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Ted Wheeler to run for Portland mayor

UPDATE: Wheeler says City Hall "not for sale" if he's elected mayor

State Treasurer ted Wheeler is set to announce a run against Mayor Charlie Hales on Wednesday.State Treasurer Ted Wheeler came out swinging when he announced for Portland mayor Wednesday morning, accusing incumbent Charlie Hales of making empty promises, not properly shepherding public resources, and putting City Hall up to the highest bidder.

"When I'm mayor of Portland, Portland City Hall will not be for sale," Wheeler told dozens of supporters gathered on the roof of Revolution Hall, the new name of the former Washington High School in Southeast Portland.

Although Wheeler insisted he is not running against Hales and likes him personally, his comments painted a picture of an administration that is failing the most vulnerable Portlanders and not helping middle class residents who are struggling with rising housing costs, deteriorating streets, and schools that need improvement.

"I'm running for mayor because I know we can do better," Wheeler said.

And Wheeler took a not-so-veiled shot at Hales for his unannounced Dec. 13 meeting with Uber lobbyists at the home of political consultant Mark Wiener, who subsequently went to work for the ride-hailing company.

"And you can't say you are accountable as a accountable leader when too much of the city's business is being conducted behind closed doors, in secret, accessible only to the well-connected and highly paid corporate lobbyists," Wheeler said.

Hales issued the following statement in response to the announcement:

"I welcome Ted Wheeler to the race, and a discussion of the record. In just 3 ½ years we’ve taken the city budget from a record $21 million budget hole to being $49 million in the black. We’ve invested the money in transportation, affordable housing, parks and youth. Unemployment is down to 4.8 percent and Forbes magazine just named Portland one of the best cities in America for business and career opportunity. Most importantly, we’ve done this while staying true to Portland’s values, doing our part to fight climate change and strengthening the relationship between police and the community. There is a lot more work to do, but this is a record that all of us can be proud of. I’m looking forward to the campaign."

Zeroing in on the failed effort by Hales and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick, Wheeler said Hales needs to apologize to Portlanders for trying to push a street fee through the City Council without a vote of the people as the first step to regaining public trust. Wheeler said his first choice for a new revenue source for streets is a gas tax, although he would not formally propose it without involving the public in the decision and would insist it go on the ballot for approval.

"Gas price are falling, people understand how a gas tax works, so that's probably where I'd start, but not without rebuilding public trust," said Wheeler.

Wheeler said he was also open to increasing the percent of urban renewal funds spent on affordable housing, a proposal recommended by the Portland Housing Council. The council has recommended increasing the amount from the current 30 percent level to 50 percent, an idea the council is scheduled to take up. Wheeler did not commit to the 50 percent goal, but said the concept was a good idea.

Several people spoke in support of Wheeler at the event, including state Rep. Lew Frederick, Neighborhood House Executive Director Richard Nitti, and Mother's Bistro chef-owner Lisa Schroder, and former Morrision Family Childs Services President and CEO Jay Bloom. Wheeler's campaign staff also handed out a press kit with a list of endorsers, including Harsch Investment Properties President Jordan Schnitzer, Black Parent Initiative founder Charles McGee, Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill, current and former members of the Multnomash County Commission.

Some of Wheeler's criticisms were puzzling because Hales has unveiled a number of initiatives to help the homeless and increase affordable housing in recent months. They include an approximately $1 million partnership with social service providers to move 80 homeless people into housing, an initiative with Multnomah County to house all homeless veterans, and a $20 million affordable housing commitment in North and Northeast Portland.

But in his remarks, Wheeler declared himself to be a progressive politician who wants to lead a progressive city that is falling short of its ideals.

"I'm running for mayor because I don't believe we can be a progressive city unless we're making real progress for the people who need our help the most," Wheeler said.

The race is likely to be hotly contested. Hales already raised over $109,000 so far this year, much of the money from prominent developers. Wheeler is independently wealthy and can underwrite much of his campaign.

"I know this will be a fight. But my fight isn't with Charlie Hales. My fight is with the problems he failed to addressed," Wheeler said.

Wheeler's announcement set up a 2016 Primary Election race between two Portlanders with years of local and elected experience.

Wheeler is a successful businessman who was involved in homeless issues before being elected Multnomah County Chair in 2006. He was appointed State Treasurer on March 11, 2010, to fill the unexpired term of Ben Westlund, who died in office. Wheeler was elected to the remainder of the term on Nov. 2, 2010, then elected to a full four-year term in 2012. He cannot run for the office again because of term limits in the Oregon Constitution.

Hales was vice president for the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland before serving on the City Council from 1993 to 2002. Among other things, he oversaw the Bureau of Planning during a comprehensive zoning review and became an outspoken and effective mass transit advocate. Hales resigned to work for HDR, Inc., an engineering firm, where he managed the planning of new streetcar lines in cities. He ran for Portland mayor in 2012, defeating progressive activist Jefferson Smith in the General Election.

Business, labor and environmental organizations have yet to endorse in the race. For example, the Portland Business Alliance has a formal endorsement process that includes interviews by its board of directors that is not scheduled to begin until January, according to communications director Valerie Cunningham.

"It's healthy to have a good, competitive race in an office as important as Portland mayor," says Cunningham.