Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler threw Mayor Sam Adams under the bus last week. Wheeler, who has a reputation for being more strategic than hotheaded, told the Willamette Week on Tuesday, April 21, that Adams had allegedly approached Wheeler with a vote-trading scheme.
The plan would go down like this: Adams would let Wheeler have first dibs on $8 million a year in state transportation funding to fix the ailing Sellwood Bridge if Wheeler would support Adams' controversial idea to build a $247.5 million convention center hotel in the Lloyd District, Wheeler told the paper. But: "I don't trade votes," he said.
Adams must have hit the roof when he read that. It's one thing for Wheeler to have thought Adams' suggestion was out of line, but it's quite a different matter to call a local newspaper and tell a reporter the details of a supposedly private deal-making conversation. Next time Adams and Wheeler talk, I suspect the mayor will be a tad more wary.
So, what was Wheeler thinking? He declined comment personally, but sources close to him say there was nothing strategic about the move, and that he simply lost his temper with Adams for coming to him with such a bizarre ultimatum in the midst of the county's $45 million budget crisis. Two days later, on April 23, Wheeler unveiled a proposed county budget, cutting 214 jobs including 23 employees at the district attorney's office, and two dormitories at Inverness Jail. I would imagine being asked to support a white elephant hotel while having to dismantle parts of the criminal justice system to balance the budget might sting just a bit.
"This kind of thing is not out of the ordinary in budget season," said Adams, of Wheeler's comments—certainly downplaying any private roof hitting he may have done in response.
Don't think Adams is as thick skinned as he pretends. Nor should we assume Wheeler simply lost control and called the newspaper in a fit of rage. It's entirely possible that Wheeler is considering running for mayor in the wake of the attorney general's investigation of Adams or a possible recall. Or he's hoping to serve as a stalking horse to encourage others to make their move. Wheeler's loose lips may not sink Adams' ship, but they're definitely causing him to take on more water.