Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called for civility last week in a City Council hearing—but this time his remarks were aimed at a colleague and not at unruly protesters who sometimes disrupt hearings.
"I want to put a marker down. When people come here and testify, they deserve to be treated with respect," Wheeler said on April 3. "I said that right upfront. I don't care if people are for this or if they are against it."
Though he did not mention City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, she had just finished challenging a real-estate management company representative on proposed tenant protections. The woman later left the Council chambers in tears, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
Hardesty at that moment asked if her question was disrespectful, receiving no answer. The next day after testimony from the public, Hardesty defended herself.
"I'll take this opportunity to address the perception that asking direct questions is somehow bullying people," said Hardesty. "I asked very specific questions and I expect people to be very specific in their answers, and I have been a policymaker and activist long enough to know when people are evading my question. And I do not appreciate being called a bully. I do not like bullies. And I do not tolerate bullying behavior. However, I am an African American woman who speaks directly, and I will continue to do so. And I will not be silenced. "
On April 8, the Urban League of Portland issued a statement saying Hardesty "conducted herself with all due propriety and consideration for her duties as a public official."
The statement questioned why the mayor had singled out Hardesty, when Commissioner Chloe Eudaly had challenged a panelist earlier in the day, and why Wheeler did not step in the next day when members of the public "repeatedly disrespected and denigrated" Hardesty.
"Some have tried to sweep the racial subtext of this exchange to the side," the statement reads. "Mayor Wheeler acted out the age-old custom of powerful men making an example of black people who are deemed to have stepped out of line, particularly when white female sensibilities are the perceived victim."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland) took to Facebook to agree with the Urban League's support for Hardesty.
"Having served on the Portland City Council, I know that part of the job is asking questions and engaging in discourse with Portlanders. From my vantage point, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty was doing her job and doing it well," he posted.
The mayor's office issued a statement that did not express regret or apologize.
"The Mayor acknowledges the criticism from the Urban League and will continue to consider race and gender dynamics as he manages council meetings," says Wheeler spokeswoman Eileen Park. "He will also continue to enforce the rules of order and decorum so that the public, city staff, and council members will all feel welcome, safe, and heard."