Skyrocketing Security Costs Are Result of Mayor Who Has Failed to Represent City

The Oregonian reported today that because of increased protests and disruptions, the cost of security at Portland City Hall has ballooned some 700% in the two years since Mayor Ted Wheeler took office. City Hall and the mayor continued to increase spending on security guards even after protests dropped off in number and frequency.

While the article mentions a number of reasons for the increase in security costs such as an increase in protests, the article fails to address the most basic and obvious questions around the increase in security and its cost:

1) Was the increase actually necessary? 2) Would there be a need for increased security at City Hall if our mayor was adequately and effectively representing the people of this city?

Except for a single alleged incident of a security guard being hit with a bullhorn, there has been nothing even resembling violence at Portland City Hall, except of course for the physical violence that gets meted out by the Portland Police.

The idea that an increase in protests at City Hall necessitates an increase in security follows from the erroneous, elitist, paternalistic, and frankly authoritarian assumption that people protesting the bad decisions and actions of elected political leaders are not only needlessly disruptive to good governance and the political process, but are also and worse some kind of impending and violent danger to those who work at City Hall.

In fact, such disruptions and grassroots engagement is vital to a vibrant and transparent democratic system, especially when elected officials and the institutions they oversee fail to adequately and effectively represent the will of the people. When elected officials faithfully express the will of the people through their governance, then protests are few and far between and those in power have no need for hyperbolic fears about their safety at work.

“the resulting spike in security costs at Portland City Hall is little more than an unnecessary and authoritarian overreaction by a floundering mayor who has failed to represent the people of this city.”

In the two years since his election, Mayor Wheeler has failed to represent the people of this city. He represents the police and Portland Business Alliance.

Remember when our mayor and police commissioner ran for office on a platform of police reform? While we have seen little to nothing of that, we have watched him oversee and continually make excuses for an alt-right police force that routinely, disproportionately, and violently attacks leftist protesters with lethal force.

Mayor wheeler has exacerbated the problem of houselessness in our city through by overseeing state-sanctioned attacks and invasions on tent communities. His approach in this area has been to ride the coattails and parrot the talking points and policy objectives of the Portland Business Alliance through an increase in brutal and traumatizing sweeps and property appropriations, as well as through the implementation of “Pedestrian Use Zones” and “Business Improvement Districts,” which are really not so thinly veiled sit-lie ordinances that have already been ruled unconstitutional here in Portland.

These are just two of the more glaring examples of our mayor’s failure to represent this city. But there is hope. The activist spirit and grassroots engagement here in Portland continues to grow in strength and organization despite the mayor and police bureau’s violent crackdown on protesters, and Wheeler’s failures were highlighted by the recent election of Jo Ann Hardesty, whose landslide election victory for a seat on Portland’s city council can in many ways be seen as a staunch rejection of Ted Wheeler’s tenure as mayor.

Incoming Commissioner Hardesty ran on a platform of real police reform because we’ve seen the utter lack of such work by our mayor since he took office. She ran on a platform of more sensible and compassionate solutions to houselessness that prioritize the dignity of human beings over the bank accounts of the Portland Business Alliance. She also ran on a platform of pulling Portland out of the Join Terrorism Task Force, a move that Mayor Wheeler has resoundingly and consistently opposed.

It seems fairly evident then that the increase in security and the resulting spike in security costs at Portland City Hall is little more than an unnecessary and authoritarian overreaction by a floundering mayor who has failed to represent the people of this city. It seems even more evident that the solution is new leadership and a new approach. Both of these have begun to manifest themselves through the election of Jo Ann Hardesty, and through the campaign of Teressa Raiford, who is running for Portland mayor in 2020 on a platform of community engagement and collective leadership.

Justin Norton-Kertson is a labor-community organizer and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

(they/he/she) is a genderfluid anarchist author, editor, publisher, musician & organizer living in rural Oregon with their partner, cats, puppy, goats, & bees.