Alex Zielinski

In his first State of the City address in 2017, Mayor Ted Wheeler announced major new landlord regulations, suggested burying Interstate 5 underground, unveiled massive new infrastructure investments, and even proposed creating a public beach along the Willamette River downtown. In 2018, Wheeler's address featured a controversial call for an expanded police force and a blistering critique of the Trump administration.

This time around, however, Wheeler's annual oration didn't introduce any new policies or unveil any new programs.

Held in a stately corner of the Veteran's Memorial Coliseum, Wheeler's invite-only address felt more like a politician's stump speech than an update on the city's well-being. Wheeler used his hour to tout his personal values, point out past successes, and address community anxieties (he said the word "fear" five times, I counted).

"I believe that there is no problem that we cannot solve if we stick together, if we have each other’s backs, if we bring together the best of our collective courage and wisdom," Wheeler said. "I have a role to play in making Portland a city that can show the nation that we can be hopeful, that we can show results, and that we can thrive together, even in uncertain times."

"That’s what I believe," he continued. "And that’s why I’m here." (He could have easily tacked on an "and that's why I'm running for re-election" to the end of the pitch.)

Wheeler kicked off his speech with a personal anecdote that, in brief, explained how he nobly turned down a prosperous career as a Wall Street trader to enter politics after he met some homeless people.

He leaned heavily into the success of the Portland Housing Bureau, which has recently added 600 supportive housing units—specifically tailored to help people who've been homeless for a long time—to its arsenal, thanks to 2015 housing bond dollars.

"It's expensive, but it's a lot less expensive than letting individuals cycle through our shelters, jails, and hospitals," Wheeler said.

He noted that later this week, the bureau will open solicitation applications for $70 million in bond funding available for new affordable housing projects. Wheeler said these new funds, made possible by the passage of a recent ballot measure, are expected to create 600 new units of homes for low-income Portlanders.

Wheeler took a moment to praise the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) for its "difficult, thankless" work, nodding to the rows of officers in attendance.

"I know many of you... are largely supportive of our police, but there are still some who fear them," Wheeler said. "I understand that as well and that’s something I’m determined to change."

Wheeler said that as police commissioner, he's delivered on what the public's asked for.

"You asked for more police accountability. So we created the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing (PCCEP)," Wheeler said. "It’s where the bureau and community members sit at the same table to both engage with and hold the police bureau and me accountable for policy decisions."

He neglected to mention that the city was actually court ordered to create PCCEP to fulfill the city's settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice for police misconduct. Not creating PCCEP would have placed the city in contempt of court.

Wheeler also pointed to the achievements of last year's budget request: Expanding the PPB's behavioral health program and introducing a team of unarmed police officers.

He also hinted at a project tucked into this year's budget—which he's set to unveil Wednesday, May 1—that would allow for mental health experts and social workers to respond to non-violent 911 calls involving people experiencing homelessness (which sounds similar to Street Roots' detailed Street Response Plan). Wheeler didn't explicitly say what this budget item will be, but told reporters after the speech that it'll include funds to study the scope of such a program.

Before closing, Wheeler mentioned the significance of holding his speech at the Veteran's Memorial Coliseum.

"This building represents Portland’s storied past," said Wheeler. "Just through those doors, it’s where the Trailblazers won that incredible 1977 NBA championship. It’s where leaders like President Obama and the Dalai Lama spoke to thousands."

In perhaps the most uncomfortable oversight of the evening, Wheeler failed to mention that a decade before that Blazers win, the city displaced thousands of African Americans living in the historically Black neighborhood of Albina to build the coliseum.

"To me this building doesn’t only connect us to our past, but it reminds us of the opportunities that we will experience together in the future," he concluded.

After the address, Wheeler confirmed that he has "every intention" to run for re-election in 2020.

"I expect to run again," he said. "I don't think the city is well-served by a revolving door of mayors, because when a mayor leaves, priorities shift, leaderships shift, it's highly disruptive. I can't imagine simply turning on a dime and saying 'I'm done' after two years, that doesn't make any sense to me."