The worst kept secret in Oregon politics is now officially out. Ted Wheeler, the state treasurer, launched a campaign for Portland mayor Wednesday.
To a small crowd gathered on the roof of Revolution Hall in southeast Portland, Wheeler delivered polite but biting criticism of Portland’s incumbent mayor, Charlie Hales.
Wheeler focused on the skyrocketing cost of living in Portland and the mayor’s struggle to fund street repairs, characterizing Hales as ineffective.
“My fight is not with Charlie Hales. My fight is with the significant problems he’s failed to address,” Wheeler said. “It’s not enough to call yourself a progressive or an activist or a leader when so many of the basic things that make a community thriving and successful aren’t getting done.”
Asked where he would find the funding to tackle Portland’s considerable street paving backlog, Wheeler said he favors putting a measure on the ballot to raise the gas tax.
On housing, Wheeler said he supports a proposal to increase the amount of urban renewal spending that is set aside for affordable housing projects.
Wheeler also emphasized his record as the state’s financial manager, saying that his oversight saved Oregon $170 million over the past two years.
“That savings means that there’s more resources for our progressive goals of strengthening education and health care, and protecting the environment,” he said.
Wheeler was appointed state treasurer by Gov. Ted Kulonsoski in 2010 and won re-election to the post twice. Prior to that, he served as chairman of Multnomah County.
In a phone conversation following Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Hales dismissed Wheeler’s criticisms.
“People recognize empty campaign rhetoric when they hear it,” he said. “The record I’ve compiled as mayor is pretty strong, going as a city from its worst ever budget deficit to a budget surplus.”
Hales cited ongoing efforts to reform the Portland Police Bureau and the City Council’s decision this spring to shrink Portland’s urban renewal areas as key accomplishments.
“I put $800 million of assessed value back on the tax rolls that pays for schools and parks and mental health. I’m really proud of that,” he said.
On the question of street maintenance funding, a major political failure for the mayor, Hales said he’d encountered deep divisions in the community and had done the best he could to increase the paving budget using existing general fund dollars.
Hales has said he plans to seek re-election, but has yet to formally launch a campaign.
“The election is quite a ways off,” he said. Hales said he could launch his campaign in the coming months, but hasn’t determined exactly when yet. The primary for mayor would take place next year.
“I’m busy working,” he said.