraged neighbors and their powerful allies.
Homer Williams, godfather of the Pearl and an investor in a nearby hotel, had just finished speaking to the council. His words followed a parade of histrionic comments from fearful senior citizens—and some harsh hand-wringing from landowners and lawyers, including Williams' partner Dike Dame, over lost value.
In contrast, Williams' comments seemed eminently reasonable.
"Let's take 30 days," he said, "and really look at this... if we need to meet every day we will. We're willing to commit resources from our businesses."
Hales looked serene. He nodded. "Thank you," he earnestly replied—maybe remembering the thousands of dollars Dame and Williams had given his campaign last year.
And hours later, when it came time to vote, anyone paying attention knew what Hales would say: Williams' offer was too good to pass up. A vote would wait until next Wednesday, October 16.
Somehow, Hales managed to walk out looking like a peacemaking statesman who reined in the urges of a colleague, Fritz, who'd been determined to see things through no matter what.
Of course, there's more to the story than that. The mayor was trying to douse his own fire.
Hales, despite giving Fritz public credit for leading the relocation push, had been the first to raise the idea of moving R2DToo from NW 4th and Burnside. And if he and his chief of staff had their way, that move would have happened long before this month.
They wanted R2DToo out well before the Lee Family Association—a powerful group with deep ties to Portland's Chinatown—had its annual gathering in the city this summer.
It fell to Fritz, however, to find a new home and settle a lawsuit filed by R2DToo and its landlords in 2012. The spot she eventually found, beneath a Broadway Bridge ramp, was the fourth considered. And once everyone realized that spot, technically, was in the Pearl, it also fell to Fritz to take the barbs from outraged neighbors.
It also fell to others to reach out to Williams. Foes met with Commissioner Nick Fish after struggling to get time with Hales. That may be where the seed of Williams' conciliatory offer was planted.
Fritz held long meetings with R2DToo in the hours after the hearing. Emails obtained by the Mercury show Williams and Ibrahim Mubarak, R2DToo's leader, making plans to huddle.
Hales, however, was out of town until this week, the Oregonian reported.
But it's unclear whether a deal might emerge. Williams told me he's impressed with R2DToo but that solutions need to involve "roofs, real roofs." That may not fly with the rest area, whose members see tents as a cheap, no-bullshit way to help dozens of people otherwise unhelped each night.
Hales has called R2DToo "unique" and "special." Will he have their backs in talks with Williams? Or will he keep letting others take the lead?