In his own words: Portland mayoral candidate Ted Wheeler on questions that matter to working people

Ted Wheeler, at a Jan. 7, 2016, meeting for apartment investors.
Ted Wheeler, at a Jan. 7, 2016, meeting for apartment investors.

By Don McIntosh, associate editor

On Dec. 9, Ted Wheeler campaign communications director Annie Ellison reached out to the Northwest Labor Press to offer a chance to interview the candidate. We arranged for the interview to take place Jan. 6, in-person. Citing tight schedules, the campaign opted for a telephone interview instead, and said it would make Wheeler available to me for 30 minutes. We ended up talking for 48 minutes, after which the campaign provided responses to a few more questions we didn’t have time for. Topics included the Minimum wageJobs, trade agreements, relations with the City’s own workers, Uber, the affordable housing crisis, and the proposed gas tax.

 

DON McINTOSH: So why are you running for mayor?

TED WHEELER: I am running for mayor because I believe Portland is a great city. I was born and raised here. I’m a product of the public school system. My wife Katrina and I have chosen to raise our young daughter here. And we love this community. But that being said we’d have to be naïve if we didn’t acknowledge that the City of Portland is facing some very serious challenges. We are in the midst of a homelessness emergency. We are experiencing a housing affordability crisis. We’re now six years into an economic recovery and many Portlanders are not participating in that recovery, and in fact more and more report that they’re falling farther behind. And even when it comes to the basics like delivering services to East Portland or investing in road and other infrastructure, the city is struggling to find the right path. People have told me that they want and expect a mayor who is experienced, who has a reputation for getting things done for solving problems and bringing the community along to address our collective problems, and I believe given my experience and my demonstrated record of achievement I’m the best person to do the job.

 

Our readership is about 50,000 union numbers in a variety of industries. I’ve pretty thoroughly canvassed some of the leading lobbyists and labor leaders about their issues at the city and with the mayor’s race, so I have a bit of a laundry list and I’ll just jump in for whatever short takes you have about them. One of the big issues is the low-wage economy. Do you think the state legislature should take off the preemption for local jurisdictions to raise the minimum-wage?

Absolutely. I support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Portland and working with our local employers and employees to implement that in the way that makes the most sense. If the legislature acts and sets it at a lower level statewide, Portland must be allowed to set our own higher minimum wage. I would also just like to point out that I strongly believe we need to look beyond making minimum-wage jobs pay better, and help workers to enter family-sustaining middle-class jobs. We have a lot of very good jobs simply going unfilled, jobs in the construction trades, electricians, manufacturing, healthcare, and if I’m elected mayor I’d like to work with schools, community colleges, the private sector, and unions to talk about how we create more pathways to job-training and education so more people are qualified for those higher-skilled higher-wage jobs.

 

About a third of our readers are in the building trades, and a lot of their work is a large-scale projects. But they’re seeing city leaders have tended to oppose a number of these projects for environmental reasons. I’d like to run down the list and maybe you could say a few words about each. Where would you be on the Pembina propane export terminal?

With regard to Pembina, I was obviously critical of the mayor [Charlie Hales] and his handling of that particular issue. I consistently said that we needed to have a consistent message coming out of City Hall when it comes the types of businesses we want to grow and attract to the metro area. When the mayor rolls out the welcome mat and then rolls it back, it gives businesses of all stripes – whether fossil fuel, green, or otherwise – a message that they can’t count on the word of the city. And to me, that’s not acceptable.

 

So would you rather have seen him stick to the welcome, or or stay critical of it from the get-go?

Well, truthfully, the ship has sailed on Pembina, and I don’t think my revisiting the issue is in any way  productive. I don’t think my candidacy will be about what the city won’t do. My candidacy is going to be about the economic opportunities that lie ahead when I am there, and I want to be specific about this. We have, in my opinion, tremendous opportunities in innovation and technology and healthcare. We have an opportunity to leverage the significant investment that is being made at the Knight Cancer Institute at OHSU. I believe we should be a global leader on green tech R&D and infrastructure and manufacturing, and we should obviously be the global leader of the new energy infrastructure. These are just some of the areas where we can lead. And since you started with infrastructure, I’ll hold my infrastructure record up to any other elected leader in the state of Oregon.

