PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Being the mayor of the 25th largest city in the United States that is constantly getting national attention for its unrest is not a job many people would want right now.
But Ted Wheeler wants to keep doing it. And Sarah Iannarone thinks she would do it better. But why would anyone want to be the mayor of Portland?
“I believe I can bridge some of the divides that are suffering us nationally and locally,” Wheeler said.
“In part, my neighbors and I are already doing that job,” Iannarone said. “We know that the leadership right now is coming from the streets.”
Portland’s mayoral race is in a runoff following the May primary. Results released by the Multnomah County Elections Office showed Wheeler had 49.38% of the vote, just short of the 50%+1 he needed to win outright.
That put Iannarone, who earned 23.85% of the primary vote in a crowded 19-candidate field, into the November election.
The City of Roses is now the City of Riots. The downtown struggles to survive between the COVID-induced closures and fears of damage.
Wheeler, the former Oregon state treasurer, told KOIN 6 News he knew the months of nightly protest violence would be a big issue in the race. He said police need to be held accountable to rebuild public trust and he said he’s working to hold violent protesters accountable and pay for damages.
Iannarone, a small business owner, community organizer and urban policy consultant, told KOIN 6 News the response to police brutality protests cannot be more police brutality.
“We need to make sure that we are addressing the elephant in the room, which is the police murder of Black Portlanders that stretches back for decades,” Iannarone said. “Until our leaders come to the table with clear responses to the crisis I do not believe the protests will end — nor should they.”
Wheeler said people “don’t necessarily want less policing or less public safety. They want better police, better public safety in our hiring, retention, training, directives, de-escalation strategies. And we gotta prove to the public we are serious about it and we are changing things when it comes to law enforcement.”
Iannarone is a longtime supporter of temporary villages set up in neighborhoods across the city as places for the growing numbers of homeless tent campers to go.
Iannarone said “instead of displacing them from one end of the block to the other, let’s invest in sites where they can have access to hygiene, peer support and mental healthcare, addiction support, a kitchen and sanitation and even a bit of protection from the elements.”
Wheeler was opposed to organized tent camps and focused instead on permanent shelters. He now says he supports both but believes getting people off the streets is better.
“I’ve directed my city staff to give me 300 new shelter beds in the near term. We just found 100 over at the Charles Jordan Center, a city facility that’s closed due to COVID,” Wheeler said. “We should be putting people inside there. I am reaching out to other governments and school districts and others to find additional space to bring people in off the streets.”
There are no easy answers to solving Portland’s challenges in 2020 and beyond.