Portland, Oregon always has spirited mayoral elections. Portland has gained, through a combination of truth and reality, a reputation as a eccentric place, and it is only fitting that the contest to be mayor should partake in this spirit.
Although there is a major roadblock to this: none of the candidates for the Mayorship of Portland ever have any major political disagreements with each other. Although perhaps not as much as stereotypes would suggest, Portland is a liberal city, and its political leadership is as well. The policy differences between politicians in Portland tend to be differences between progressive alternatives. Light rail versus bike lanes is the type of issue that causes raised voices in Portland.
But if the substance is the same, there has been many variations in style. The mayoral race in Portland is often between a candidate who represents the wealthy, establishment liberals, and one who represents the city's working class liberals. Bud Clark, Portland's most famous mayor, was a tavern owner who looked like Santa Claus. He was followed by Vera Katz, a much more slick politician. She was followed by Tom Potter, another outsider, who was then followed by Sam Adams, formerly Vera Katz's chief of staff.
With that backstory, we are finally up to 2012, where Charlie Hales, a former city commissioner ran against Jefferson Smith, a state representative from the East side of Portland. Again, they have few policy differences between them, and as closely as I follow local politics, I couldn't identify any differences in substance between them. However, Hales was the more corporate candidate while Smith represented Portland's sometimes-unfashionable Eastern reaches.
The big issue that came about, that eventually led to Charlie Hales winning the office of Mayor, was when a story surfaced that while in college, Jefferson Smith had been attacked by a woman and had struck her in self-defense. Although the story was two decades old, and there was no evidence that Smith committed a crime, it still managed to cast him in a bad light. From there on out, the race went to Hales.
Which is kind of a silly thing for an election to turn on, but they have turned on sillier.
So Charlie Hales, former City Councilperson and head of the Port of Portland, is now to be the Mayor of Portland. While it probably won't signal any great policy changes, he will be a symbol of what Portland wants to be.