 

What was your position on the CRC [Columbia River Crossing, the proposed replacement bridge for I-5 over the Columbia River]?

I supported the project, but my job was to evaluate the financial underpinnings of the project. As you’re probably aware, I raised a number of concerns about the financial assumptions underlying the financial plan that was provided by WashDOT and ODOT, to be clear about what information the treasury would need to be able to support or agree with the potential underpinnings of the project. And the project never got far enough along that those questions were fully addressed.

 

My recollection is that the expectations on toll revenue weren’t going to be sufficient based on the expected cost of the project. Was that the crux of it?

That’s correct, and there were a number of underlying assumptions that just didn’t hold water. My attitude was if we’re going to build this project, and of course it would’ve been the largest infrastructure project in the history of the state, we should build it correctly. And from my perspective as the treasurer, that meant making sure that the financial assumptions underlying the financial plan made sense. And to be perfectly blunt, they didn’t make sense, and most people agreed with me once they saw the analysis.

 

There was just a few months ago a 5-0 vote on a fossil fuel infrastructure ban. What would you have voted?

I would have supported it. I think it was consistent with the community’s values. I think it sends an important symbolic message. It also, I think, raised a very important issue: There clearly is not a close enough relationship between labor, business, educational institutions, the Port of Portland and other governments in this region to devise a strategy to create jobs that people will support. And it’s disappointing to me that it seems like we’re shooting down one business after another without ever articulating, what are our advantages and where do we have the opportunity to grow. And how to coalesce business, government, to gain real traction. I outlined a couple of the areas where I think we have a competitive advantage, but I also want to revisit my record. There are few elected officials in this state who have as deep a record around infrastructure as I do. I got the Sellwood Bridge project moving along, with others. It had been stalled since the early 1960s. Similarly, the East County Courthouse had been looked at by 23 different task forces over three decades. I got that project done. I built the coalition to develop a mental health crisis and assement treatment center in downtown Portland. We’ve got to find ways to get to yes, and we got to agree that there are certain areas where our community can get things done and there are certain areas of our economy that we should all be rolling in the same direction rather than fighting with each other or having disagreements over particular businesses. We’ve got to come together around a unified plan and if I’m elected mayor I’m going to bring labor and business and the Port together and we’re going to hammer out a clear strategy to talk about where we’re in agreement and where we’re going to go from here to create good middle-class family-sustaining jobs.

 

So speaking of the Port, then, did you think that West Hayden Island should’ve been  developed as industrial land as the Port has proposed?

You know, I think there is an opportunity for a compromise there. It was disappointing. There is a compromise to be had around restoring some of the habitat of West Hayden Island and preserving, for potential future deep-port development, other parts of the island. And I met recently with a group of people that I would describe as being very committed environmentalists, and they agreed with me that if people come back to the table, there is an opportunity for a compromise here that could achieve many of the environmental goals along with many of the other future seaport opportunities for the Port of Portland.

 

Is that something you would seek to revisit?

Yeah, I would. I don’t feel like the process ever reached a clear resolution. Do you?

 

My recollection is the mayor managed to piss off the port commission and it was dropped, but I didn’t cover it closely.

From my perspective there was opportunities missed on both sides. Portland missed an opportunity to see critical salmon habitat restored, and the Port of Portland missed an opportunity to secure a potential future development opportunity. I hate to sound like the Monday-morning quarterback, because I know a lot of people have worked really hard on this, but we haven’t done it yet, and I think we need to encourage people to come back to the table and strike a compromise. And based on the conversations I’ve had with people both at the Port level as well as people in the environmental community, I believe there is a compromise to be struck that moves the ball forward in terms of habitat protection and future economic opportunity.

