PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A towering four-story billboard criticizing the politics of Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt was prominently hung near the intersection of Washington Street and 2nd Ave. on April 4, greeting those entering Downtown from Morrison Bridge with the message: “Portland is a Schmidt Show!”

The billboard, paid for by the group People for Portland, also lists “record crime,” “fewer prosecutions” and “empty jail beds” as some of Schmidt’s accomplishments since he took office in 2020. The DA’s office responded to the billboard on Wednesday, calling it “misinformation.”

“This dissemination of misinformation undermines the work of the DA and discredits the dedicated work of all employees in the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office who are serving our county during one of the most challenging periods in recent memory,” the DA’s office told KOIN 6 in a statement.

Morning taffic passes the immense billboard on April 5. (KOIN 6)

While it’s unclear who helped People for Portland finance the political stunt, state business records show that the public-benefit nonprofit corporation is managed by Kevin Looper, a local political consultant who’s previously worked with former Governors Kate Brown and John Kitzhaber. In 2022, Looper also notably teamed up with former Portland City Council candidate Vadim Mozyrsky to independently finance Commissioner Rene Gonzalez’s successful campaign against Jo Ann Hardesty, the Willamette Week reported.

People for Portland publicly celebrated its new billboard Tuesday, sharing video of the moment it was strung across the Governor Building on Facebook. “Send a message that you’re sick of the “Schmidt show,” People for Portland wrote on Facebook, urging people to write to Multnomah County leaders to ask for “stronger leadership” and changes in policies and budget priorities.

The group’s website also calls for an end to “inhumane, dangerous public camping” and a restoration of public safety “with more police and better policing” and less “garbage, waste and graffiti.” People for Portland’s billboard, ironically enough, has since been vandalized with a traces of gold paint that now run along the bottom half of the sign.

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt in Portland, October 29, 2020 (KOIN)

The DA’s office, meanwhile, said that its prosecution tactics have not changed since Schmidt took office. In November, Schmidt released property crime data showing prosecution rates rising for property crimes like burglary, robbery and automobile theft since the end of the pandemic.

“The truth is: [The DA’s office] is prosecuting cases referred to us by law enforcement at the same rate as we did in 2018 and 2019,” the DA’s office said in response to the billboard. “In fact, our issuance rates for property crimes, including stolen car cases, and firearm cases are significantly higher than in those years and climbing.”

However, Commissioner Gonzalez has argued as part of his 90-day action plan, in which he outlined the potential for reestablishing a municipal court in Portland for the first time in 52 years, that the prosecution of misdemeanors has fallen significantly in recent years.

“Some 50 years ago, the city made the choice to outsource that to the county and the district attorney,” Gonzalez said in February. “We’d like the next 90 days to reevaluate some of the underpinnings in that decision — specifically to address something we’re all seeing and feeling today. High level, we’re prosecuting a fraction of the misdemeanors we used to in Multnomah County. That goes back more than a decade. That predates any elected official [on the council].”

Portland City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez, January 13, 2023 (KOIN)
Portland City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez, January 13, 2023 (KOIN)

Schmidt previously told KOIN 6 News that he has held discussions with Gonzalez about his municipal court idea, and that he looks forward to seeing the results of his 90-day action plan, which are due to be presented on May 3. Gonzalez’s office told KOIN 6 on April 3 that his team is actively completing a legal review of the requirements needed to establish a municipal court. With the presentation of the city council’s 90-day action plans less than a month away, the DA’s office stated that, instead of solely focusing on prosecution rates, Schmidt will continue to focus on “successful outcomes,” related to “serving victims, holding offenders accountable and reducing recidivism.”

“At [the DA’s office] we are actively working to achieve these outcomes,” the DA office’s post billboard statement reads. “In addition, prosecution and incarceration alone cannot prevent crime; there has to be a collaborative approach with law enforcement and community partners to get in front of the issues to prevent crime. The DA is actively doing this.”