This afternoon, Jefferson Smith held a press conference to address the revelation by Willamette Week today that he had been cited for misdemeanor assault while a sophomore at University of Oregon. (Update: It's worth noting that "cited" is not the same as "convicted". These charges were dropped before they went to court.)
The story, as told by WW:
Witnesses say the victim was intoxicated and was resting on a couch when another party-goer tipped the couch over, knocking the woman to floor. They tell WW she then began hitting Smith because she thought he was the one who had tipped her to the floor.
Witnesses say Smith then tried to stop her from hitting him. “She woke up abruptly and freaked out and started hitting Jefferson, and he was like, ‘Whoa, hold on’ and telling her to stop,” recalls Afton Spies, who was present at the party, located at 1414 Alder Street in Eugene. “She kept on hitting and going a little crazy, and after while of her hitting him, he held her hands and kind of tapped her on the forehead.”
"Unfortunately Jeff was there," Spies said. "And she just started going crazy on him, thinking it was him that woke her up," said Spies, who knew Smith at Grant High School and graduated two years after him, in 1993.
"I think she had been drinking and whatnot, and she just started whaling on Jefferson. Uncontrollable. And he tried to stop her. We were kind of shocked by it all. He told her to stop multiple, multiple times. And she didn't."
Spies said Smith tried to hold the woman's hands back and finally "kind of tapped her on the head." Asked how Smith tapped her, Spies said she didn't remember but then said, "It was, like, with his finger." Spies said Smith was "absolutely not" at fault.
"He was at the wrong place at the wrong time," she said. "It could have been any guy. He handled it very well."
KGW reports that, at his press conference, Smith declined to blame the Charlie Hales campaign:
"What I do know is that there are some powerful interests wanting to take me down," he said. "What I don't know is any involvement of any other campaign."
On the jump, Smith's statement in full.
What do you think? How damaging are these revelations to Smith's campaign? Discuss.
In the last few months there have been rumors and whispers that someone has been planning a negative independent expenditure campaign against me. Our campaign has taken no polls, run no negative campaigning, and done no opposition research. I think that’s an important way to act as a candidate, and as a mayor.
I’ve heard untrue rumors and lies that seek to make this campaign about innuendo and personal smears rather than on our ideas and vision for the city.
Reporters have been knocking on my friends’ doors. I want everyone to know that when you have questions, you can just ask me. There’s something that happened to me in college that I think is the source of a rumor I’ve been hearing. I’m telling you the story now, so we can stop with the rumors and get on with our campaign to get Portland working, working better, and working for more people.
In college I was at a party, and there was a woman there that I didn’t know. She had had some drinks and fallen asleep on a couch with several people around. Someone pushed her off the couch, and she mistakenly thought it was me. She came at me, punching me. I held her wrists so she would stop, and when I let her arms go, she started hitting me again. Again trying to get her to stop, I pushed her away. She was coming at me at the same moment, and she was injured.
It was 19 years ago; I was a 20-year-old in college. It remains the worst night of my life, and it’s painful for me to write about. What happened was accidental. I immediately made sure she got to the hospital, and then reached an agreement with her to pay her medical bills and do community service. She’s a private citizen who didn’t choose to become a public figure like I did, and I was hoping that she wouldn’t have to be dragged into this campaign.
The city’s been through a lot and deserves a mayor who will tell the hard truths, even about ourselves. I want people to cast their vote with all the information they need to make the right choice. And I want my supporters to know that I will tell you the truth, even if it makes us all uncomfortable.
When I got into this race, I knew I’d lived an imperfect life, and I knew that my wife was a pretty private person. I knew this race could be hard. I did it because there’s so much at stake. I did it because there are people in my neighborhood who face much deeper challenges than anything I’ve had to face.
From the start, I’ve said this race is not about me. My greatest concern is not what happens to me, but that people get distracted from the critical needs of our city. We need to be talking about families struggling to make rent and hoping to stay off the street, folks out of work and worried about going hungry, kids falling further and further behind in school every summer, and the thousands of other hardships Portlanders go through every day. I’m not perfect, but we should be focused on doing our small part to fix problems for the 580,000 people in this city.
Now more than ever, I’m grateful for your support. And your friendship.