 

What’s your position on the NAFTA-style trade agreements like the proposed Trans-Pacific partnership?

Well first of all, just be clear so that no congressman or woman thinks I’m treading on their territory, I clearly don’t get a vote on that.

 

I’m aware, but we have a city commissioner who became a congressman [Earl Blumenauer] and a state senator [Suzanne Bonamici] and a state rep [Kurt Schrader]. Who knows where you may end up some day? It’s an important issue to labor.

Fair enough. So here’s how I would position myself on TPP. I believe that given a level playing field with fair wages and work conditions American workers can compete with anybody in the world. So I would argue that any new trade agreement must include the following protections for American workers. I have four criteria by which I would judge the TPP if I were a congressman, which I most certainly am not. Number 1: it would have to ensure a level playing field between American workers and those of foreign nations. Number 2: It would have to protect the right of workers and uphold universal fair labor practices. Number 3: The same environmental standards would have to be upheld overseas as we have here in the United States. And fourth, and very importantly to me, the agreement must have clear enforceability so that American workers aren’t left holding the bag for foreign profit.

 

I think Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden would agree with what you just said, but Wyden is likely to vote for TPP and Merkley will almost certainly vote against it.

Well, they sit in the committees and they hear the testimony. I don’t. But those are my four clear criteria as a distant observer. I suppose every elected official has their own standard to what constitutes meeting the criteria, but for me, those are my four criteria.

 

Going back, are there any of the NAFTA-style trade agreements that you disagree with or think were a mistake?

You know, I have not reviewed all the nation’s trade agreement, and I’m not dodging your question, but honestly as a state treasurer I have my own litany of issues that I’m sure that Congressmen would know nothing about.

If we could move on, I’ll try to summarize this as briefly as I can. For the unions that represent city workers this race is very very important. They have experienced what I would characterize as a fairly contentious relationship with the City. And oddly enough, not with the electeds, with whom they mostly have pretty good relationships, but with HR and legal. And so what’s  happening again and again is every few years they’re getting into a contract dispute where it comes down to the wire, and there’s a strike vote and acrimony before that’s settled. They’ve also got a fairly litigious posture that they’ve seen by the City in which they’re having grievances that go to arbitration. And the city loses, again and again. And I’ve read these arbitrators’ decisions and they’re not kind to the city. The city is breaking the contract. I don’t know how familiar you are with all of that, but would you do anything different?

Yes I would. I would do what I did at Multnomah County. Number one: There should not be as many grievances filed as there are, and there should not be as many that get to the “unfair labor practice” level. And bargaining should not repeatedly take the city and its employees right up to the door of arbitration. Not only is it damaging to morale and unproductive, it’s extremely expensive. So if I were elected mayor, I would have the same policies in place that I did when I was the chair of Multnomah County. I had an open door policy. Every bargaining unit leader had my personal cell number and they were encouraged to use it anytime they wanted for any purpose that they wanted. If somebody had a complaint or a problem they were encouraged to visit me ASAP and I would prioritize those meetings and agree to meet with people readily. And HR should be reporting directly to the mayor. It’s a very important function. It should not be shoved down the organization. I think it discredits the value and importance of a robust and healthy HR function. And Labor Relations should be, if not reporting to the mayor, at least communicative on a regular basis with the mayor. When I was the chair of Multnomah County I had direct supervision of HR and labor relations, and it made for a much tighter circle of communication and allowed us to develop more authentic relationships. We didn’t always agree on everything. But I was very proud of how quickly we could stamp out disagreement just through relying on better communication and more direct coordination of what was going on in labor relations and HR generally. And I’d like to see the same thing happen at the City of Portland. As mayor I will take a much more active role in the management of HR and labor relations.

