OPB reporters asked candidates for Portland mayor a series of questions about pressing issues facing Oregon’s largest city. Here’s a rundown on how Ted Wheeler, the state treasurer, answered.
Q&A with Ted Wheeler
OPB: How would you describe the relationship between the Portland Police Bureau and the people of Portland? What steps would you take to build trust in the police?
Ted Wheeler: I don’t think my opinion matters. If you look at the police bureau’s own internal polling results, 96 percent of their sworn officers said they would not recommend the Portland Police Bureau to other people as a place of employment. Something like 80 percent said morale was low. Internally, there’s clearly problems.
If you look externally, the public also has expectations and demands accountability. There’s a few things we can do to build a 21st century bureau. The first is to go back to a full community police model. Get people out of their cruisers and walking the streets, meeting with small business owners, meeting with community organizations and becoming more than just “the heat.” Going back to a community policing model will both reduce crime and restoring trust in the police bureau.
During labor negotiations with the Police Bureau, they want more officers. If they’re going to have more officers, I want to make sure it goes back toward a community policing model. There are other things I want to earn back during the bargaining process. I want to end the 48-hour rule … I also want to give the elected officials in this city, the mayor and the City Council, the ability to keep cops who’ve been fired from the bureau, keep them gone. The city bargained away that authority.
And of course, we have an independent police review commission, but they don’t really have teeth. They don’t have the ability to subpoena people or take sworn testimony or recommend certain types of recourse … I’d like to see them have some teeth.
OPB: Do you agree with Mayor Charlie Hales’ decision to temporarily allow public camping in Portland? What is one step you would take to ease the homeless crisis?
TW: I don’t think the current tent camping policy is working. I don’t think it’s a compassionate response to people living on the streets. I don’t think it’s fair to neighborhoods. I don’t think it’s fair to small business owners. The problem with it is it’s static. Just having people live under a bridge or under a street corner, that’s not getting anybody connected to mental health services or addiction services or job training … it’s just putting people in a holding pattern.
What I would encourage us to do is look other creative, low-cost alternatives to people living outside in the rain and the elements in the cold with no water, no showers, no laundry, no nothing. There’s other models around the country … .
Other cities pursued very aggressive policies around helping people who are vulnerable. They pursued aggressive policies to get the most vulnerable off the streets and help them stay off the streets. We did not do that. We need to get on it. The policy we have in place around tent camping, it’s not helping anybody.
OPB: What should city government’s role be in ensuring bike and pedestrian safety?
TW: It’s critical. The city has what it calls Vision Zero, which is to eliminate some of the bicycle and pedestrian issues we’ve seen. I strongly support that. This is one reason I support the gas tax proposal being offered by Commissioner [Steve] Novick. Obviously, pedestrian and bike safety is part of this. But folks, we also need to play big ball. Big ball means we need more resources over the long term to invest in real, active transportation infrastructure. That’s anything from separate bike lanes to improved crosswalk safety and right now we just don’t have the financing mechanism in place to do that effectively.
… What I’d like to see us do is think bigger. To give you an example of what happens elsewhere, Seattle voted themselves a half a percent sales tax increase. They’re going to bond against that to create $1.6 billion for modern infrastructure … . We don’t have anything like that. As the state treasurer, I can’t help but notice we have antiquated financial mechanisms underpinning our infrastructure investments. This isn’t just true for transportation, it’s true for school infrastructure as well. I want to work with our regional leaders and start the conversation about what does the next iteration — the next structure for financing — look like.
The other thing we should look at are some of the things that are taken for granted. When we pay local gas taxes here in Portland, it goes down to Salem, half stays with ODOT, 30 cents on every dollar goes to the counties and only 20 cents on every dollar comes back tot he city. That’s ridiculous. The deepest needs for infrastructure are in the urban areas. Why aren’t we evaluating projects based on basic things, like need?
OPB: Are you satisfied with the work being done by the Portland Development Commission? Describe the approach you would take as mayor toward economic development and how it would differ from the PDC’s current approach.
TW: I am satisfied with many of the things they do, and I would challenge them to do much better in other ares. They certainly have a very important role to play in the unfolding of the 2035 Portland comprehensive plan. If we are really going to be serious about workforce and lower-income housing in our community, then we’re probably going to have incentivize a big chunk of it through the PDC financing models. They will certainly play a role in helping encourage that kind of development.
Areas in which I really see them having an opportunity going forward are helping women, minority and lower-income entrepreneurs being successful. If you haven’t been to the Portland Mercado at 72nd and Southeast Foster, go. It’s a great example of how the PDC has worked with local entrepreneurs and the community. … To me, that’s the future.
there’s also the neighborhood prosperity initiatives that are taking place in six different areas on the east side of the river. These are great commitments by the PDC, and that’s the kind of innovative, entrepreneurial leadership I’d like the see.
OPB: Name one distinct neighborhood or area of Portland that needs more attention from city government, and why.
TW: I can’t narrow it down to one neighborhood, but let’s be really clear: All of Portland east of 82nd has been ignored for years and years and years. I was very proud to be one of the original co-conveners of the East Portland Action Plan along with then-Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley and then-Mayor Tom Potter. We identified all of these needs. Not just transportation infrastructure and sidewalks, but access to parks, access to recreation, to public facilities, to jobs and good transit. That’s where the need is most withering in our community.