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

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.

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