 

There’s a couple of related issues. There’s something AFSCME has made an issue of in particular. It’s called expedited bargaining. They’re complaining that there’s bad faith going on: A deal is reached, a contract is reached, and six months or a year later management is bringing up new issues, and because of the way PECBA [the state’s Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act]  is written, the end up being able to implement [their terms without union or worker consent.] That feels like bad faith. They’re trying to change it at the state legislature, but the city lobbyist is opposing it. Do you have a different stance?

I’ve obviously had no first-hand experience at this, but what I’ve heard through the grapevine is the city is endeavoring to change worker benefits outside of the bargaining process. And not knowing all the details, I would argue that it’s a symptom of the larger problem of broken trust between city government and unions that represent its workers. So I would go back and say we need to be able to have a dialogue and resolve problems before it goes to arbitration or a court proceeding. And again, I thought we did a great job of this when I was the chair of Multnomah County.

 

The union folks I talked to agree with that very much and give you credit. The county used to have a contentious relationship as well under Diane Linn, but it has been pretty smooth since you came in, and subsequently.

It’s not rocket science. You treat other people how you’d like to be treated yourself. And don’t put up roadblocks, and you communicate. I can’t tell you how many potential grievances were headed off just by having a unit president storm into my office and get right in my face and be really upset about something, and I’d go, “Man, I didn’t even know that was happening. Let’s talk it through.” And we would talk it through and resolve it, and that would be the end of it — no legal teams involved, no lengthy bargaining over it. A lot of stuff can just be resolved through commonsense discussion.

 

Before we leave the city unions, do you want to say anything about the tendency to use contingent workers in Parks and Rec? Or generally about contracting out?

Yeah, so first of all, with regard to contingent workers, I support the right to organize for all workers, and I’m going to continue to constructively bargain with every recognized bargaining unit within the city. I support the $15-an-hour minimum wage for all the regular workers. I have said, and I’m going to stick to my knitting on this until I’m engaged more fully as mayor: I want to see the budget trade-offs before I guarantee truly part-time work at the $15-an-hour wage. There are jobs out there that are truly part-time jobs, like being a soccer referee at a park, and I want to see the budgetary impacts before we bump those up to $15 an hour. But generally I’m supportive of the idea. There’s a lot of part-time employees who have been with the City for a decade or longer, and it seems like we’re creating two tracks where we should only have one. I forgot what the second part of the question was.

 

Contracting out.

Yeah, generally I don’t support contracting out, particularly if it’s an effort either to reduce wages or reduce benefits. And as you rightly pointed out, Portland is already identified as the second least affordable city in the United States for teachers and construction workers and healthcare workers and people in the services industry. I would not want to do anything as a matter of policy at the City of Portland that makes it even less affordable.

 

How would you have voted on taxi deregulation, the Uber issue?

That’s a great question — sorry about the harmonica in the background, I’ve got a nine-year-old — I appreciate that new ride services like Uber and Lyft are pushing the city to reform the ways the way things have been done. But I’m also very concerned that this process seems to have been dictated by an outcome of what Uber and Lyft would accept rather than what was necessarily in the best interest of the public. I don’t think any single interest should hold a veto over public process. And I believe our first priority should be protecting the public. So specifically I’m concerned about some of the safety issues that were not addressed — lack of in-vehicle cameras to record any incidents or malfeasance that occur during a ride. I’m also concerned about the low levels of insurance required. That means a person, or God forbid their family if it’s a fatality, would receive a pittance in compensation.

 

So this is something that might get revisited under Mayor Wheeler?

Well I think we’re going to live with these rules for a while and what we’re going to find is there probably a number of holes. And I think City Commissioner [Amanda] Fritz in particular and I think also Commissioner [Nick] Fish indicated that these are rules that are probably going to have to be reviewed from time to time. But before we leave this, it’s not just the passengers I’m worried about. I’m also concerned about the ability of workers to make a living wage. I also understand this is an issue with drivers for some of the existing cab companies too. And I worry about the safeguards to protect the safety of the public and fairly compensate them in the event of an accident. So I do believe that on a case-by-case basis, this will ultimately have to be refined in future years.

