Conversations with Portland's mayoral candidates

Conversations with Portland's mayoral candidates »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. - From the On Your Side Investigators: ballots go out Friday, and they should arrive in your mailbox soon. As you begin weighing your choices, we want to give you a more complete picture of the two men who want to be Portland's next mayor.

One is more embattled than the other. Jefferson Smith has lost a series of endorsements in recent weeks, given reports about his checkered past that have come to light. But Charlie Hales' campaign hasn't been immune to controversy either.

In separate interviews, KATU Investigator Anna Canzano got a glimpse into their lives away from the campaign trail, and she learned more about the women who stand beside them.

For Jefferson and Katy Smith, a lighthearted moment walking their dog in their northeast Portland neighborhood is a rare break from what's been a rough campaign. (Their dog, George Bailey, is a living compromise. Jefferson wanted a beagle, Katy, a pug. George Bailey is a puggle).

As the younger candidate, at 39, Jefferson already needed to dispel the notion he may not be mature enough to be mayor -- a job made tougher over the last few weeks as we've uncovered more about his bad driving record, how he punched a man in the groin during a basketball game, and that he hit a woman in college 20 years ago.

Canzano: These incidents that have come up and been reported have not helped to counter that notion. How do you fight that?

Smith: Hopefully the answer isn't fighting someone else's attacks. Hopefully the answer is focusing on what the city needs to do….You don't fully appreciate all the mistakes you've made in your life until you see them on the front page of the newspaper.

Canzano: Are you grown up enough to be mayor and do you resent that question?

Smith: No they can ask me whatever they want. I'm going to be 40. I won't be the youngest mayor the city's had by any stretch. I’m grown up enough to be mayor, but the primary question is not a matter of “upness” or “growingness” but can we accomplish what needs to be done?

Charlie and Nancy Hales also steal precious moments away from the campaign spotlight; on this morning, at a coffee shop downtown.

Charlie enters the race as the more seasoned candidate - a former Portland city commissioner - but also under scrutiny.

He's been accused of dodging Oregon taxes while living in Washington four of the last seven years. He’s admitted plagiarizing portions of a letter to the editor in a community newspaper. And more recently, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters took issue with his campaign recording what was supposed to be a confidential meeting. (Ed. note: A previous version of this story incorrectly referrered to the OLCV as the Oregon League of Conservative Voters.)

Canzano: Some people might perceive that to be sneaky behavior. Does that reflect on how you'd conduct yourself as mayor?

Hales: It was simply a misunderstanding and not having read the bottom of an email that someone wanted us not to record this. So we record all those kind of joint encounters and this was just one more. So it was a misunderstanding, not any secret plot.

Interestingly, both of the candidates' wives work in higher education. Nancy Hales directs a program at Portland State that connects visitors with sustainability experts in the city. Katy Smith is a researcher at Oregon Health Science University. She and Jefferson were founding members of the Bus Project, a grassroots organization that engaged thousands of young people in politics statewide.

Katy Smith: If he is elected, Portland will have its first mayor who lives east of 82nd Avenue. To have a mayor that actually lives here I think would be just great for the city. If crime happens anywhere or in one part of the city or if poverty happens anywhere, it affects the whole city. That's the thing I'm really most concerned about.

Canzano: Does he have a temper?
Katy Smith: Absolutely not. He's the most loving person I've ever met.

Canzano: How honest is Charlie?
Nancy Hales: Charlie is the most honest, principled, unflappable person I know and I think those are all characteristics and qualities that attracted me to him and it’s why I love him. And I think that’s why the city should elect him as mayor.

I wondered about the tougher days during this campaign, days when each candidate felt vulnerable.

Smith: I must have looked kind of down. We were driving home and Katy said, “Screw it, just work your ass off and tell the truth.” And it was the smartest thing that's been said on the campaign.

Hales: Toughest days on the campaign were personal not political. My mom passed away during the course of the campaign and so did my sister-in-law, and those were tough days for us. You try to soldier on but when you have a big hole in your heart from that kind of loss, it takes a lot out of you. And I didn't soldier on very well for a while.

Nancy Hales: To support Charlie I know what I try to do is just help him reset. And I think that’s a good thing to offer, so tend to…we have two dogs. We tend to go around the block with the dogs. If I can get him on a bicycle, we tend to go for a bike ride.
Both couples say they've made sacrifices during this bid for mayor, requiring a shift in their expectations for what romance looks like. What comes to mind for Katy is one day this summer during the London Olympics.

Katy Smith: I really can't figure out the DVR very well and I was sitting at my desk. It was beautiful outside and I got a text, and I looked down and he said, “mowed the lawn, set the DVR for two gymnastics competitions. I don’t (know) which one you wanted to watch, so I DVR’d both of them.” That was most romantic thing...(Jefferson laughs)...And that was without even being prompted.

Nancy Hales: We don't get to do as much as we used to together, but we do other things now. We go door to door...

Canzano: It’s a different kind of date.

Nancy Hales: (laugh) It's a very different date. I had never known Charlie as a candidate so this is a brand new chapter for me….I sort of knew he was steady; I had no understanding of how steady Charlie is.

We wanted to do our interview with both candidates at their homes, and we made multiple attempts to do so with Charlie and Nancy Hales over the course of a month and a half. But ultimately, they didn't make that option work.

Interesting, since there have been questions raised during this campaign about Charlie's residency in Washington between 2005 and 2009.

There is a lot more to these interviews. We've posted raw video from both candidates below:

A conversation with Charlie Hales:

A conversation with Jefferson Smith: