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Mayor Ted Wheeler talks Portland's recent past and near future in press briefing

The day after announcing in writing that he will not run for a third term, the public heard directly from Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.

PORTLAND, Oregon — At a news conference on Thursday at Portland City Hall, Mayor Ted Wheeler said it aloud for Portland to hear: he will not run for a third term.

The day after announcing in writing that he would not run again for the mayor's spot, the public heard directly from Ted Wheeler. He took the opportunity to tout his accomplishments over the last seven years and laid out his priorities for the rest of the current term.

But first, Wheeler acknowledged the multiple crises that have risen to prominence over the past several years, acknowledging that they are not over. He also said he thinks his office has set up a positive path forward.

“That being said, there's a tremendous amount of work that needs to get done over the next year and a quarter," Wheeler said. "I did not see any scenario where I could successfully move this work forward while at the same time seeking reelection."

Wheeler touched on the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest that began in 2020, paralyzing the city core, then the surge in unsheltered homelessness and the drug use epidemic that still affects thousands of individuals and entire neighborhoods.

But the mayor also highlighted progress on those fronts, citing the seven Safe Rest Villages now open and the first larger mass shelter site that can help up to 200, now with 137 people staying there.

“And it remains my goal to eliminate unsanctioned camping all across the city of Portland,” said Wheeler, who also discussed efforts to bring business back to downtown, with help from tax breaks and other incentives.

RELATED: City council greenlights tax breaks for businesses willing to rent in Portland's central city

Wheeler also addressed neighborhood livability. The mayor said the Public Environment Management Office, created in May of 2022, is responsible for picking up more than a million pounds of trash a month, adding $2 million worth of crime-lowering lighting, and removing 245,000 square feet of graffiti, the area of five football fields.

“I can clearly state that in its short life, PEMO has become one of the most popular new city programs in years,” he said. 

The mayor also talked about the coming transformation of Portland city government, something he called a historic and massive task, requiring three major things within the next year.

“The first is reorganizing the entire management structure of our city bureaus under a city administrator,” said Wheeler.

The other two major tasks: developing a ranked choice voting system to elect an expanded city council by district and renovating city hall to accommodate them.

All of this, he said, will take his full attention — as a mayor who has heard the criticism from plenty of Portlanders.

“Just serving in public office right now is humbling," Wheeler said. "It's not for the faint of heart — people have strong opinions, we're divided as a nation, we're divided oftentimes as a community, and ask 10 different people the best way to address the homeless crisis and you'll get 10 different answers.”

Yet Wheeler believes the city is heading in the right direction, but with a long way to go.

“My team and I feel very confident that the path that we're on, the programs we have launched, the strategies that we are pursuing, the programs we are funding are the right ones to rise up to meet the challenges of this city today,” said the mayor.

Wheeler expects new ideas will come out in the race for Portland’s next mayoral leader, but he said he hopes whoever replaces him sees the value in what has already been put in place in the effort to bring Portland back.

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