A group of Portland leaders this week attempted to recruit a write-in candidate to run against Mayor Ted Wheeler. But the last-minute effort failed to enlist Rukaiyah Adams, chief investment officer of the Meyer Memorial Trust and an influential civic leader—who turned them down today, Sept. 12.

The group that talked to Adams included the lawyer Kris Olson and Adams' friend, Adrienne Nelson, an Oregon Supreme Court justice.

Adams, a civic leader who founded the social justice nonprofit Albina Vision, which is focused on redevelopment of a historically Black Portland neighborhood, said she didn't want to start a campaign at this point.

"I do not believe a late candidacy will promote conciliation with citizens protesting police brutality or advocating racial justice," she told the group in an email obtained by WW. "Until there is broad consensus that we must focus on public welfare and safety in lieu of militarized police options, we will remain in conflict."

Write-in candidacies are a long shot, even against an unpopular incumbent.

But Wheeler is vulnerable. He has an approval rating as low as 26% among Portland voters, The Oregonian reported this week, after months of protests against police brutality and racism. And it can be taken as a sign of the dissatisfaction with the current mayor and the current field of candidates that there was a September effort to recruit a Black woman with civic standing to run against the mayor.

Wheeler faces Sarah Iannarone, an urban policy consultant, who also ran against Wheeler in 2016. She pushed him to a fall runoff in Portland's nonpartisan election system, which requires a candidate to win 50% plus one in the primary to avoid a runoff. Wheeler won 49% of the vote to Iannarone's 24%. Iannarone, who is running far to the mayor's left, has outraised Wheeler, thanks to Portland's system of publicly funded campaigns.

The Black activist Teressa Raiford is running a write-in campaign.

Raiford's existing write-in candidacy is already viewed by political insiders as a saving grace for the mayor, because it siphons progressive votes from Iannarone. A second write-in candidacy may or may not have improved his odds. Either way, Adams was not interested.

Adams declined to comment on her decision to WW. Here's the full text of her email, which was addressed to recipients that included Nelson and the political consultant Mark Wiener.

Kris, Steve, Brooke, Mark and Adrienne,

Please share this email with Brooke and Mark as I do not have their contact information.

Thank you very much for caring deeply about Portland. Our home needs committed citizens now more than ever. Over the last week as you have initiated this conversation, you made a convincing point: Each of us must lead during this remarkable moment, including me. I agree that we must all be visible leaders and I look forward to many years of active citizenship. However, as flattering as it may be, the answer is no – I will not enter the 2020 Portland Mayor's race as a late-entrant, write-in candidate. Here are some reasons why.

  • Relationships are most important to me. I promised to make time to love the people who have enabled my success. I intend to keep that promise. There is no higher priority for me right now than fortifying trusted relationships. I know Teressa, Sarah and Ted, and integrity matters to me. I will not say anything indirectly by entering the Mayor’s race that I have not said directly to them.
  • I respect the process and the people. The earnest and serious effort put forth by all of the candidates in seeking the Office of Mayor, and the earnest and serious effort put forth by Portlanders in deciding who will be the Mayor, should be given respect. I have attended several of the debates – folks came prepared to ask thoughtful questions and listen. I do not like the idea of hijacking this solemn civic ritual by way of a side deal, even with good intentions.
  • A new voice will not be unifying. I do not believe a late candidacy will promote conciliation with citizens protesting police brutality or advocating racial justice. Until there is broad consensus that we must focus on public welfare and safety in lieu of militarized police options, we will remain in conflict.
  • Earning broad support is more important in the long run. There will be no lasting vision for Portland unless it comes from a wide swath of the people. And it has to be elevated through a transparent democratic process; a process which takes time and hard work to carve out common ground. I do not want to undermine the mandate of the person elected as mayor. And I will not undermine my vision for tomorrow, with haste today.

At the most basic level, we are collectively coming to terms with intersecting legacies of violence. Environmental. Interpersonal. Institutional. Perhaps even political. This moment is terrifying, and it is playing out in our home, Portland. But there is no easy fix. There is no last-minute election patch. Serious problems are solved with serious work, by all of us. I commit to helping the Mayor whom the people elect in November.

Thank you again for thinking of me. I sincerely hope this is the beginning of journey. Together.