Portland City Hall

[You can read all of the Mercury’s “Top Stories of 2021” here.—eds]

City politics got messy this year. Between Mayor Wheeler getting pepper sprayed by a pissed-off dairy heir to commissioners clumsily attempting to make Texas feel bad for banning abortion, there was little time for political growth. The year saw the council’s two newest commissioners find their footing in City Hall (despite all council meetings taking place online), while the more tenured politicians attempted to cement their legacy.

Mayor Wheeler Avoids Recall: Days after Mayor Ted Wheeler was re-elected in November 2020, Portlanders began a campaign to recall him from office. In the summer of 2021, that campaign began collecting signatures to qualify to get the recall on the fall ballot, but fell short on gathering enough names in time. Instead of giving it another go—a valid and legal option—the campaign said its members are now focusing on other social issues it can influence.

Mayor Wheeler Doesn’t Avoid Drama: 2021 began with a series of weird attacks on Wheeler. It began with him being “swatted at” by a critic while dining at a Nob Hill restaurant. Then, in later January, Wheeler pepper sprayed a man who confronted him on policy issues outside of a Hillsdale restaurant. After the incident, the public discovered that the pepper-sprayed man was no other than Cary Cadonau, a local real estate lawyer and heir to the Alpenrose Dairy company. Enter:“Dairy heir” jokes.

Portland Street Response Funding: In a vote that divided the City Council, commissioners chose not to fully fund the Portland Street Response program in its annual budget. The decision would have allowed the pilot program to expand citywide within the year. After a report came out illustrating the early successes of the alternative response program, city commissioners approved the full funds through the fall budget monitoring process in November. The program should be ready for a citywide rollout in Spring 2022.

Response to Texas: After Texas passed Senate Bill 8, a law that banned nearly all abortions, City Council wanted to clap back. At first, city officials considered prohibiting travel and business with Texas as punishment—but after talking to actual reproductive health groups about what could help, they changed their tune. Commissioners instead chose to dole out $200,000 to local organizations that offer reproductive healthcare services, which may see an influx in patients from Texas seeking an abortion.

Downtown Private Security Team Gets Boost: Downtown Clean & Safe is an organization that, through a city contract, charges property owners located in Downtown Portland to fund additional, or “enhanced,” services not already provided by the city—which include graffiti removal, expanded trash pick-up, and augmented police and security patrols. Because the program lacks any kind of accountability measures for its security teams which are known to over-police homeless people, members of the public opposed Portland’s decision to renew its contract with the organization in September. Yet City Council chose to keep the contract in place, arguing that the city’s downtown needs all the help it can get to keep tourism afloat and businesses open.