In November of 2020, Portland mayor Ted Wheeler won re-election in a close run-off against Sarah Iannarone, making him the first Portland mayor in 16 years to hold the office for two terms. As he moves into his second term, he is continuing to build off of the last four years. As Wheeler states, “my administration is still my administration.”
He considers himself a pragmatic moderate, not falling at either political extreme. He wishes that everyone on both sides of the political spectrum could strike more agreements so that the American people are more accurately represented. He has assembled a team of staff who have disagreements and discuss things together; he strongly values hearing everyone’s viewpoints.
Wheeler has faced controversy over his handling of the summer protests that occurred in response to the murder of George Floyd. He holds to his position condoning violence and criminal destruction, but still wants to respect calls for racial justice and equity. He has goals to work for more police reform, continuing on from removing police officers from schools and implementing racial justice, equity, and implicit bias training for the Portland Police Bureau. In August 2020, Wheeler released a 19 point police reform action plan and is now nearing the end of the checklist. Some of the things on the list that have been completed include supporting outreach and non-law enforcement responses like the Portland Street Response pilot and the Navigation Team; returning the Equity & Inclusion office to the Chief’s Office, with a direct report to the Chief of Police; and positioning that work alongside the Community Services Division.
“We are going through a point in time where it feels like there are constant challenges being thrown in our way; COVID caused us to stop and look at the way our society is structured and we needed to have this conversation,” says Wheeler. Many have been calling for change for a long time, but the pandemic has brought more equity and equality disparities to the forefront of the conversation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted Portland’s budget, but Wheeler, as the former Treasurer of Oregon, feels prepared to use his experience to get Portland through this difficult time. His biggest goal while dealing with budget issues is to protect the most vulnerable in Portland’s community. One way he’ll do this is working for compromise with unions and delaying pay increases to avoid layoffs. He’s also considering paying down some of Portland’s debt and leveraging credit.
Another thing Wheeler has to consider is youth outreach and supporting the youth of Portland. Summer internships are on the horizon, and Wheeler wants youth to know that there are internships available in the city government. Once you have an internship, he advises to not be afraid of asking for real work in addition to coffee fetching and filing. He thinks internships are a great way to gain access to a work environment and adults who can share wisdom. This is part of the reason why you should look for an internship in alignment with your passions. The other reason you should do that, according to Wheeler, is that “networking is critical.”
“[Youth] have a critical voice; we need that voice to be heard,” says Wheeler, who works with youth especially on climate and gun issues. There is also the Multnomah Youth Commission, which is the official youth policy body of Multnomah County and Portland, and there are some youth members on other largely adult led commissions. He feels inspired by the number of people who are involved in current politics and activism and thinks that youth in particular are leading the charge. When asked what gives him hope for the future, Wheeler simply replied, “have you talked to the kids these days?”