Listening to Portland, OR mayor Charlie Hales claim that police raids on homeless people are meant to punish “lawlessness” – hearing him respond to questions about expanding Dignity Village with quips like “it’s hard to find land”, it’s difficult to quell the revulsion one feels in their stomach. Listening to Hales being asked if he would support a ‘Homeless Bill of Rights‘ only to hear him reply “Haven’t seen it”, it’s easy to recall Marc Lamont when he said, “Prison is the only public housing government has ever invested in.”
This callousness of Charlie Hales hasn’t gone unnoticed by housing advocates, nor by other members of city government. This week, both city commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz issued statements calling into question Hales’ policies targeting those most economically victimized in our community. Hales cited the Portland Business Alliance championed ‘Camping Ban’ that forbids sleeping on the sidewalk during daytime, yet Hales has chosen to aggressively enforce this draconian ordinance only on blocks surrounding city hall where a round-the-clock vigil has taken place in defiance of the regressive ban.
In the discourse of reasoned political critique, it is tabboo to assign vulgar insult to elected officials. Outside of these diplomatic confines, the question must be asked: When is it okay to say, ‘Fuck Charlie Hales’?
Gone is the friendly Uncle Charlie routine used to coax voters into ignoring key issues during the election. In its place sits a cold, calculating head of the city who seems to have little time any more for such pleasantries. Hales appears to be running a campaign of shock and awe in city hall. He wasted no time taking an ax to the city budget, gutting positions in the city deemed crucial by the former administration. He threatened to cut vital summer youth programs his website promised were untouchable on a page entitled ‘Equity’ that’s now been entirely removed. Hales gutted funding to a shelter for victims of sex trafficking, prompting a mass of protesters to pack the room at a budget hearing – a move that Hales complained was out of line and blindsiding. He went on to warn the group not to return to future meetings. Surely that day many were eager to say, ‘Fuck Charlie Hales.’
Then came reports that Hales had fired Rich Goward for coming forward as a whistle-blower, exposing deliberate financial mismanagement at city hall. Technically, Goward’s position was eliminated, but the CFO maintains the decision was due to his actions, “There’s a certain amount of irony that when I tried to do the right thing and I was put on the smaller bus.” He was paid a year’s salary as severance in exchange for assurances he would not sue the city. Goward may well have had moments in which he thought, ‘Fuck Charlie Hales.’
The mayor has also cooperated with an EPA mandate to remove Portland’s prized open-air water reservoirs, another issue of contention within the community. Similar to an exemption that New York City was granted, those demanding a waiver here in Portland have made repeated requests of the mayor to help their cause. Hales replied he’s not interested in fighting for Portland’s historic reservoirs. From personal experience, I can tell you many of the people involved in protecting Bull Run water have uttered, ‘Fuck Charlie Hales’ on several occasions.
Just this week it was reported that Charlie Hales signaled his intent to annex West Hayden Island into the city, the first step in a long-opposed plan to begin paving over 800 acres of pristine wetlands to make way for yet another sprawling port facility. As reported in the Tribune, Hales stated there was room for both industrial facilities and ‘natural areas’ on the island, apparently ignorant of the vast expanses of asphalted earth already devoted to freight exports that line nearby Columbia riverbanks. In that same report, Hales spoke in favor of highly controversial practices of gentrification and economic displacement. Hales said gentrification isn’t all bad if it means the city is getting more prosperous, “I’d rather grapple with the problems of success than the problems of disinvestment.” From those being priced out of their homes by rapid redevelopment pushed by Hales and his developer friends, and from the conservation groups struggling to save bio-rich habits on Hayden Island, you can almost hear the chorus of ‘Fuck Charlie Hales!’
Back to the question: when is it okay to use language like this, in clear disrespect of esteemed elected office? As a supporter of Hales’ opponent in during the election, I was disappointed by voters who chose a champion of capital growth over a representative with a track record of opposing fossil fuel exports and out-dated freeway expansions. Hales has repeatedly voiced support and lobbying time for the now defunct Columbia River Crossing, despite the project rightfully earning bipartisan contempt. Combine this with his support for fluoridation, his flippant remarks concerning people forced to sleep in the streets, and his austerity budgeting practices – and esteem for his elected office begins to erode.
As I previously covered on Blue Oregon, I gave Hales the benefit of the doubt after he was sworn in, as did many others. Yet only weeks into his first (and God-willing, only term in office) Hales seemed almost eager to begin breaking campaign promises. Now that we’ve had months to witness the full array of his shady dealings, uncaring attitudes, and destructive policies, nobody should be expected to afford this mayor much respect in return.
Charlie Hales has enforced an agenda totally out of line with the values of his constituents. Gutting social programs, axing honest city workers, forcing people out of their homes, planning to pave over wetlands, sicking law enforcement on people that require care, not criminalization – all of this builds to a conclusion: Nobody should feel hesitant to speak aloud, “Fuck Charlie Hales.”
See you in the streets.