Leslie Wright announced his second attempt to be elected as Oregon City mayor on talk radio with his plan to use vacant schools for homeless shelters like "the Japanese people."
A retired sergeant major in the U.S. Marine Corps, Wright said as mayor he would house people in an unspecified currently vacant school after getting permission from various local and state agencies.
"Have you ever seen the Japanese people, how they live? They live in these small, compact areas," Wright told Lars Larson. "We're gonna take each one of those (homeless) people and give them their own little area and give them an address."
While he was speaking of present-day Japan, Wright's statement also carried a painful reminder of Japanese internment in the 1940s, when American citizens of Asian descent were rounded up in government compounds after their property was seized. Thousands of people of Japanese ancestry in the Pacific Northwest and California were forced by the U.S. military into crowded, hastily constructed buildings.
Wright said that he regretted making the statement about "the Japanese people," which he acknowledged had potentially racist undertones.
"My friends told me that I shouldn't have said that, but I'm not a politician. I'm not here to hurt anyone or call names on any people. I didn't mean it like that; what I meant was that the Japanese people are some of the most innovative people in the world who have learned to live in small areas," he said.
Wright said that homeless people sheltered in the former school would have to get eye tests and potentially be sent elsewhere if they have mental health issues. No alcohol would be allowed on the property.
"When they first walk in the door, they will be assessed, just as the military does," he said. "In this community I'm gonna have a job lottery every single day. The community is gonna take care of each other. They're gonna make sure the yard is clear. They're gonna make sure the barracks are clean. No drugs, no needles."
During his March 2021 mayoral election campaign, Wright alluded to homelessness being a key issue for him, but he declined to provide further details.
"I have a great plan for working with homeless people. I don't want to divulge anything right now; I want to do a little bit at a time," he told Pamplin Media Group in 2021.
Wright has no previous experience in volunteer or elected positions in Oregon City. He spent eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps during a military career that spanned 30 years. He was a wildland firefighter for the state of Washington, a commandant for the Seattle-Puget Sound Marine Corps League and a command sergeant major in the U.S. Volunteers Joint-Services Command providing full-honor funerals for veterans.
Wright received less than 30% of the vote in the March 2021 mayoral election, losing to former Mayor Rachel Lyles Smith. Commissioners declined to appoint Wright to Lyles Smith's vacated seat on the commission, opting instead to appoint Adam Marl to the seat in April 2021.
Wright will face off in a special Aug. 23 election against Commission President Denyse McGriff, who has been serving as acting mayor since Lyles Smith's resignation effective April 22. McGriff plans to run as well in the November election for a full four-year term as mayor.
Oregon City is accepting candidate filing paperwork for both the Aug. 23 special election and at least three city commission positions that will be on the November ballot. June 20 is the filing deadline for the August election, and Aug. 30 is the deadline for filing in the November election.
More information about filing is available at orcity.org.
This article was updated from its original version online on June 20, when Wright offered additional comments now included in this news report.
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