 

There was a city worker question I forgot to ask. I was told that in some conversations with public employee union folks you used the term rightsizing — that that’s something you would look at. Do you think that there are areas at the City with some bloat, maybe too many staff?

I don’t recall having used that term in the context of … could you be more specific?

 

I don’t have specifics. I was just told that you would look at rightsizing, whatever that means. My interpretation of that is: Do you have the right allocation of resources?

I would assume anytime we look at a budget, the question is: Do you have the resources, the tools and the personnel to get the job done. So I’m not sure what that would be in reference to.

 

I would also like talk about your background. Obviously you’re treasurer now, but what would you describe your occupation as?

That’s a great question. I don’t use the term politician. I do consider myself a public servant. For me, being an elected official isn’t a job; it is a calling. It’s something that I’m very passionate about. I believe that the public sector has an incredible potential to help people thrive in the community. It’s something I take seriously. My job title is state treasurer, but in fact, it’s really doing good for the community using both the resources and the talents and the opportunities that I’ve been given to help other people achieve the same things I’ve been able to achieve. I see it as an important public service and a calling, to do what I can to use my talents to help others.

 

Prior to entering public service, I understand you had a background in finance. Is that right?

I had a 25-year career in in the private sector. I was a small business owner and operator for a number of years. I was an analyst for a large financial services institution.

 

Are we talking about Bank of America?

Yeah, at Bank of America I was a lowly research analyst in the corporate planning  unit in San Francisco. And then ultimately I worked my way up to senior executive for a company called Copper Mountain Trust which was an institutional retirement planning corporate custody company. We had clients both in the public and private sector. We ran the Taft-Hartley [union benefit trust] for the Alaska Laborers and others. And ultimately even though we grew up to be a $6 billion company, we were too small for that market. So ultimately we got gobbled up by a larger company.

 

Ted Wheeler for Mayor Communications Director Annie Ellison breaks in: “We’ve got time for one more question, if you’ve got one more burning question.”

 

OK, there was a lot I had hoped to ask. I wanted to talk about your background. Specifically, you mentioned going up in relative privilege. It’s fair to say you’re a member of the 1 percent. And I understand you’ve chosen a life of public service. But the question is: Should people be concerned about your ability to relate to working people, if your own personal background — nobody chooses where they’re born,  obviously — but comes from that kind of privilege?

Well the good news is: I have a record. And people can judge me based on my record. And I’d like to revisit that for a second. Let’s take a moment. I’m proud of some civil rights victories that I was instrumental in. First of all, when I was the chair of Multnomah County, I passed the first “ban the box” policy [a policy that job applicants wouldn’t be asked about criminal history on the initial application] in the state of Oregon. I did that through executive order. I was the first elected official in the state of Oregon to do so and I made Multnomah County the first jurisdiction in the state to do so, seven years before the state legislature did. I also was one of the first elected officials in the United States and the first in the state of Oregon to implement transgender health benefits as a matter of principle. I helped Oregon to become a national leader around retirement security in partnership with labor unions.

 

I had hoped to talk with you about that, but I understand you have to go.

Well I’m always happy to talk about that. [laughs] I’ll make time to talk with you about that. I’m chairing the board that is responsible for crafting and implementing Oregon’s retirement savings program, which for a large percentage of the 650,000 Oregonians who are projected to be eligible for this, this will be the first opportunity in their lifetime to have access …

 

Yeah, I think it’s pretty major. I had also hoped to hear your ideas about what to do about the housing crisis. Do you want to schedule another time?

No, let’s keep going. I can push off my next meeting. I’m not done answering that question.

 

ELLISON: Here’s a compromise: Let’s continue on for 10 more minutes, and if there are some more questions you have, Don, would you be open to submitting them to me by email?

 

Sure that’s fine.

