PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Anyone looking for marked policy differences separating the two leading Portland mayoral candidates probably didn’t find them during their hour-long debate.
Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey differed mostly by degrees, and precious few degrees at that, on issues both agreed are vital - homelessness, housing affordability, job creation and gang violence.
Instead, the candidates pointed repeatedly to résumés and professional experiences they characterized as critical for the next mayor to solve an array of pressing problems.
“As mayor, I have the connections and leadership to help make needed changes,” said Bailey, who served two terms in the Oregon House before being elected commissioner in 2014.
Wheeler, in turn, noted that he’s twice been elected treasurer and previously served as Multnomah County board chairman. “You know I can get the job done,” he said.
The two appeared before an invited audience of about 50 at Monday night’s debate, which was sponsored by The Oregonian/OregonLive and KGW and held at KGW’s studio.
Although 15 candidates are on the May 17 primary ballot, invitations were extended only to Wheeler and Bailey. Both are well ahead of other challengers in poll numbers as well as fundraising.
Responding to questions from Oregonian/OregonLive and KGW reporters, as well as queries submitted via social media, the two sounded similar tones on virtually every issue presented.
Both, for instance, called for creation of a regional air authority to deal with problems such as the heavy metals found in neighborhoods near two Portland glass manufacturers. Although Wheeler, even as he spoke of other concerns, including diesel exhaust, deferred to efforts led by Gov. Kate Brown to overhaul the state Department of Environmental Quality.
They both support a gasoline tax that’s also appearing on the primary ballot and said they oppose scrapping Portland’s $35-per-year arts tax.
“This is probably the most poorly implemented tax in the history of this city,” Wheeler said. “It’s a debacle.”
However, the importance of both school and community arts programs, which rely on the tax, are more than enough to offset its problems, he added.
“Arts make you smart,” Bailey said. “Studies show that. There’s an opportunity to reform how we are implementing the arts tax. Ultimately, funding for it is critical.”
KGW anchor and debate moderator Tracy Barry appeared to take both candidates aback when she criticized as insufficient their answers about how to address the number of gang shootings.
“I’ve been to those neighborhoods and they aren’t safe to walk through,” she said. “What are we going to do right now?”
Bailey, endorsed by the rank-and-file Portland Police Association, said he would work to ensure a stronger law enforcement presence on troubled streets. He also called for increased programs to help get “kids off the streets.”
Wheeler, in turn, called for a return to a community policing model of law enforcement, focusing on getting officers out of their cars and back to walking the streets. “It will build trust,” he said, “and most important, it will reduce crime.”
There were some differences. Bailey said he’d support spending public money wooing a professional baseball team to Portland. Wheeler, asked the same question, said “not likely.”
Wheeler also pointed out, albeit briefly, his unequivocal opposition to ending a rule that lets police officers in deadly force cases wait 48 hours before giving an internal affairs interview.
On other topics, both candidates said they support taking a new look at building a bridge across the Columbia River, if designed correctly, that they’d work to see more buildings reinforced to withstand a powerful earthquake and that they’d back green energy techniques to help create good-paying manufacturing jobs in the city.
In the end, Wheeler again relied on what he sees as an edge in experience, saying, “This is no time for on-the-job training.”
Bailey didn’t back off from his experience, either, saying, “Portland’s at a turning point. We’re moving from what’s been a big small town to a global community. I’ll be a mayor with the skills to address those challenges.”
Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com
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