THIS MAY, PORTLAND VOTERS will begin the selection of their next commander-in-chief, prime minister, head civic cheerleader, most prominent human dartboard, and lead political cat-wrangler—a fair, if incomplete, description of the mayor’s job here. Each of the three major candidates pursuing the city’s top post embodies a slice of Portland’s modern-day persona. Eileen Brady marries green and business interests. Ex-city commissioner Charlie Hales points to his experience with mass transit and progressive planning. State Rep. Jefferson Smith wants to mobilize youthful activists in the name of social equity. Together these three would form a perfect super-cyborg of Portland liberalism. Separately, telling their rhetoric apart can be a challenge.
Given the 23 candidates—almost all also-rans—crowding May’s mayoral ballot, and early polls showing none of the three leading hopefuls close to the 50 percent needed to win outright at the primary stage, a November runoff is considered likely. As one well-seasoned local wag puts it, “Right now, ‘undecided’ is running away with this thing.” Yet barring a wildly unforeseen development, one of these three people will be Portland’s next mayor.
So we offered each candidate a chance to set him or herself apart, inviting each to pick a specific place in Portland that captures their vision of the city.
The Southwest Community Center
“Should we start with the clothes on, or the clothes off?” No, it’s not that kind of encounter with a Portland politician. Charlie Hales just wants to show off the pool in this gleaming Portland Parks facility. Soon, he’s in the water up to his collarbone.
Zenger Farm, Southeast Portland
“Here, pretty. Hey, girlfriend!” Eileen Brady shakes chicken feed in her palm like a craps player rattling dice. Rain hammers down on the plastic roof of the chicken coop at this 16-acre complex of urban crops and wetlands. A russet colored bird resists her entreaties.
David Douglas High School, Southeast Portland
“Over 3,000 kids go here, and something like 80 percent are on free or reduced lunches,” says Jefferson Smith, standing before David Douglas High School’s leaping Scotsman mascot. “They speak 70 languages. This school, in some ways, is the gravitational center of the outer east side.”