127th and Hales

The mayor says he makes his decisions thinking about one intersection. We went there. It needs paving.

Charlotte Hurt says she didn't choose to move to Southeast 127th Avenue and Mill Court. And she hasn't heard of Portland Mayor Charlie Hales.

Hurt moved last year to a turquoise cottage four blocks south of David Douglas High School, after her husband, Joe, learned he had Parkinson's disease and worried he couldn't make mortgage payments on their house on nearby Division Street.

A preschool teacher, Hurt says she hasn't voted for more than a decade.

What does she think of Hales?

"I don't even know who he is," Hurt says.

But Hales says he's made Hurt's East Portland neighborhood the litmus test for how he makes his decisions.

In a Nov. 4 interview, Hales said he created his first-year agenda—stabilizing the city budget, supporting schools and reforming police—by asking himself what's best for people living in the Mill Park neighborhood.

" I hold myself a lot of the time to what I call the 127th-and-Mill test," Hales said. "If I knocked on all four doors of that intersection and asked, 'Is this what you'd like your mayor to do? Manage the budget?' I think most people would say yes."

It's not uncommon for a mayor to cite average citizens as examples. Former Mayor Sam Adams famously named-checked "Mike and Jean," two possibly apocryphal struggling Portlanders.

But Hales chose a real and specific location—one eight miles east of City Hall, in a section of the city that elected officials are perpetually criticized for ignoring.

Hales challenged WW to go to 127th and Mill and ask people what they thought of his first year in office.

So we did.

Southeast 127th Avenue intersects twice with streets called Mill—once at Mill Court, then a block south at Mill Street.

But 127th looks the same at both corners: It's unpaved.

Hurt and the nine other people we talked to agreed almost unanimously on what Hales should make his first priority: paving 127th, one of the city's 59 miles of dirt roads.

"Everybody uses this road," says Sean Lavallee. "Something needs to be done about it."

Between Mill Court and Mill Street, traffic has worn a winding ridge into the middle of 127th and pockmarked it with craters. When it rains, the craters turn into murky little lakes.

Lavallee navigates the gravel street in a motorized wheelchair that flies a towering American flag.

"I broke my wheelchair many times on this road," says Lavallee, who lives in a foster home for disabled men near the corner of 127th and Mill Court.

Recently, his chair tipped over on this road as he made his way home.

Charlotte Hurt has one advantage over her neighbors: She lives in one of the few houses near a sidewalk.

"I like knowing that, when my son walks to school, he's walking on sidewalks," she said.

She's more concerned about what happens once her son, 13-year-old Ronnie, arrives at Ron Russell Middle School.

"You don't want to go to Ron Russell," Ronnie says. "There's fights, like, every day."

Carlena Bond, who lives nearby on Mill Street, says the David Douglas School District has deteriorated in the past 10 years. She's now homeschooling her two kids.

Bond says she voted for Hales, but feels the city is in decline. Her property taxes have doubled, she says. Her water bill is going up drastically. And she keeps hearing about crimes committed by transients and drug addicts.

"If we could get out, we would be gone," Bond says. "This neighborhood sucks."

Lynn and Jim Hughes, who run the state-funded foster home where Lavallee lives, also say neighborhood crime is getting worse. They voted for Hales' opponent, Jefferson Smith—hoping he'd bring more attention to Mill Park.

"There's been a decline in the whole area," Jim Hughes says.

They are less interested in Hales' police reforms than in getting better pay for cops patrolling the neighborhood—which they say is crime-ridden. 

Jim Hughes blames crime partly on the MAX line extending into outer East Portland: He says where the train goes, crime follows. Lynn Hughes says lawbreaking has been sparked by a glut of low-income housing pushed into the neighborhood.

"We get the brunt end of everything," Lynn Hughes says. "It's landed in our neighborhood. They're shipping too many people here. It's out of balance."