Look, you don’t need us to tell you what 2017 was. We’re not even sure we could muster the words to sum it up. Past being prologue, though, the Mercury is honor-bound to offer up this, our annual rundown of the notable things Portland struggled (and sometimes rejoiced) through over the last year. Savor this opportunity to reflect, Portland, and resolve to improve in 2018.
A FROZEN, RUTTED HELLSCAPE
Mayor Ted Wheeler could hardly have gotten a rougher welcome to his new job. In January, a serious winter storm took hold of the region and would not let up. Iced-over roads remained barely passable for a week or more, prompting soul-searching about how the city prepares for snow and ice. More troubling, at least four Portlanders died of exposure in the frigid temps—deaths that shocked the city’s conscience. “I have been deeply humbled by my first 2.5 weeks in office,” Wheeler said on January 17. The remaining 49 haven’t been much easier.
CITY HALL DEVOLVES INTO CHAOS
Whether because of precedents set by former Mayor Charlie Hales, his own ham-handedness, or just rotten luck, Wheeler oversaw a period of sustained, perhaps unheard-of tumult during Portland City Council meetings early this year. Again and again, demonstrators brashly disrupted meetings, screaming vulgarities, sending frustrated councilmembers back to their offices, and in one memorable Kendall Jenner send-up, rushing the council dais to hand Wheeler a Pepsi. It got bad enough that Commissioner Nick Fish briefly refused to let his staff attend the meetings until Wheeler got things under control. The mayor wound up pushing through a policy allowing the exclusion of disruptive attendees (its legality is still in question), and has ushered forth an era of unprecedented security measures in City Hall. Guests now have their bags checked, and the mayor refuses to open up the balcony in council chambers.
THE WOMEN’S MARCH KILLED IT
The day after Donald Trump was sworn in, millions of women and their allies took to the streets around the globe to protest the self-admitted groper and advocate women’s rights, reproductive rights, gender equality, and other issues that seemed to be at odds with the new administration. After early hiccups in the planning phase for the Portland march, the rally was significantly larger than anyone expected, with an estimated 100,000 people showing up in rainy and near-freezing weather. The passionate crowd first packed shoulder-to-shoulder on the waterfront for speeches and music before marching around downtown. There were great signs, lots of dancing, good spirits, and so many pussy hats.
PORTLAND STEPS UP FOR RENTERS
Activists’ dreams for rent control policies in Portland died in Salem this year, amid fuckery in the state Senate. Their cries were more successful in front of Portland City Council. In February, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly ushered forth the strongest renter protections the city’s ever seen—a law that requires landlords to pay tenants relocation expenses when they issue no cause evictions, or when a rent increase of 10 percent of more spurs a renter to move out. Landlords hate this, of course, and are challenging it in court. Meanwhile, the city is preparing to make the policy permanent.
R2DTOO GETS A NEW HOME
This was a close one! In April, well-liked homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too was slated to be evicted from its longtime home at the base of the Chinatown gate, and it seemed Wheeler’s office was fine with letting that happen. The mayor, after all, had stymied an earlier proposal to move the camp to a parking lot on Southwest Naito. Then everything changed. City and county officials came upon a city-owned lot they’d never seen in all their years searching for a new home for R2DToo, and in an expert bit of juggling, Wheeler’s office was able to get the camp moved just west of the Moda Center.
PACKY IS PUT DOWN
On top of all the other misery 2017 heaped onto us, Oregon had to say goodbye to its favorite elephant. In February, the Oregon Zoo announced it had euthanized Packy, its famous 54-year-old bull elephant. The oldest male of his species in North America, Packy had been battling recurrent tuberculosis, though some zookeepers felt the mercy killing was premature. In the saddest detail of the affair, someone went to Fred Meyer to buy Packy a raspberry cake to enjoy before he was put down.
PORTLAND GETS GREYBALLED
Things almost quieted down. After Uber infuriated city officials in late 2014 by launching here without permission, the company was becoming part of the landscape, grudgingly accepted by even the most skeptical city officials. Then in March the New York Times broke the news about “Greyball,” the secretive tool Uber had used to foil Portland regulators in those early, illegal days. Elected leaders conducted an investigation that didn’t turn up much of interest, but the damage was done. Today, Uber’s critics in City Hall are renewing calls for a crackdown.
CRYPTO CREEPS IN
The city has long preened itself on its sense of water superiority. That sheen has faded considerably these days. Beginning early this year, the city began regularly detecting the potentially problematic parasite Cryptosporidium in its water samples. The frequency of those detections upended a long accord we’d reached with the federal government, and will now result in the city building a massive filtration plant at a cost of up to $500 million.
