Weeks After Occupy ICE PDX, Mayor Ted Wheeler Is In National Republican Sights

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
Aug. 21, 2018 7:42 p.m.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Cynthia Nixon. Ted Wheeler?


To Portland activists sometimes given to thinking of the mayor as a law-and-order tyrant, Wheeler might seem out of place on a list with two ultra-left political candidates from New York City.

To a Republican U.S. Senator from Louisiana, he fits right in.

Senator Bill Cassidy on Tuesday filed a resolution for consideration in Congress's upper house, formally calling on Wheeler to resign from office. The Occupy ICE PDX demonstration that shuttered a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Portland in June has been cleared for weeks, but in the minds of Cassidy — and President Donald J. Trump — the message it sent lives on.

“A mob of left-wing activists recently surrounded an ICE office in southwest Portland, Oregon, trapping ICE employees inside the building,” the proposed resolution states.

In the document, also supported by U.S. Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), Cassidy “calls on the Mayor of Portland, Oregon, Ted Wheeler, to immediately resign so that a leader committed to protecting all law-abiding citizens and public servants from harm can assume the duties of Mayor of Portland.”

Folding in criticisms from union officials representing Portland police officers and agents of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Cassidy takes to task Wheeler's stance early on in the occupation, when he said he did not want Portland police "engaged or sucked into a conflict, particularly from a Federal agency that I believe is on the wrong track."

The resolution, first reported by Willamette Week, likens the response to Ocasio-Cortez's support from an Occupy ICE group in Los Angeles. The Democratic Congressional candidate from New York mounted a stunning primary upset of Congressman Joe Crowley earlier this year, and appears headed for victory in November.

Cassidy also folded in a mention of actress Cynthia Nixon, running for governor of New York, who has reportedly dubbed ICE a “terrorist organization.”

But it’s Wheeler whom Cassidy targets for resignation.


"A politician deciding who gets help in an emergency based on politics is the kind of thing that happens in banana republics—not a democracy that ensures equal protection under the law,” Cassidy said in a statement Tuesday. “For Mayor Wheeler to abandon this principle along with people being threatened by a violent mob is unacceptable. He needs to resign immediately.”

Cassidy's office said Tuesday that the resolution has been in the works for weeks, well before Trump also singled out Wheeler — though not specifically naming him — in a speech at the White House on Monday.

Trump told those gathered for the address that “last month, the mayor of Portland, Oregon shamefully ordered local police to stand down.”

When OPB requested comment from the Mayor on Trump's comments and the proposed Senate resolution Tuesday, his office referenced a vague post on his Facebook page, apparently aimed solely at Trump.

It reads: “We want a country that respects people of all faiths and all nationalities. We want a country that believes in family and will do anything to keep parents together with their children. We want a country that welcomes refugees and those fleeing political oppression. We want an administration that represents us. We want a president that we can be proud of.”

It's not clear that the resolution being put forward by Cassidy and Perdue will garner enough steam to be called up for a vote in the Senate. It certainly doesn't have the support of Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who called the proposal "a classic example of politicians whose actions fly in the face of their pronouncements that they're in favor of state and local rights." 

Regardless of the outcome, though, political observers say Wheeler could reap a benefit from the recent Republican ire.

“Being targeted by Donald Trump and a right-wing Senator from Louisiana certainly isn’t going to hurt Ted in his political life in Portland, Oregon,” said Mark Wiener, a Portland political consultant.

Len Bergstein, a Portland-based lobbyist and political pundit, partly concurred, saying: “At one level, it is a dream for an Oregon or Portland politician to be on the opposite side of a policy issue with Donald Trump. It’s a great way to define them on the spectrum of progressive versus conservative.’

But Bergstein also cautions that the outcry from Washington, D.C., could renew scrutiny about Wheeler’s stance toward Occupy ICE.

The protest began in mid-June as a handful of tents outside the ICE building in southwest Portland. Within weeks it had swelled into an encampment with more than 100 tents, makeshift barriers, a kitchen, gardens and more. Portland police stayed away as the camp grew, though officials said demonstrators were trespassing.

In response, ICE temporarily ceased operations at the building, before sending in Department of Homeland Security police to clear protesters away from the entrance. A massive encampment remained on the building’s perimeter. Portland police moved in to clear the camp on July 25 — after many demonstrators had already departed.

Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association lashed out at the city’s response to the occupation, writing that the mayor had “failed miserably” in his oversight of the police bureau. That came after officials with the union that represents ICE workers accused Wheeler of refusing to allow the police to respond to reports of harassment and threats of ICE employees, and issued a “cease-and-desist” letter to the city.

Wheeler and Police Chief Danielle Outlaw have disputed the union’s version of events.