UNION MEMBERS GET DIBS ON VACCINES: As Portland-area public health officials warned Jan. 26 it could still take months to vaccinate Oregonians in the state's top priority group for shots, Oregon Health & Science University launched a drive-thru vaccination clinic at Portland International Airport. For now, the clinic is by invitation only—and the invites went to home health care workers in Service Employees International Union. "Home health care workers are a diverse population who often come from communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19," says OHSU spokesperson Tamara Hargens-Bradley. The workers were selected because they're otherwise hard to reach, Hargens-Bradley says. OHSU plans to invite home health care workers from other organizations and agencies, she adds, and the Oregon Department of Human Services "lent their support." While home health care workers may be among the most vulnerable in the state, their union is also among the most powerful political players in Salem, alongside teachers' unions, whose members will get next priority for the shots.
MAYOR STAFFS UP: As Mayor Ted Wheeler deals with enormous challenges in his second term, he hired a new chief of staff this week: Bobby Lee, a longtime Oregon government insider now serving as Seattle's top economic development official. Wheeler has also brought in a predecessor, former Mayor Sam Adams, who served from 2009 to 2013, to tackle special projects. After Wheeler and Adams met Sunday night at a Hillsdale pub to iron out Adams' role, the mayor ended up pepper-spraying a man police later identified as lawyer Cary Cadonau, who allegedly stood too close to Wheeler while filming the mayor on his cellphone. The incident is under investigation.
D.A. LEVELS FIRST BIAS CRIME CHARGES OF THE YEAR: The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office announced on Jan. 25 that it will pursue charges in two bias crime cases—the first such cases of the new year. On the evening of Jan. 22, prosecutors say, 43-year-old Brian Miller entered a Chevron gas station in Southeast Portland and began yelling about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida at a 68-year-old Muslim man from Afghanistan who worked there. He then proceeded to throw objects at him and followed the victim behind the counter. The victim hid in a storage room, where he called 911, prosecutors say. In the second incident, also on the evening of Jan. 22, prosecutors say Peter Eschright, 39, walked up to a 44-year-old Asian American woman and her teenage son on a TriMet bus in Southeast Portland and kicked them both in the shins. "All Chinese persons have the virus and gave it to us," Eschright reportedly told the family. Both Miller and Eschright face bias crime charges. In 2020, the DA's office pursued 31 bias crime cases and 35 in 2019, according to spokesman Brent Weisberg.
U.S. ATTORNEY TO PROBE KILL LIST: The U.S. attorney for Oregon announced Jan. 25 that his office had opened an investigation into the mailing of two racist and threatening letters to Black leaders. The letters, mailed in July and November, featured a "kill list" of progressive Portland activists, most of them people of color. "I want to reassure the community that the U.S. Attorney's Office takes these threats very seriously and, together with our partners at the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service, is engaged in an active investigation to determine who is responsible for creating and sending these letters and to evaluate criminal wrongdoing," said U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams. Kamelah Adams, the founder of Mimi's Fresh Tees and one of the first recipients of the letters, worked with community leader Candace Avalos to advocate for a public statement from Williams. Avalos said the announcement was "essential to demonstrating to Oregonians that this behavior is intolerable."
GOVERNOR SEEKS TO REDUCE QUAKE WATCHERS: Gov. Kate Brown has proposed slashing the budget of the agency responsible for monitoring the state's natural hazards, including the Cascadia subduction zone prone to earthquake. The governor's budget eliminates the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, subsuming it under two other agencies, a move that would eliminate 21 of 39 positions over the next two years. The governor's office defended the cuts, saying Brown recognizes the importance of the agency. "These transitions will help achieve cost savings through the elimination of administrative and management positions, while preserving subject matter expertise," says Brown's spokesperson Liz Merah.
Correction: This story incorrectly said that activists received threatening letters in October. The letters were received in November.