So let me continue on, because maybe you hit a nerve. So in addition, I was the author of Senate Joint Resolution 1 back in 2013 that would’ve created the nation’s first permanent and growing endowment so that lower-income and middle-income high-schoolers could gain access to a college education or job training. And of course I was instrumental in relaunching the Oregon college savings plan so that families could save for college.

 

OK the first part of that, is that the same as the “Pay it Forward” proposal that got national attention?

No, it was a different proposal, but I’m proud of the fact that the work that I did around Senate Joint Resolution 1 ultimately led to a ballot measure, that failed, I’m sorry to say. But while the ballot measure failed, it opened up a conversation about the lack of student financial aid that’s available to lower-income and working-class families in the state of Oregon, and it’s led to other proposals that have been successful.

 

Why do you think it failed, and do you feel at all personally responsible for that failure?

People thought it was a tax increase. It is only a failure when you give up. I haven’t given up at all. I’m actually proud of how far we got. It had complicated ballot language, which was problematic, and most people, we later concluded, believed it was a tax increase and so they just voted “no”. But it was an important statement and it gets back to your question: Am I out of touch with what the people of the state need? I would say: hardly. I would say I’ve been leading on the issues that matter most to people in this state, whether it’s job creation, whether it’s access to education and job training, whether it’s access to a safe and secure retirement, I’ve been right there on the front line.

 

Do you think there’s a PERS [Oregon Public Employee Retirement System] funding problem at this point?

No. As recently as six months ago, it was rated in the top five nationally. After the Supreme Court ruling [striking down as unconstitutional a set of cuts the state legislature had made to retiree cost-of-living increases], the funded status of PERS went from 98% down to about 83%. While 83% is a lot worse than 98%, it’s still much better than most other states’ pension systems. The key for me as treasurer — I don’t want to get to arcane, but — 73 cents on every dollar in the pension system comes from investments not from the employer contribution rate. So my focus has always been on the investment side of the equation, and I can tell you the Oregon treasury has consistently delivered outstanding returns for our PERS participants. And I would also mention that I’ve brought forward potential legislation in the past that would give the treasury the economy and staffing it needs to secure higher rates of return for our investment. And I was very disappointed that that legislation did not make its way through the legislature. We had a number of good champions, particularly on the House side, but it died over the Senate. And we missed an opportunity to reduce the unfunded liability by between $3 billion and $5 billion, without reducing anybody’s benefits. So that’s something that is still hanging out there, and I would hope that at some point the legislature will take a look at what we were proposing as an alternative to reducing people’s benefits.

 

For the most part, you and your major opponent for the mayors race are in sync. There’s a few areas of disagreement. I understood that at one point you were for the cuts that were struck down by the Supreme Court, the COLA [cost of living] cuts and so forth.

Yeah, you know, I was the one who proposed that we reduce the assumed rate of return in the portfolio, and as treasurer I would’ve been utterly negligent not to do so. Virtually every other state in the union had come to the same conclusion that I came to: that we could not indefinitely sustain 8 percent rates of return. Last year the S&P was negative. But there were other reasons and advisers were giving me clear guidance that our returns were not going to be held up to the same degree. But the Supreme Court got it right. I trust the Supreme Court. They said a deal is a deal. And if we’re going to reduce the unfunded liability in the portfolio by means other than reducing benefits, we need to start looking at the investment side of the portfolio and what we can do to modernize the investment operation on that side of the shop. And I have brought forward very explicit proposals and legislation, and as I say, up to this point, the legislature as a whole has not been receptive to those ideas. I’m trying to get a path to reduce unfunded liability without impacting anybody’s future retirement.

 

There’s a fiduciary responsibility to maximize returns. But is there also more that could or should be done to direct investments to things that would create jobs in Oregon?

