On Wednesday Night, Ted Wheeler Went to the Protests Downtown, Saying He Wanted to Listen. Mac Smiff Gave Him an Earful.

"You don't actually help anyone. You just stand there and enable the system to go around you.”

WW presents "Distant Voices," a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.

Mac Smiff says he knows why many Portlanders dislike Ted Wheeler. And last night, he got to tell Wheeler to his face.

As the mayor ventured to the front lines of the protests outside the federal courthouse, Smiff—a longtime fixture of the Portland hip-hop scene and a regular presence at the nightly demonstrations against police brutality since they began two months ago—found himself next to Wheeler in the throng of protesters and press.

Related: Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler Gets Tear Gassed Amid a Skeptical Crowd of Protesters.

Earlier in the night, Wheeler said he'd come downtown to listen. So Smiff began to speak.

"I told Ted that a big thing he does is, he plays weak," says Smiff, 39. "'You don't actually help anyone. You just stand there and enable the system to go around you.'"

The conversation was caught on both smartphones and television cameras, something Smiff didn't fully realize until he started getting texts from friends about seeing him on CNN.

He had the mayor's ear for over 10 minutes. But Smiff isn't sure Wheeler really heard him.

"Ted is really good at acknowledging and listening and repeating back what you said," he says. "Recitation does not equal wisdom. It's just saying the words."

He will give Wheeler credit for one thing: "I respect him for standing in the smoke and tear gas that long," Smiff says, "but I wish he used that strength in his office."

In an interview with WW, Smiff elaborates on his moment with Wheeler and why he disagrees with those who say the protests are losing their focus.

See more Distant Voices interviews here.

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