Cover Photo by Rebecca Ellis
In our culture, along with the changing of the year comes the expectation to commit to self-improvement. One could assume that with the year we just had here in Portland, those in power would use the gift of hindsight and set a reasonable and determined course towards achieving justice and peace; however, that would be the most naïve of assumptions.
Ted Wheeler, in his first workweek of the New Year, did indeed come in hot. While things had been relatively quiet since Wheeler denigrated his own win in the Red House episode of mid-December, raucous protests on and around New Year’s Eve brought a stern response from Portland’s mayor over the weekend, in which he dramatically paraphrased Alfred from The Dark Knight, stating, “There are some people who just want to watch the world burn.” Of course, this brought ridicule from both the left-leaning populace he’s failed to contain or listen to and the right-wing conservatives his office has coddled and repeatedly let down. This set the tone for Monday.
On Monday, Wheeler did the thing he does where he takes back whatever he was told to say under pressure, suddenly deciding to channel South African history again as he and Chief Lovell suggested a “truth-and-reconciliation commission” which – while currently scant on details – would create a special sub-committee that would help draft the very purpose of the commission being suggested. Widely seen as both a precursor to retreat from the tough-on-crime talk he’d fed to FOX News just days earlier and a performative promise to somehow come to terms with the damage the police and City inflict on the community while it’s still occurring (which is not what happened in S. Africa), Ted’s flip-flop left more questions than answers as activists publicly wondered how this new committee would interact with the various police committees already in place and under development.
Tuesday morning, the Joint Office of Homeless Services announced that they would not be performing their biennial count of the Portland’s houseless population, an important slice of data considering that over half of Portland’s 2017, 2018, an 2019 arrests involved the houseless. With “unwanted people” being the number 1 reason for 9-1-1 calls last I’d checked, it seems like keeping track of how many people are living on the street during a pandemic would be the priority for a City looking for truth and reconciliation; rather, the pandemic is listed as the reason the counts are not being done.
In the same day, Wheeler’s chief-of-staff announced she’d be leaving for greener pastures and news leaked that Sam Adams – a former liberal mayor marred by sexual allegations involving a minor who endorsed Wheeler during the latest election – was being considered for the position. With a number of Wheeler’s other advisors already in hot water over long-standing sexual abuse allegations, the leaked information drew expected consternation from the public.
On Wednesday morning, Wheeler and the City Council powered through a publicly-contested measure and unanimously voted through a plan to re-blight property that Black families were forced off of back in 1971 for a hospital expansion that famously never happened. Despite the restitution agreement never being upheld, The City of Portland stands to gain taxpayer funding to the tune of $67 MILLION dollars from their decision, and none of it is earmarked for the families impacted, instead, the City contends that a portion of the proceeds will go affordable housing.
Later that night, shortly after white supremacists and MAGA die-hards succeeded in breaching the US Capitol on behalf of Donald Trump, Ted Wheeler was observed drinking wine with a date at the posh Cafe Nell during the pandemic. Approached by an angry group of brown people using his middle name (as is common in leftist circles) who chastised him for being “an incompetent mayor” and called him a “war criminal,” Wheeler goes through a series of faces, attempts to age-check his critic and, as is his signature, fails to take control of the situation. I – while not present – was entrusted with one of the videos by an anonymous source and posted it on my Twitter, garnering quite the reaction online.
On Thursday morning, mainstream news was reporting that Sergeant Kevin Allen of Wheeler’s Portland Police Bureau had stated that the mayor was “punched” and the obviously erroneous story quickly made its way across the internet. Later that morning, Wheeler’s office released a statement indicating that physical contact was made by well-known Indigenous woman activist Cozca Ītzpāpālōtl. Wheeler reported no injuries or bruises and clarified that he was not interested in pursuing charges. Nonetheless, syndicated news and bad-faith journalists still ran with the original, police-inspired “punch” story, even in subsequent days.
Friday, at the end of his first workweek of the new year, Wheeler officially backed down from his previous Gotham City-styled demands for tougher criminal statutes, instead retreating to his typically frustrating explanations about how “creating workable, effective solutions requires thoughtful and constructive collaboration across multiple agencies and stakeholders.”
How this cycle of threatening, generating performative ideas, crony rewarding, profiting on Black suffering, playboy behavior, playing victim, backing down, and then kicking the can down the road somehow passes for mayoral behavior, I don’t know, but I know that I did not expect to see the full cycle the first week of 2021.
It’s going to be a long 4 years with this one. Or… maybe that’ll get cut short…