Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is running for a second term. This is more newsworthy than it sounds; three of Wheeler’s immediate predecessors declined to run for second terms. If reelected, Wheeler will be Portland’s first mayor to serve more than one term since three-term mayor Vera Katz left office in 2005. This is the final article in a three-part series, each focusing on one of the three major candidates for mayor of Portland.
Despite running for a second term, Wheeler, who is a Democrat, may end up being a one-term mayor anyway. He has been subject to severe criticism for his handling of Portland’s Black Lives Matter protests, which have been among the longest-lasting and most forceful protests of the nationwide movement. Wheeler’s critics on the left blame him for the use of crowd control tactics such as tear gas and flash-bang grenades by police against peaceful protesters. Meanwhile, he has been met with equally vociferous opposition from Republicans, who accuse him of not doing enough to stop the protests. U.S. Attorney General William Barr labeled Portland an “anarchist jurisdiction” and threatened to withhold federal funding if Wheeler did not crack down more aggressively on protesters, while President Donald Trump called Wheeler “the wacky Radical Left Do Nothing Democrat Mayor of Portland” on Twitter. Activists, including rival mayoral candidate Teressa Raiford, have called for Wheeler’s resignation.
Wheeler is the only mayoral candidate who has previously held elected office. In addition to his first term as mayor, to which he was elected in 2016, Wheeler served as the state treasurer of Oregon for six years, from 2010 to 2016. Before that, he sat on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners from 2007 to 2010. A sixth-generation Oregonian, Wheeler hails from a prominent Oregon family who originally became wealthy in the timber trade. The small coastal town of Wheeler in Tillamook County is named after Wheeler’s great-grandfather, who owned a sawmill there.
During Wheeler’s first term as mayor, he oversaw the construction of 1,454 affordable housing units, more than the planned 1,300, and created three new homeless shelters. He also took control of the Portland Police Bureau as soon as he was inaugurated, which is one of the reasons he is being directly blamed for the actions of police officers during the protests. City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has repeatedly asked to take over leadership of the police bureau, believing that Wheeler is mismanaging the issue of police brutality, but Wheeler has declined to shift the responsibility to Hardesty.
As state treasurer, he reestablished the Oregon College Savings Program, which allows money saved for college to be untaxed. As a county commissioner, he managed to secure funding for a replacement to the crumbling Sellwood Bridge. The replacement bridge opened in 2016 and the old bridge was torn down soon after.
Wheeler’s approval ratings have swung wildly. In May 2020, he received nearly half of the vote in Portland’s mayoral primary, bolstered by his acclaimed response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on in the pandemic, he pressed Gov. Kate Brown to institute a statewide lockdown in one of the first calls for serious action to prevent the spread of the virus in Oregon. Later, once the CARES Act made federal stimulus money available, Wheeler allocated $114 million to small businesses and families hit hard by the pandemic. Shortly after the primary election, though, George Floyd was killed and the protests began. By September, a poll conducted by California-based FM3 Research showed that Wheeler had a 62% unfavorability rating and only a 26% favorability rating. Recently he seems to have regained some of his political momentum. In a poll conducted between Oct. 7 and Oct. 11, DHM Research reported that one-third of Portland voters plan to vote for Wheeler, nearly tying with his main rival Sarah Iannarone.
With the current crises facing Portland, Wheeler has had to devote more time to running the city than campaigning, so he has offered minimal information about his second-term goals. According to his campaign site, though, if he is elected to a second term, Wheeler intends to continue his focus on affordable housing, which has been one of the signature issues throughout his first term. He also advocates for a cleanup of the Willamette River and supporting local small businesses during the pandemic.