Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey both make far more money than the average Portland household, but the gap between Wheeler and Bailey is wide.
Tuesday, the two leading candidates for Portland mayor disclosed 2012, 2013 and 2014 tax records to WW. The newspaper requested them because the candidates have made housing affordability and income inequality central features of their campaign, and Wheeler has faced questions since he announced his bid last September about whether he can relate to those problems.
Records show Wheeler reported income of $2.2 million in 2012, mostly from capital gains; $916,000 in 2013, mostly from capital gains and dividends; and $1.5 million in 2014. Wheeler's father died in 2011, and his campaign says the income spike in 2012 came as his family divvied up his father's timber fortune.
Wheeler's salary as state treasurer made up only $78,000 of his income in 2014 and closer to $72,000 in 2012 and 2013.
Records show Bailey's household income hovered around $180,000 in 2012 and 2013 and increased to about $220,000 in 2014, when Bailey won election to the Multnomah County Commission.
Bailey has drawn income from multiple sources each of those years, including about $25,000 from the Legislature in 2012 and 2013; $60,000-$67,000 from Innovate Washington, an economic group that employed Bailey as a Northwest regional director until he won election to the county commission; and his side business doing economic consulting work.
Bailey's wife, Jessica, is a physician with Oregon Health and Science University and the Legacy hospital system who drew between $60,000 and $112,000 in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Portland's median household income is $52,657.
John Horvick, a Portland pollster with DHM Research, says a candidate's wealth may matter to some voters. But it would matter more if that wealth helped a candidate tell voters a story about himself.
"In the broad sweep of things, it matters if a candidate can use that to tell a compelling narrative about who they are, what they represent and why they're running," he says. "If it does, then I think it matters. If they have a difficult time making those connections to voters, it's not a priority issue. When I ask voters what they're looking for in candidates, what they don't say is 'someone who isn't wealthy.'"
When Wheeler announced his candidacy Sept. 9, a Portland Mercury reporter delicately asked him whether his wealth mattered in the race. Wheeler drew laughs when he translated the reporter's question: "Is Ted Wheeler too rich to be mayor?"
Wheeler then deflected the question by saying he'd committed himself to public service as a way of giving back.
Whether Bailey can use Wheeler's considerable wealth to help draw a contrast is an open question. The two men share similarities, including Lincoln High School diplomas and Ivy League pedigrees. "They went to the same schools," says Horvick. "[Bailey's] not necessarily the profile of the average Joe on the street."
Bailey, for his part, says he recognizes that he is fortunate. But the fact that his family struggles to pay a mortgage in Multnomah Village, repay Jessica Bailey's medical-school student loans, and foot the bill for child care gives him a better sense of what other Portlanders face.
"It suggests that for many working families it's just impossible," he says.