PORTLAND, Ore. - Charlie Hales was sworn in as the 52nd mayor of Portland Wednesday morning and pledged to focus on schools, fix roads and keep his speeches short.
In a brief ceremony at City Hall, Mayor Hales thanked supporters and campaign workers, saying it had been a long journey to the mayor's office after he loaded up an old car 33 years ago and headed for Portland to make his life in "a unique and promising place."
"Today, I'm asking each of you to join with me on a collective journey," Hales said. "A journey that arrives with Portland becoming an even greater city, making good on that promise I saw and hoped for. A city with more family-wage jobs, with great schools, with justice and hope for us all, and with an excellent quality of life in every Portland neighborhood.”
Hales had been a Portland City Commissioner in the 1990s before moving on to the business world, experience he said he would bring to mayor’s office in terms of budgeting and management.
He thanked outgoing mayor Sam Adams and long-time city commissioner Randy Leonard for their service to the city.
Hales said Portlanders expected the mayor and city commissioners to “solve problems and get things done. They expect us to minimize drama and maximize results and I’m confident we’ll do just that.”
Hales said he heard a lot of pride in Portland during his campaign but also a lot of concern, from education and jobs to utility rates and environmental issues. But he sounded optimistic, saying Portland is ”a special place due to smart choices and hard work over many years.”
He ticked off the city park system, Bull Run water, a walkable downtown and Portland’s non-profit community as legacies of past administrations.
But he also listed three primary challenges: budgeting, public safety and education. “Those three will be the heart of our efforts in the opening months of my administration,” he said.
Hales said “doing more with less” in terms of budget expenses was at the heart of all the problems the city faces and called on department heads to submit budgets at 90 percent of 2012 levels. He said the budget for the mayor’s office will be even less than the 90 percent he was holding others to.
“That’s a discipline that these circumstances require and will allow us to do our jobs better,” he said. He also said that he and other commissioners will go through the budget line by line looking for places to cut costs, asking “is this program a core responsibility of the city of Portland?” among other criteria.
He said he wanted the city council to act during budgeting as a “true board of directors – stewards of the whole city being free of those traditional turf considerations – for a little while.”
He also said he wanted to work with Portland Police Chief Mike Reese on implementing changes in light of the recent settlement with the Department of Justice regarding the use of force. He said the changes specified by the DOJ in the agreement would be “quickly implemented.”
He also said it was time for a “renewed commitment” to community policing practices.
He addressed school performance last, saying it was the “single, most constant concern” he heard while campaigning.
“We cannot renege on the Portland promise that you can live anywhere in this city and send your child to a great public school,” he said. “That’s the deal, let’s keep it.”
But he lamented the low graduation rate and said the “achievement gap” for students of color was not closing fast enough. “This must change,” he said.
He said as mayor he is not in charge of schools but would use his position as a “bully pulpit” to advocate for “stable school funding.”
“I’m a team leader,” Hales said as he described his working style. “I like to get to 'yes' and share success.” He said he supported the city commissioner model of government and would not seek to change it.
“I like to be challenged. I believe in true debate,” he said. “Tell me what you think, not what you think I want to hear.”
"I’m not the smartest person in the room, but I can usually find her,” he said to laughter and applause, and then referred to Gail Shibley, his chief of staff.
He also added that he had three rules for speeches: “Be brief, be sincere and be seated.”
Hales said he intended to devote a few hours each month to keep going door-to-door, visiting Portland residents and hearing their concerns firsthand.