A New Coalition Will Spend the Campaign Dollars Mayor Ted Wheeler Can’t

The incumbent trails Sarah Iannarone. A range of interests hope to make up the deficit.

Mayor Ted Wheeler visits protests in downtown Portland. (Wesley Lapointe)

Contribution of the Week

How much? 

Six figures, with perhaps more to come, in an independent expenditure campaign

Who's going to get it?

Mayor Ted Wheeler

Who's giving it? 

United for Portland, a brand-new coalition that includes Services Employees International Union, the Portland Business Alliance, the Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council, the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, the Portland NAACP, and a handful of other groups

Why does it matter? 

As first reported on wweek.com earlier this week, a poll conducted by DHM Research in late September showed challenger Sarah Iannarone leading Wheeler by 11 percentage points. That's a huge swing from the May primary, when Wheeler fell less than a percentage point shy of winning an outright majority in a field of 18 candidates.

Since then, Wheeler has experienced intense criticism for his handling of racial justice protests. And he's struggled to raise money. Wheeler bet wrongly that he could muster funds from his usual pool of large donors, but new election rules that went into effect in May ended that hope, leaving him far behind Iannarone, who is publicly funded. (She's got $255,000 on hand, compared to his $134,000, which includes a recent loan by Wheeler to his own campaign of $150,000.)

The new city campaign finance rules still allow independent expenditures, however. Members of United for Portland include labor, environmental and business groups that have nothing much in common—and are often at odds—except they are all willing to put their names and money on the line to shore up Wheeler's campaign.

"Our members are committed to making sure the mayor wins the race," says SEIU Local 49 political organizer Yasmin Ibarra.

United for Portland says it will spend what it takes to get out its message—probably aimed at raising doubts about Iannarone.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.