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Why Mayor-elect Charlie Hales should publicly refute KATU’s story

Posted by on November 14th, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Hales told BikePortland he wants, “More bike projects,
more sidewalks, more connections for things that
aren’t automobiles.”
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Mayor-elect Charlie Hales needs to publicly refute a story by KATU-TV that grossly misrepresents his views on transportation policy. Hales has been aware of the misrepresentation for at least two days now, and yet he has not made any public statements to clarify and correct the record.

On Monday night, KATU broadcast (and then later published on their website) a story saying, “Hales plans to shift focus of city transportation budget.” The story went on to report that Hales would not make bikes a priority and that he, “wants 60 miles of streets paved and others repaired before there are any more bike projects.”

However, Hales’ own comments — made to me on two separate occasions and to KATU for their story — said nothing like that at all.

After detailing my opinion on the KATU story yesterday, I have since spoken again with Mayor-elect Hales.

While Hales responded to my initial request for comment about the KATU story, his answer — while I felt it was enough to illustrate the misrepresentation — did not directly address what I feel is the key question here: Does Hales feel that KATU misrepresented his views? If not, why is he telling me the complete opposite? And if so, does he plan to publicly refute the story and clarify his stance?

I asked that question of Hales again on the phone yesterday. Again he didn’t directly answer, saying he needed to re-read the KATU story.

He did, however, share additional clarifying remarks about his stance. And it turns out what he actually believes is nearly the complete, polar opposite of what KATU reported:

“I am not planning in a change in philosophy at the City of Portland. I am planning on being a relentless prioritizer, because that’s what the budget requires… And we’ve got to prioritize maintenance first and remedial construction of infrastructure that should have been there all along. And then, as we add things, we will continue being a progressive city that’s building a multimodal transportation network. That means more bike projects, more sidewalks, more connections for things that aren’t automobiles. I don’t regard where I’m heading with this as any kind of change in direction…”

Given the vast distance between what KATU chose to report and what Hales told me he actually believes, I feel the mayor-elect has an obligation to set the record straight. But he hasn’t yet. Why not?

“There was one point in the campaign where I thought a media outlet was factually wrong and I found out the price you pay for that. So I’m a little gun-shy.”
— Mayor-elect Hales

Is he trying to play both sides in this heated discussion? Is he happy to have KATU bend his views to sound more auto-centric — and less bike-friendly — than he actually is (many KATU commenters are gleefully supportive of Hales)?

Or, is Hales simply afraid of calling KATU out for their inaccurate and biased reporting?

As Hales reminded me yesterday, he went through the media ringer during his campaign. At one point, he challenged The Oregonian’s reporting about a letter he claimed to have authored for the St. Johns Review. “As you may recall,” he shared with me on the phone, “There was one point in the campaign where I thought a media outlet was factually wrong and I found out the price you pay for that. So I’m a little gun-shy.”

After we spoke yesterday afternoon, Hales said he would re-read the KATU story and get back to me. I have yet to hear from him.

Meanwhile, it’s clearer than ever that KATU took serious liberties with Hales’ positions. They have still not provided me with any further source comments from Hales that would help justify their reporting and explain why they decided to single out “bike projects” and why they framed Hales’ views on transportation as a “shift” from Mayor Adams’ (which, given what he’s said to KATU and to me, they clearly aren’t).

But the blame can’t be fully placed on KATU. For months now, Hales has found himself trying to explain and clarify his position on transportation. His “back to basics” and “roads first” rhetoric, especially given the narrative context in Portland around spending on bicycle-related projects, could easily be misinterpreted. The KATU story is just one consequence of Hales’ (intentionally?) vague position.

During my conversation with Hales, he said, “People are going to keep framing this story in terms of a conflict of bikes versus cars no matter what I say. But I’ll try and be as clear as I can possibly be.”

This story, and the confusion many people in the community continue to have around it, make it clear that he needs to try harder. A public refutation of the KATU story and/or a public statement that more clearly spells out his views is what’s needed to set the record straight.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Tony
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Tony

I wish there was a way we could get a little hyperventilation going over at his place. Has the BTA contacted him about this?

9watts
Guest
9watts

Thanks for holding KATU’s and Charlie Hales’ feet to the fire, Jonathan.
This could get interesting (or frustrating). Given how long it took for Hales to distance himself from the Slovic piece he first embraced, this could take a while, but your batting average is quite good.