Yeah, I’ve been a huge proponent of that, particularly on the infrastructure side. I’ve worked with the trades [building trades unions] and others on the creation of the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange. And it’s been infuriating to me and to some of my colleagues around the country that as we seek returns in infrastructure, a lot of those returns are happening out of the United States. In part it’s because of the way we organize and fund and procure infrastructure projects in the United States, the returns aren’t as good. Ao I am an architect, among others, along with the trades, of what’s called the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange, that looks at a new model for financing and procuring and managing infrastructure. The infrastructure would remain under public ownership, but it would seek to connect infrastructure projects with institutional capital investors who like to be invested in profitable infrastructure in the United States. There’s a lot of great opportunities there.

 

What about the use of proxy votes and CEO pay. Is that something you’ve been an activist on?

I’ve been a national leader on that. Actually I believe I was the first treasurer in United States to ask the SEC to require publicly-held corporations to publish the ratio of CEO pay compared to the average employee salary, as a reporting requirement. “Say on pay” gives big institutional investors like the Oregon pension system broad latitude to question CEO compensation, and we, I believe, on something like 500 different occasions, have opposed outlandish CEO salaries that were not commensurate with the company’s performance, or which were wildly out of whack with the pay of their own employees. We have been very aggressive on the “say on pay” part.

 

What about fee structures? California last year got out of hedge funds. Is there any move by you to do something similar in Oregon?

Oregon never really got into hedge funds in a big way. Out of our $90 billion overall portfolio, I think we have about $300 million in total in hedge funds. And the kind of hedge funds we’re engaged in, they’re not what we would call wild-eyed schemes to make a lot of money quickly. We hedge against inflation and other market factors, and we look for opportunities in investments that are non-correlated with our other holdings in our portfolio. But as a matter of course, we are very very minor investors in hedge funds in Oregon. Oregon has never been particularly receptive to hedge funds.

 

Well I appreciate the chance to go through some of your record as a treasurer. If we have a minute or two left, I’d like to find out your ideas for solving the housing crisis, which is very real and very pressing. What are some of your ideas?

Let’s talk about that for minute, because it is important. As I said, Portland has just been identified as being one of the least affordable cities in the United States for working folks. And housing is obviously a key component of that. The price of housing have gone up 50% over the last five years. And of course Portland was just identified as having the highest year-over-year increases in the United States, and we’ve been on that list before. There are a number of approaches to that. First of all, there are market strategies we can use that recapture some of the public benefits of the housing market, like inclusion zoning, for example.

 

Are you in favor of [the state legislature] lifting the ban on that?

I’m absolutely in favor. I’ve been in favor of that previously. I’m in favor of it now. It’s a very important strategy. It would allow the city to be able to require affordable housing construction along side market-rate construction. And if it doesn’t pass, there’s still things we can do from a policy perspective. Commissioner [Dan] Salzman has been working to find a balance between allowing market rate construction with incentives to increase the amount of affordable housing that’s constructed, either through tax abatement or by limiting height restrictions in certain areas of the city. And his first project is now being built on the east side of the Burnside Bridge, with 156 units of affordable housing. So I want to see how that experiment unfolds and potentially work with Commissioner Saltzman. Obviously, we need more renter protections. The minimum wage is significant in terms of housing affordability for people who are at the lower end of the income spectrum spectrum. And the city needs to either increase its funding or find new sources of funding for the construction, purchase or the rehab of affordable housing. All of these things are really important in total to helping address the housing affordability crisis in Portland.

 

What about rent control?

You know, rent control is not as effective as some of these other tools. I would argue that increasing the supply of housing and making sure that the renters have protections and notification, and lifting the ban on inclusionary zoning — these are more effective strategies. We know through myriad of economic studies that rent control is great if you happen to have one of the rent-controlled units. If you don’t, the cost goes up for you. It’s like a balloon: You squeeze it in one area, and it’s great if you’re in the squeezed area, but it balloons out somewhere else. And the two communities that are the least affordable in America happened to be the first two communities that implemented rent control. The better strategy is to increase the supply of housing and create opportunities for more supply of affordable housing.

