A LITTLE MORE than a year into his four-year term, Mayor Ted Wheeler is already in fundraising mode.
The cash began trickling in last October: a couple hundred bucks from the head of the Portland Business Alliance; thousands from Oregon electricians.
It picked up last month, with thousands of dollars in donations from property managers and developers landing in Wheeler’s campaign account. So far, this year, the mayor has raised at least $7,250, according to disclosures his political action committee filed with the state.
He seemed poised to rake in thousands more on Tuesday night, at a reception hosted by prominent Portland property managers and developers at the Central Eastside’s Produce Row Café. Suggested contributions for the event: $2,500 to be listed as a “co-host,” $1,000 to be put down as a “sponsor,” and $250 to qualify as a mere “guest.”
This is early for Wheeler, who won’t stand for re-election until 2020 (that is, if he decides to buck the precedent of his three most recent predecessors, all of whom declined to run for a second term). Former Mayor Charlie Hales, for comparison, raised only $506.02 in his entire second year in office.
The conventional wisdom is that this sort of money sends a message: The mayor has firepower to mount a massive campaign, and would-be challengers should think twice. Teressa Raiford, a leader of the group Don't Shoot Portland, has plans to run against Wheeler in 2020.
“While he is relatively popular in these first two years, it is time to begin to build a campaign war chest for the next race,” said Pacific University politics professor Jim Moore when I asked what he made of Wheeler’s fund-raising spree. “It sends a message that he is looking to the future, and it sends a message to potential opponents.”
But the timing struck me for another reason. Portlanders can (and do) debate Wheeler’s popularity in the city, but what’s not up for debate is the fact the mayor is accepting cash from developers as he pushes policies they almost certainly appreciate.
As Portland struggles to address a housing shortage, the mayor is beating the drum for denser development downtown, and in the fast-growing commercial pockets that dot the eastside. As we reported last week, the mayor is also planning to offer more incentives to developers in order to jumpstart apartment construction.
To be clear, developers are a mainstay of pretty much every mayor’s campaign. They’ve given to Wheeler in the past, and they’re giving to him now. It’s not new. It is early.
But there’s also this: Wheeler’s clearly looking at the possibility he’ll be yet another single-term Portland mayor.
Last weekend, he appeared with the mayors of Seattle and Vancouver, BC, at a Seattle conference to discuss the cities of Cascadia. At the event, Wheeler sketched out his plan for Portland’s growth, and acknowledged it might not prove popular.
“That may be the new reality: In order to do the right thing and provide the right kind of long-term view for the city, it may mean that you’re only in politics for a little while,” Wheeler said. “And I made a decision that that’s okay with me. I’m totally okay with that.”
His campaign account suggests otherwise.