Something sneaky seems to be happening at City Hall. And no, it's not with any currently elected official. It's the smoke-and-mirrors recall effort to oust Mayor Ted Wheeler.
Wheeler won reelection last fall, being the first Portland mayor to serve two terms in a generation. He won with just 46% of the vote, defeating urban planning advocate Sarah Iannarone, who received 41%. The remaining 13% went to write-in candidates, including community activist Teressa Raiford.
By Oregon law, you can't run a recall on someone during their first six months in office. Wheeler's first six months are up in July. A prospective petition calling for the election is expected be filed this week.
But the effort is so far cloaked in subterfuge.
Who will be the chief petitioner? Campaign manager Audrey Caines said that person doesn't want to be identified before the petition is filed.
Is it Iannarone, who's trying to find a back door into City Hall? The committee director is her former campaign lawyer, Alan Kessler.
If Wheeler had missteps during his first term — and he did — the solution was to run against him and beat him. To the surprise of many, Wheeler won reelection. Recalling him due to poor performance in his first term is to throw out the will of last year's voters.
Caines told Willamette Week that the recall is based, in part, on Wheeler's continued poor performance during his second term. We find that hard to believe. The recall committee was filed with the Oregon Secretary of State's Office less than three weeks after Wheeler was reelected.
The effort's treasurer, Seth Woolley, is a campaign finance reform activist who has run unsuccessfully for city office — he garnered just 4% of the vote in May 2020 primary to replace former Commissioner Chloe Eudaly.
Is there a steering committee? Well, yes, but the members don't want their names to be released.
The prospective petition will include a statement of up to 200 words explaining why Wheeler should be recalled. But that statement wasn't made available for a news article.
A special election off the regular election cycle means relatively few Portlanders could decide to oust the admittedly unpopular mayor. The committee must collect at least 47,788 valid signatures of registered Portland voters within 90 days of the petition being filed.
If Wheeler fights the recall, the election must be held within 35 days. The only question on the ballot will be whether he should get the boot. There will be no separate ballot of replacement candidates. The only question will be: do you like Wheeler or not? Enough people on the left don't like him because of how he handled the 2020 protests; enough people on the right don't like him because of how he's handle police relations. So there's a very real probability that he'll get thrown out by a shadowy few lurking behind the scenes to support someone — possibly Iannarone — but who don't want to let on what they're up to.
This isn't a measure Portlanders take lightly. The last time a City Council member was recalled was in 1952.
If the backers of this recall are serious, they should identify the chief petitioner and the steering committee. They should release the petition statement, and the exact list of Wheeler's missteps in this, his second term. If they're not willing to do that, then the effort probably isn't about Wheeler. It's about someone wanting a City Hall job but unwilling to wait until Wheeler's term is finished.
Right now, this recall effort appears to be an unnamed someone using subterfuge to undo the will of the voters.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.