Q&A: Mayor Ted Wheeler

Is Portland Over?

'Anybody claiming that Portland is dead is betting in exactly the wrong direction'

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler sat down for a 30-minute interview with KOIN 6 News anchor Jeff Gianola in late April 2021 to discuss the topics most affecting the city at this time.

Watch the video for the complete interview.

Below are verbatim excerpts of some of the key points.

Leadership and protests

KOIN 6 News anchor Jeff Gianola: Everyone we talk to, business leaders, those that support you and building owners in downtown, all said during the height of the protest there was a void of leadership, a lack of leadership, not just from you, but from the entire city council and that you didn’t move with a stronger hand to condemn the violent sooner in the destruction sooner. How do you answer those critics?

Mayor Ted Wheeler: I completely disagree! I have been very consistent, very clear. I don’t know how many press conferences I’ve held over the last year, but it’s a lot. At each and every one of those press conferences I’ve stood up and I’ve said exactly the same thing. I’ve said I support the right to nonviolent demonstration. I understand why people are angry and frustrated and traumatized by the deaths of black men like George Floyd, and more recently, Duante Wright. I understand why people are traumatized by that. I understand why people are taking to the streets and demanding racial justice and social equity and common sense police reform. I get that. But I’ve also been very, very clear that when the line gets crossed and it leads to criminal destruction or violence, I’ve been very clear that is not protest, that’s criminal activity. And I’ve said that we need the resources and the tools to be able to hold those individuals accountable for their actions. And that’s been a consistent message out of me for the better part of a year.

Gianola: But do you think some of those tools were lacking? It seems like some of the people responsible for this violence are repeat offenders that they’re released. They do it again. They release the message —

Mayor Wheeler: Stop right there. When you say they’re released that’s, that’s not me. That’s not the city council. Release sounds like you’re talking about jail. So they’ve been arrested that’s that’s my baliwick — I’m the police commissioner. Uh, but what we’ve seen is people are arrested. Then the question is, where are the prosecutions? Why aren’t they being sentenced? Where are the jails? That’s not the city of Portland. That’s, that’s other parts of the criminal justice system.

Gianola: Are you dissatisfied with how the district attorney handled, especially in the early days of the protest, some of those arrests?

Mayor Wheeler: I think we, I, I’m not going to put it on the DA, you know, I talk and we, when I’m holding people accountable, I’m not going to sit here and point fingers at the DA or the courts or the judges or others. I’m going to talk about me. I think we did not do enough to coordinate with other law enforcement agencies and the community early on. … I feel that’s changed. I feel like we’ve really improved that. And in fact just yesterday, I met with the governor, the state police, the county law enforcement officials, the Portland Police Bureau, th Gresham Police Bureau. I feel like we’ve learned a thing or two over the course of the last year in terms of coordination.

Gianola: Can you tell the citizens of Portland with confidence that they’re safe when they see record number of officers leaving the police bureau, dollars not being spent on police, dollars actually being cut. So with less officers, they have to be reassigned. That cuts into response times in neighborhoods when it comes to crime in my particular neighborhood. What would you tell folks?

Mayor Wheeler: First of all, I don’t believe in lying to people. I believe, again, in treating people like adults and telling them the truth, and the truth of the matter is we are under policed in the city of Portland. I hear the calls for reform. … But when it comes to getting dollars for police officers in Portland, it is an uphill battle. I will not lie to you, but I’m going to keep fighting for it because I believe that ultimately will ensure the public safety. That’s also, you know, alongside efforts we’re doing to figure out where the police shouldn’t be involved. We funded the Portland Street Response because the police aren’t necessarily the right people to show up for a mental health crisis. So let’s fund the Portland Street Response, which pairs an EMT and a social worker who can go out there and deescalate situations and navigate people towards services. … So we’re going to be better. We’re going to be smarter. We’re going to be more accountable in terms of how we serve this public. But we cannot mistake those needs with defunding the police. We, we still need the police, folks. And we need to train them. We need to help them be as good as they can be. But I am concerned that we, we do not have enough officers on the street given the growing size of this community.

Economy and investment

Gianola: Mayor, the ongoing street violence damage, not only downtown physically, but also Portland’s reputation and brand investment, dollars are drying up. Businesses are moving out. People who live here say they don’t want to come downtown. Is downtown dying?

Mayor Wheeler: It’s been a difficult year. There is no question that we’ve been featured prominently, particularly in Fox News and Breitbart and other areas that want to really push this image that Portland is dying or it’s falling off a cliff or it’s beyond hope. And again, I just don’t believe that. And the people that I talked to here investing capital in this community don’t believe it either. …

…We were coming out of a global pandemic. Our economy effectively shut down. And so now we have to lay that table for the recovery. That means cleaning up our city, the litter, the graffiti, that means making sure we have adequate police resources in the community to ensure people’s public safety. That means making sure that we continue to address the homeless crisis. That has absolutely been exacerbated by the COVID crisis, as we reduced not only the services that were available, but also the camp cleanup programs that were in place prior to the pandemic.

All of those things are coming back online now, and people are already telling me they’re beginning to see that difference. We’re not done by any stretch of the imagination. But anybody who is claiming that Portland is dead, I think is going to be betting in exactly the wrong direction.

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