 

Who do you know best within organize labor?

That’s a great question. The guys at AFSCME at Multnomah County obviously worked very closely with me. Any of them could vouch for me. John Mohlis over in the building trades knows me well. [IBEW Local 48 lobbyist] Joe Esmonde of course, in the trades, knows me well. Ken Allen over at AFSCME knows me well. Art Towers he’s over now at the Trial Lawyers Association but we worked on a number of issues together, particularly retirement security when he was over at SEIU.

 

Why are you better suited to be supported by organized labor then your opponent?

Whether labor has agreed with me or disagreed with me on particular issues, they know they can trust me. They know that I will work with them. They know that I will always maintain an open line of communication. And by far I am the most experienced person in this race. Being mayor of Portland is a very challenging job and is not a learn on the job kind of opportunity. I come in with years of experience having managed large enterprises with billion dollar budgets, thousands of employees, many collective-bargaining units. And on the whole, I think what you will hear for me is that I’ve been very effective and ethical leader and successful leader.

ELLISON: Don, I have to get Ted off to his next meeting.

MCINTOSH: Where is he off to now?

ELLISON: Call time.

WHEELER: That’s why I’m on your side! Let’s keep going. [Laughs]

MCINTOSH: Call time: do you mean the dreadful task of asking for money?

ELLISON: Yes, he’s evading it. So why don’t we do this? The questions you still have, email them, and Ted and I will sit down after call time and we’ll answer them.

MCINTOSH:That would be great.

 

BELOW ARE THE EMAILED QUESTIONS AND THE ANSWERS RECEIVED.

Portland Commissioner Steve Novick is talking about a gas tax to fund road maintenance, and it might be on the ballot. Do you support that idea?

Yes. If our roads are the patient, they’re bleeding to death. To stop the bleeding, it’s been estimated we need about $200 million a year, for 10 years.  It needs to be done in partnership with state and federal dollars. I support a Portland gas tax. I believe the voters should have the final say on approving a gas tax to fund street maintenance. But first, City Hall must repair trust with residents after years of alternating between various unpopular solutions, while consistently opposing a public vote on any of them. On the recommendation of the auditor, and as an act of good faith, we need to show the public that we’re spending our transportation dollars wisely.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors last year passed something called the Retail Workers Bill of Rights, aimed at curbing the growing abuse — particularly in large retail chains — of computer-generated just-in-time scheduling. Basically workers at the Gap and the like don’t know their schedules until the last minute, wreaking havoc on childcare plans, etc. But the new ordinance mandates advance notice of schedules, with penalties for last-minute changes. The Oregon Legislature this year preempted local jurisdictions from considering such measures — for two years. Steve Novick has said he’d like to pursue it. What’s your stance?

Scheduling abuse can create real hardships for working families and can contribute to economic inequality by reducing wages and making it extremely difficult to balance work and personal obligations. I would be supportive of efforts to take action either in the upcoming February session or the 2017 session.

What’s your view on the desirability/undesirability of project labor agreements on public construction projects?

Yes. I have been a consistent supporter of adding PLAs to capital construction projects.

Can you give an example of where you walked a picket line or otherwise gave symbolic or material support to workers who were engaged in a labor dispute?

On numerous occasions I have been asked to intervene in situations critical to labor through calls and letters to management, and have always been happy to do so (for example, with Sealy Mattress Company and Ceasars Entertainment). I see it as an important role to help reduce friction between labor and management when I am able to do so.

Can you give an example of something you did for workers or unions that demonstrates political courage or cost political capital?

I was proud to partner with SEIU, and to have the support of AFL-CIO in passing a groundbreaking retirement program that will let low and middle-income workers in Oregon begin planning and saving for retirement, many for the first time. Together, we were able to win passage of a program that is now a national model for ensuring that those without a pension or employer 401(k) can set aside enough to be secure in their retirement. This was over the objections of some business groups.

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