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Hall Monitor

Charlie's City Hall Makeover

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IT'S DEFINITELY the dawn of a new political age on the third floor of Portland City Hall, where Mayor Charlie Hales and his diminutive cadre of experienced staffers are settling into offices vacated only weeks before by Sam Adams and his die-hard, merry band of wonks and idealists.

The grand corner office Adams turned into a meeting room is once more the city's ceremonial seat of mayoral power. The wing of cubicles where Adams had ensconced himself, once the hopping heart of Portland policy making, is an eerily quiet ghost town of office furniture. The big brash paintings that graced the mayor's waiting room—like the one of Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock—are gone, replaced by a stately chaise lounge and chair.

And, in a gesture whose symbolism could certainly be debated, the wooden door that links the waiting room to the mayor's warren of offices is no longer being left open. When I came for a sit-down with Hales, it was promptly closed behind me.

About the only thing that didn't move? An elaborate phial of biodiesel—which looks suspiciously like some kind of brackish bourbon—still collecting dust on a window sill with a fantastic wintertime view of the Portlandia statue.

("What else can we do with it?" Hales joked about the elixir. "You can't pour it down the drain.")

It's the physical manifestation of a cultural change that has city hall insiders hopeful and wary in equal parts.

The word that comes up most often when city hall insiders mention Hales and his team is "grownup"—a group of people who long ago proved themselves in business, the nonprofit world, and politics before answering the call to join Hales' brain trust.

After four years of bouncing along with Adams' passion for big ideas and experimentation, staffers are quietly embracing Hales' promise to minimize drama and dive into the basics of governance and crafting budgets. Even if, those same staffers might privately fret, there's the chance that Hales winds up more like the last so-called "grownup" to run city hall: Tom Potter, who all but quit halfway through his one and only term.

But Hales has emerged as Adams' antidote in some other ways. Not wasting any time after his inauguration, he canned his predecessor's handpicked transportation director, Tom Miller, and blocked a transportation job for another Adams hand, Amy Ruiz, that his staff, rumor has it, might have blessed.

He's also been making nice with some of Adams' frenemies and foes. Hales tells me he plans on starting the city's budget process with a presentation from Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen—a sign the two governments might finally enjoy a better working relationship.

He's also extended an olive branch to the Portland Police Association's Daryl Turner. Turner, who routinely skewered Adams in public comments, had become a persona non grata in the mayor's office. Hales, instead, tells me the controversial union boss "has a role to play" in public safety and mental health reforms. (Indeed, as Willamette Week first reported, the PPA has even cut Hales a check to help retire the mayor's lingering campaign debt.)

The "grownup" crack got a laugh, at least, from Hales' new spokesman, author and former journalist Dana Haynes—who immediately tried to prove me wrong. The proof? The Batman figure Haynes keeps on his desk. Now, if it were Charlie's desk... that would be something else.

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