Joseph E
Guest

KATU can misrepresent Hales views all they want, as long as PBOT keeps building sidewalks and safe bike facilities. I care mainly about what Charlie does, not what people say he plans to do.

Jacob
Guest
Jacob

Right-on, Jonathan. This is classic politician double-speak—saying one thing but tacitly condoning the complete opposite. If he doesn’t refute this kind of crap now, then it looks as though Portland has elected a weak and unprincipled mayor, willing to say anything and commit to nothing. It reflects poorly on his nascent administration, and does not bode well for the future of transportation in Portland.

Gregg
Guest

I’m looking forward to electing a city council/ mayor who all embrace sustainable practices, including proudly working towards funding and building out the 2030 Bicycle Master Plan.
I wish Charley Hales would be a part of this vision.

LoveDoctor
Guest
LoveDoctor

Although Hales shouldn’t be given a free pass for talking like a politician, is it any surprise he isn’t giving a firm response? That’s the reality of politi-speak. The real target for our energies should be against KATU. I sent an email to them denouncing what they see as journalism, and the risk to the public they propogate by fanning the flames of the false war of cars v. bikes.

Craig Harlow
Guest
Craig Harlow

It’s my view that Hales has played to both sides all along, pandering more to the conservatives when he had Brady to contend with, then to the progressives when Smith was his only competition. Who knows what serves as his weathervane now? I have no idea what to expect from this mayor, other than more of the same.

Hart Noecker
Guest

Charlie Hales needs to refute a lot of things, namely coal exports and the CRC. And can we get a little sit down session between him and Mark Gorton?

dan de vriend
Guest
dan de vriend

I live out in Cully. That stretch of Going between 38th and 42nd is AWFUL, I’d love some re paving. The random gravel roads with potholes suck for bikes in my neighborhood too. I think some repaving and pothole filling could benefit bikes too. And the “cycle track” down Cully is a freaking waste of money, I never see bikes on it. They tend to take 57th, which doesn’t even have side walks. Out where I live, sidewalks are rare.
It’s embarrassing.

RH
Guest
RH

I think he is just trying to avoid the media circus. I would if I were in his shoes. He’s got more pressing issues that having to baby sit KATU.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales first order of accountability is to serve the people of Portland as mayor of the city. He’s not directly accountable to KATU or any other news organization, especially those news organizations that determine to push his decision making in arbitrary directions.

If he intends to keep the media from leading him on what for the media would be a merry goose chase, Hales had better be very careful in deciding what kinds of statements the media makes, he should respond to.

Before broadcasting their recent, apparently rather extraordinary interpretation of Hale’s past remarks about Portland’s transportation infrastructure needs, KATU could have arranged for an interview with him as preparation for their broadcast story. Did KATU do so? Haven’t heard they did.

Instead, the tv station hastened to construct its own sketchily drawn conclusions, maybe for something to wind the public up, maybe in an attempt to get Hales to chase after the tv station’s assumptions about his plans for the city, assumptions the station should have corroborated directly with the future mayor, before broadcasting them.

Spiffy
Guest

he sounds like the usual politician to me… he lets KATU bend the story towards cars because more people with cars are tuning into KATU… he lets us bend it towards bikes because that’s our audience… I wouldn’t be surprised to see it bend towards peds in an Oregon Walks article…

people need roads… it’s good that each group is happy they’re getting them… unfortunately they’re happy at the assumption of somebody else’s expense… everyone wants their helping of schadenfreude…

Brad
Guest
Brad

Jonathan, I think that you are also inflaming the situation here.

KATU is just another crass media outlet looking to whip up controversy in the name of ratings. We’ve seen such stories before and we’ll see them again. Having Hales respond to their speculative nonsense on bikes just gives them more incentive to keep repeating the same sins on water rates, school funding, cops, social services, etc. There is no need to pick fights with a media outlet or let them dictate your policy agenda seven weeks before you start the job.

As for Hales, he’s not sworn in as mayor yet. I’d prefer that he lay low and be thoughtful until his swearing in and then announce his plans with the full authority of the office behind him. Why play your cards so early? Why risk potentially alienating your fellow council members, bureau heads, and constituents before you have the power to do anything? Perhaps he hasn’t put together a granular plan for transportation just yet?

Calm down a bit. All of us should spend the time positively influencing the mayor-elect rather than antagonizing him into making pronouncements before he takes office. Didn’t we all hear enough empty “Day One” crap during the elections?

