At a mayoral forum on environmental issues two weeks ago, moderators asked Portland candidates what appeared to be a simple question.
"Yes or no: Are you willing to forgo accepting contributions from Superfund polluters in your campaign?"
Wheeler said yes—he would not take money from parties responsible for polluting the Portland Harbor. But now his answer has him making a complicated pledge.
Turns out Wheeler had already accepted $10,000 in November from Peter Brix, a barge-line owner who's been a longtime backer of Wheeler. Brix's companies are among dozens named by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as potentially responsible parties [PRP] in a years-long process that has yet to assign blame.
In an interview Wednesday, two weeks after the March 3 debate, Wheeler took issue with the question of whether Brix is a Superfund polluter—but stopped short of saying he'd return Brix's money now.
"I do not want to take money knowingly from a polluter," Wheeler told WW. "A Superfund polluter gets into a legal question. Is a PRP a polluter?"
Moving forward, Wheeler says he won't take money from entities on the PRP list but he'll keep Brix's money, he says, unless Brix is identified as a responsible party before the November general election. Wheeler claims that timeline is possible but it's likely very optimistic.
The mayor of Portland does not have a say in designating responsible parties, and the city itself is on the list of groups potentially on the hook.
"Prospectively, we will not solicit funds from PRPs," Wheeler says, "and once the determination process is complete, which should happen prior to November, we will return any funds collected from anybody who's on that list."
Two of the hosts for the debate were the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and the Oregon chapter of the Sierra Club. They both endorsed Jules Bailey in the Portland mayor's race this week.