SALTZMAN HANGS IT UP
In August, Commissioner Dan Saltzman’s office guaranteed reporters with “110 percent” certitude that Portland’s longest-serving current commissioner would pursue re-election. By September, Saltzman proved them wrong. Facing what might have proved his hardest political challenge to date—thanks to competition from former state representative Jo Ann Hardesty and the anti-establishment gale rushing through the city—Saltzman is calling it a day. Come December 2018, he’ll end nearly a quarter-century of public service. The commissioner’s announcement has set off a heated race to fill his chair, with County Commissioner Loretta Smith, mayoral aide Andrea Valerrama, and neighborhood rep Felicia Williams all planning to run against Hardesty for the seat. (A brief, mangled attempt by former OPB employee Spencer Raymond to mount a campaign has been scuttled.)
RETIREE TROLLS UNDER ARMOUR
Kirk Kennedy should be in the running on any “Oregonians of the Year” list. In July, the Portland Bureau of Transportation employee capped off 32 years with the city with a bold final salvo: He burned a plastic Nike swoosh into the roadway in front of Under Armour’s new outpost in Southwest Portland. Then he rode off into the sunset. Unfortunately for Kennedy, the city wasn’t too happy with this show of hometown favoritism. City attorneys sent Kennedy a $266.16 invoice for the prank. He paid happily, the city says. Happy retirement, Kirk!
ALL THE PROTESTS
Portland’s wild protests after the presidential election were just a warm-up for 2017. Stand-offs between armor-clad police officers and left-wing protesters became commonplace in the first half of the year, and clashes between right- and left-wing groups ramped up in the second. Shit got especially heated on Inauguration Day (that tear gas was no joke), as well as President’s Day, May Day, and on June 4. Cops got lots of practice with flash-bang grenades, and Washington-based “Patriot Prayer” emerged in 2017 to troll Portland liberals with dumb rallies. Dumb yelling and dumb fistfights ensued.
POLICE SHOT PEOPLE
Portland police officers shot five people in 2017. Two of them—17-year-old Quanice Hayes and 24-year-old Terrell Johnson—were killed. Hayes, shot on the same February day that police shot an apparently suicidal man named Don Perkins, was described by the police as an armed robbery suspect. The teen’s death set off protests around town, with activists and family members suspicious of police rationale for the shooting. Johnson, who was homeless at the time of his death, had gotten into an altercation on a MAX platform in May, and was shot by a transit cop after a foot chase.
ICE AGENTS ARE TERRIBLE
Agents for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are huge assholes whose tendencies have been emboldened by an asshole president. Under Trump, Portland-area ICE agents have been staking out local courtrooms, entering homes without warrants, hounding brown people for identification, and snatching up people who’ve lived here for nearly their entire lives to send them to countries they’ve never known. There were plenty of deportations under Obama, but ICE under Trump has been particularly aggressive and cruel.
TRAGEDY ON THE GREEN LINE
In one of the most heartbreaking days in Portland’s recent history, a known white supremacist with a knife killed two people and nearly killed a third on a MAX train in May. Jeremy Christian, 35, slashed the three men after they stood up to him for harassing two young women of color. Ricky Best, a 53-year-old Army veteran, and 23-year-old Reed College graduate Taliesin Namkai-Meche died on the train, while Micah Fletcher, 21, survived. Christian was recorded by the Mercury giving Nazi salutes and yelling racial slurs during a rally a month earlier. His murder trial is scheduled for 2019.
COUNTY REPUBLICANS LOVE MILITIAS
What can go wrong when political parties team up with heavily armed anti-government militia groups? The Multnomah County Republican Party wanted to find out. In June, the conservative group voted to formally pair up with the Oregon Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers to run security at rallies and events. It was necessary, MCRP chairman James Buchal told us, because of “unhinged people screaming at (them), in one case shoving them, and in other case spitting at them. They don’t feel like it’s a safe environment anymore.”
OREGON CAUGHT FIRE
Those damn teens. The Portland region looked like a post-apocalyptic hellhole for too long this summer, after a 15-year-old kid and his friends allegedly chucked a smoke bomb in the ultra-parched Columbia River Gorge. Nearly 50,000 acres burned. People east of Portland had to evacuate their homes. Ash rained down from the sky, turning bright afternoons dusky and polluted. The unnamed teen who apparently started the fire, a Vancouver resident, faces juvenile misdemeanor charges in Hood River County.
CHLOE EUDALY TOOK TO THE ’BOOK
Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly got some heat this fall for posts on her personal Facebook account. The city’s newest commissioner used the site in November to trash Oregonian staffer Jessica Floum, calling the City Hall reporter “not sharp enough” to do the job and saying the O was “irrelevant.” The resulting dust-up forced the city to examine its social media policies.
THE PBA HATES BIKE COMMUTERS
The Portland Business Alliance can’t stand giving up its precious car space. That became clear when the city’s “Better Naito” project once again reserved one of Naito Parkway’s four lanes this summer for cyclists and pedestrians. In June, the PBA whined about car congestion and spearheaded an email campaign to convince people to complain to Portland City Council (“Have you been stuck in downtown gridlock lately? Take action now.”). It didn’t work. “BTW, that email alert has generated 10-1 emails in support” of Better Naito, Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman tweeted.