Mayor Charlie Hales was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Northern Virginia. While attending the University of Virginia, he put himself through school with summer construction jobs, paying the bills, and at the same time, building a lifelong interest in housing and the way cities work.
After graduating, he climbed in his 1966 Plymouth Valiant and pointed it toward Portland. He went to work for the Oregon Hotel and Motel Association, and later the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland, and raised a family in Southwest Portland.
But, both at work and in the community, he began to detect hints of the sort of shortsighted development he thought he’d left behind back East. That led to his 1992 run for City Council. The message at more than 20,000 doors was prophetic: “Portland is about to grow, and how we grow is very important.” He was elected as City Commissioner that year and twice more.
Charlie immediately turned his words into action: He led the charge on planning, parks and transportation investments that helped create the Portland we love today, including:
- Creating the neighborhoods of the Pearl District and South Waterfront;
- Building the Portland Streetcar, the first modern streetcar project in the U.S.;
- Renovating over 100 city parks by leading the first parks bond measure in 50 years;
- Creating the Southwest Community Center, the East Portland Community Center and the Mount Scott Pool;
- Extending light rail to the Portland Airport.
He left office in 2002, when a nationally prominent engineering firm, HDR Inc., asked him to replicate his successful mass transit efforts in cities around the country. As Vice President for Transit Planning at HDR Inc., he managed projects in Cincinnati, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, and Tucson. Most of the transit projects he led are now open or under construction.
In 2012, Charlie returned to Portland politics and was elected to mayor. Since taking office, Mayor Hales has focused on affordability, livability, and equity.
Mayor Hales took the City from a deficit of more than $21 million — the largest deficit in the city’s history — to its largest surplus, $49 million. He has championed police reform, emphasizing equity training, body cameras, and community relationships. Charlie worked with colleagues to allocate more than $270 million to affordable housing, and he led Council in declaring a State of Emergency in Housing and Homelessness to address the growing issue of homelessness in the community.
Continuing his efforts to support youth and parks, he created the Mayor’s Community Centers Initiative with a $2 million investment to make Portland’s community centers free for teens — an effort to bridge inequality in access to recreation.
And he has worked to protect the environment by championing an ambitious Climate Action Plan, establishing Portland as an international leader on climate action. Under Mayor Hales’ leadership, Portland is divesting City funds from fossil fuels; opposing oil and coal trains transporting dangerous and dirty fuels through the city; and, most recently, establishing the most restrictive fossil fuel export policy in the country.
While Portland has changed a lot since Charlie’s first run for office in 1992, the message he delivered at more than 20,000 doors during that first campaign remains the same, only amplified: “Portland is about grow by 200,000 people over the next two decades and how we grow matters!” By continuing to champion affordability, livability, and equity, Mayor Hales has worked to ensure that he leaves a City of Opportunity for all Portlanders!