Sean G
Guest

Your commentary recently on Bloomberg’s leadership with bike and pedestrian infrastructure overcame public and local opposition. People respected what he did, even if they had been opposed to it from the start. Hales could learn something from NYC’s success, get out front and stick to your guns rather than avoiding the press and repeating talking points.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

I think Hales is happy to play both sides of any issue, I guess that is why I voted for Smith…

torridjoe
Guest
torridjoe

Hales is blaming his (at best careless/unwitting) plagiarism on the media? And that response should make us feel more secure in his stated motivations?

And he may not be mayor yet, but he’s already sitting in on budget meetings–which is probably a good idea, but also belies the idea that he gets a pass because he’s only mayor-elect.

Andrew K
Guest
Andrew K

From a political stand point I think it would be a major mistake for Hales to call out KATU at this stage. KATU was wrong…you know it, I know it, and most likely Hales knows it. However, getting into that battle before he is even sworn in would be a major political blunder and would drag potential good works down to the level of mud slinging.

Remember, what is really going to matter is what Hales actually does, not what a “news” organization like KATU says he is going to do.

As much as I liked Sam Adams I am sorry to say he never learned to play his political cards properly and my hope for Hales is that he does a better job in this arena.

The real way to call out KATU on their lies is for us the viewiers to lead that charge let them know we will not be visiting their site or watching them on TV until they retract the story. Bet yet, we should let their advertisers know. Hales doesn’t need to fight that battle for us.

Keep in mind too, most people will not even remember that segment aired a few days from now. When it comes to news media, sometimes ignoring it does make it go away.

David Sweet
Guest
David Sweet

Garrison Keillor once said, “You’d learn more about the world by lying on the couch and drinking gin out of a bottle than by watching the news.” Nevertheless, many folks do get their news from the tube, and TV news readers need to be held accountable when they invent the news rather than reporting it. Stay on it, Jonathan. This should not stand.

Dan
Guest
Dan

If we are worried about Mayor-elect Hales believing that the public wants it autocentric because the news spins stories that way, the one sure way to counteract that is to email ALL members of the Portland council and weigh-in on everything close to your heart. Nothing like old-fashioned civic engagement to make your point. And, heresy though it may be, I’m willing to listen to the reasons if they feel easing up on cars makes better sense. The fact remains that for a lot of the population, car use is what they are stuck with (for financial, temporal, employment, or inertial reasons). Show it can be done, set a good example (let’s follow the traffic rules, huh?), and realize that it will take some serious engineering (civic and social) to get to where people can get out of their cars and still make their lives work.

J-R
Guest
J-R

Arguing with the media is like wrestling with a pig, eventually you learn that he likes it. There’s no way to “win” on this. Hales has probably learned this from his prior stint as a commissioner. I think we are better served by keeping the pressure on doing things for bicyclists than encouraging him to fight with KATU. Pick your battles.

JF
Guest
JF

All this speculation about the mayor elect’s stance on transportation just seems like a weather forecast at this point. I will wait until I see the rain or sun tomorrow before drawing conclusions.

mev
Guest
mev

I agree Jonathan – I felt like KATU tried to make it news worthy by pitting bikes against cars – I’ve heard Charlie speak about this issue countless times in the last 18 months…and he never said alternative transportation would not be given attention, he does believe we need to take care of our investment in a system that serves all modes. Without maintenance we spend six times the amount to fix it in a few short years. Thanks for this Jonathan!

Robert Burchett
Guest
Robert Burchett

I’m going to re-read all of the above when I have time, looks interesting. But meanwhile, it’s the media wringer, not ringer. Aargh.

Gotta go count my gin bottles.

Mike
Guest
Mike

For what it’s worth, I just sent an email to Hales’ office asking him to clarify his position, since he hasn’t yet cleared things up re KATU.

contact@charliehales.com

Machu Picchu
Guest
Machu Picchu

Right on with your intuition on this one, Maus. I’m surprised at some of the readers’ reluctance to support putting a mayor-elect on the spot. He can’t make a decree right now, but he sure as hell can start putting his mouth where the money’s gonna be. Not laying down his position in uncertain terms is just smugness foreshadowed.

Clarence Eckerson
Guest

One thing I will say being here in NYC, Mayor Bloomberg almost never goes out of his way to refute the press on anything. Frankly, I think he considers them mostly lame brains and it a waste of his time to do so, even if negative perceptions arise.