Mayoral candidate wants focus back on city issues
By Cari Hachmann/ The Portland Observer
Rep. Jefferson Smith was trying to put his campaign for Portland mayor back on track Monday after revelations that he was involved in an altercation with a female when he was a college sophomore at the University of Oregon.
The east Portland lawmaker was struggling to project that he was a better champion for the values and policies important to city residents then his opponent Charlie Hales, a former city councilman. Recent polls show almost a third of Portland voters are still undecided as the Nov. 6 vote-by-mail general election draws closer.
Smith was forced into a news conference Monday to explain the altercation with a woman who was allegedly intoxicated and came at him swinging, thinking he had pushed her during an off-campus party in Eugene in 1993. Smith was cited for misdemeanor assault.
“Somebody, I didn’t know was asleep on the couch. Somebody pushed her off. She came at me and started swinging at me. I tried to get her to stop,” he said.
The woman got a cut that needed medical attention. Smith paid for her hospital expenses and did 20 hours of community service for the charge to be dropped.
Last August, Smith was forced to apologize when revelations came to light that he had seven suspensions of his driver’s license for failing to appear in court for a number of driving infractions. Another past transgression involved punching a player during a pick-up basketball game.
Even before Monday’s news conference, Smith said too much focus had been made on past issues and not enough time spent talking about the future of the city.
“We are all imperfect people,” Smith said, during an interview last week with the Portland Observer.
Since joining the race for mayor last summer, Smith, 38, has dove whole heartedly into his campaign. He has attended 190 house parties and raised more than a half-million dollars in the campaign.
Smith said a growing and demographically-shifting Portland brings complex issues to the mayor’s desk. He doesn’t promise that he can fix everything, but assures voters that if anyone is going to do it, he is that person.
“I’m not going to fix all of this stuff, I know– homelessness, achievement gap, income disparities,” he said. “But we are going to do everything we can to make things better. And it’s going to take the whole community to engage.”
Though Smith said his position issues are not in full alignment with the city’s financial power structure, they better reflect the values of our city. Further, he said his positions on issues have not wavered under political pressures or interest groups.
“I’ve been consistent since the beginning of the race,” said Smith. He added that his views are consistently liberal, unlike his running mate Hales.
Smith names a few distinguishing causes he’s supported from the get go — the Portland Office of Equity, his opposition to the $4 billion Columbia River Crossing, and his opposition to Mayor Adams’ call to remove Occupy Portland protesters from city parks during the first few weeks of last year’s encampments.
As a Portlander who lives east of 82nd Avenue, Smith said he is proud of his legislative actions pertinent to the area’s disadvantaged communities and those of color.
In 2008, he was elected to the Oregon House where he worked to pass bills to help curb human trafficking, to repair dilapidated schools in the Parkrose district, to protect the unemployed, and to promote cleaner, safer Max rides in east Portland. He is also against the transportation of coal through Portland and protecting the health and sustainability in our city.
Making a case for mayoral leadership, the Grant High School and Harvard Law School graduate referred to his past experience in building his grass roots campaign, the Bus Project, a youth political recruiting machine now nationally recognized organization and headquartered in four states.
“I will engender respect from a hard-to-match work ethic and a deep commitment to public service,” said Smith, which he has demonstrated by “being here, staying here, paying taxes here and serving in the Legislature here.”
Smith said he was the better candidate for bridging divisions between the Portland Police Bureau and local residents.
He said he would support Mayor Adams’ appeal of the Ron Frashour arbitration case, where a police officer was fired, but then ordered reinstated in the shooting death of unarmed African-American Aaron Campbell, “‘provided we have turned every stone and have a legal leg to stand on.”
“If we don’t, then I think we should put our resources into addressing the underlying issue,” he said.
Smith said he is committed to “the facts and fact-based leadership” and being flexible in his views, but not changing them because it is politically convenient, but because the facts change.
For many in the African-American community, the concern is that for every time an officer shoots an unarmed person, that officer will be backed by the Police Union, who are the very people that train those police officers.
Smith said the most important thing to do, would be to improve the problem solving culture within the police bureau and make sure of a smaller disconnect between public policy making and public policy implementation.
Another big concern for the minority community is the lack of representation of officers of color and the small number of police officers who live in Portland neighborhoods.
While hiring diverse and homegrown police candidates at the entry-level is definitely achievable, Smith said, diversifying sergeants and existing police officers –“that’s hard to do.” He offered advertising police openings in communities of color and tracking the success rate, as one way to improve police inequities.
Diversifying the police, said Smith, is part of a larger-picture equity plan that he’s consistently prioritized since the entering the race and hopes to implement if elected mayor.
“Having equity as a critical lens in all of our decisions,” from job development, growing small and local businesses, retrofitting public buildings, and cleaning up the Willamette River, “will help everybody,” said Smith.
Smith credits his experience as a lawmaker and his record of support for school funding. He supports after-school programs like SUN schools and boosting summer learning “to help all kids achieve”.
When it comes to issues like tax reform, Smith said he is not so much interested in how to tax poor and middle incomes nor does he support a sales tax. “I want something that will be based on the ability to pay,” he said.
As mayor, Smith will focus on neighborhood needs and age-friendly transportation over unaffordable projects.
He wants to make it easier for people from all areas of Portland to access the city with a “311” government access line or what he calls “a one-stop for all city services”.
“I’m not saying everything we will do will be about equity,” Smith said. “I am saying that equity will be a critical consideration in all of our top priorities”.