THE INTRIGUE burned white-hot on Twitter Monday night, warming us all in the cozy glow of potential scandal.
The Guardian had just released a report about the ongoing saga of Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle’s threats to pull out of downtown Portland, and the ensuing response—in the form of police patrols and “no-sit zones”—from Mayor Ted Wheeler.
The piece, written by Mercury contributor Thacher Schmid, contained a juicy morsel: Boyle, the paper reported, had suggested that he’d penned an op-ed in the Oregonian at Wheeler’s request.
The Machiavellian possibilities were tantalizing. The Mayor of Portland asking a high-profile businessman to threaten to leave downtown in a callous bid to strong-arm the public into supporting an increased police presence? Devious. Terrible.
And almost certainly not true. As I joined others on Twitter in scrutinizing what Boyle had actually said in a recent interview with OPB, there was an unmistakable ambiguity. Sure, the CEO explained that Wheeler was prioritizing more cops, and that he had told the mayor he’d help with that (Wheeler got council approval to “over-hire” officers in preparation for coming vacancies last month). But Boyle never said outright that Wheeler had asked for the op-ed.
In an indignant email sent to the Guardian on Tuesday, Wheeler’s Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Cox flatly denied that the mayor had, and demanded a retraction to the claim. The paper updated its story to better reflect the matter. But the Columbia situation is still intriguing—for reasons entirely unrelated to the disputed story.
As the Mercury has been reporting, Wheeler recently prohibited sitting outside of the downtown Columbia Store and other buildings by using a loophole of sorts in the city’s transportation laws governing sidewalks.
That move came shortly after Boyle voiced concerns about downtown activity, and it seemed logical to conclude that Wheeler was reacting only to the CEO’s gripes. That is, until Wheeler’s office said differently.
Last week, in the face of questions, a Wheeler aide named Seraphie Allen suggested that the mayor’s new sidewalk changes were part of a larger strategy that has been shaping up for much of his term to date.
“The sidewalk management plan is something that we’ve been working on and looking at for a long time,” Allen told the coordinating board for A Home for Everyone, a task force working to eliminate homelessness in Multnomah County. “We view this as another tool—as a way to help business with continuing traffic in certain areas.”
Allen had been working on the policy “since March,” she said, adding that the mayor’s office has been looking at expanding the sidewalk management laws.
What expansion might be in the works, and what had prompted this long look into the city’s controversial sidewalk policies? Days after we posed the questions to Wheeler’s staff, we were finally told by email that the mayor’s office is still ironing out the specifics.
What is clear, though, is that when Tim Boyle complained, the Mayor’s office was ready to help—and that it appears to be prepared to help with other, similar complaints in the future.