Portland Sees One Ted Wheeler. The World Sees Another.

Tangling with Trump brings Wheeler a wave of favorable national press.

By Julia Silverman August 31, 2020

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler speaking with protesters on July 22.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler—who turns 58 today—is getting quite a birthday present from the national, and even international media. 

At home, Wheeler is under searing and competing pressures. On one side, he’s getting an earful from downtown business interests, who fervently want him to end the nightly tug of war between protesters and police. On the other are local activists who are furious that the city under Wheeler has not taken more proactive and progressive steps toward police reform.

He’s also facing calls to resign, to turn over control of the police bureau of which he is the police commissioner, pushback from the local police union, and, as if all that weren’t enough, a potentially tough reelection campaign against challenger Sarah Iannarone. At an introspective press conference last week, Wheeler admitted he had been overwhelmed with the multitudes of fires that have sprung up around the city in the past six months, leaving him “trying to do too much,” and unable to focus on key priorities. 

Then came the tweetstorm. After this weekend’s fatal shooting downtown of a far-right counterprotester who had come to the city as part of a caravan of Trump supporters armed with mace, pepper spray, and paintball guns, Wheeler found himself on the receiving end of a fusillade of furious tweets from President Donald J. Trump.

Wheeler went on the attack, blaming Trump for “demonizing this city, and encouraging vigilantism in service to white supremacy and his own fragile ego,” at a Sunday press conference that included reporters from the New York Times and CNN. 

To the national media, Wheeler’s back-and-forth with Trump, arguably more real-time and robust than any exchanges Trump has had with his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, is the story, as opposed to the nightly protests and the response from local and state law enforcement. That’s given Wheeler some of the best press he’s had in months.

Will the image of Wheeler as Trump-slayer stick through the November election and resonate with Portland voters? Ask us again in 64 days.  

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