Audrey Caines just scored the cushiest sales job in Portland. Her pitch: She wants voters to kick Mayor Ted Wheeler out of office.
Fine, it’s a little more complicated than that. Caines is the newly hired campaign manager of Total Recall PDX. That’s a political action committee that was launched to remove Wheeler from office just days after voters elected him to a second term.
Or at least some of them did. Alan Kessler, a Portland lawyer who previously worked on the the campaign of Wheeler’s runoff opponent Sarah Iannarone, founded the PAC with this rationale: Only 46% of voters wanted Wheeler in office. The rest voted for somebody else. So even if Wheeler got the most votes, the majority of voters don’t want him running Portland.
This month, Total Recall PDX announced it had hired Caines, 32, whose previous political experience was with Rising Tide PDX, an environmental justice group that has blocked rail lines for oil trains.
Its aim? Collect 47,788 signatures in 90 days starting July 1 by knocking doors across the city, roaming around gatherings and events, and setting up plastic information tables all over town. If it succeeds, and Wheeler doesn’t choose to resign, the question of recalling him would go to voters in a special election 35 days later. The mayor would face no opponent. It would be Wheeler against himself.
Still, questions remain. Caines agreed to answer some. The interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
WW: Why recall Ted Wheeler? Didn’t we just have an election? How has his legacy changed in the past five months since he won?
Audrey Caines: He demonstrated that he doesn’t have the support of the majority of the city. And he’s done nothing since the election to show that he is more responsive to people’s needs and values. So it’s sort of a continuation of what he did prior, which was to be ineffective and unresponsive.
What’s been Wheeler’s biggest failure in the past five months?
His failure to fund the Portland Street Response was a major failure on his part. [Wheeler and two other city commissioners voted against expanding the unarmed crisis response team citywide.] There was a huge amount of public support for that, and his decision to not fund led a lot of people to donate to us. We did see an uptick in people, both donating and joining our efforts as volunteers.
At this point, what do your efforts look like?
We have over 200 volunteers from a variety of backgrounds who are a part of the effort.We have a field team, and a lot of their focus is being available in public spaces and public events. So folks go out in the community, they go to an event, they set up a table. And then there’s also postering that goes on. We have volunteers running all of our social media. So basically everything you see coming out of this campaign is coming from volunteers.
Where’s the funding for this campaign coming from?
At this point, all of our funding is just coming from people. The average donation right now is around $46, which compared to most campaigns is just absolutely insane. We have a goal of raising $150,000 by July 15. The last time I looked at it, we were around $36,000. My salary is included in that number.
Who’s interim mayor if the recall is successful?
Nobody’s mayor. All the powers of the mayor are distributed to other City Council members. [Editor’s note: The City Elections Office says a special election for Wheeler’s replacement would be held within 90 days of the vacancy.” It did not say who, if anyone, would become interim mayor.] And because Portland has a pretty unique structure where the mayor already doesn’t have quite as much power as they do in other cities, it seems like it would be a fairly reasonable intermediate step to allow for other people to step into those spaces.
There’s something fundamentally destabilizing about recalling a mayor immediately after he was elected. Do you have any concerns about setting off a cycle of recalls?
I cannot speculate on what people will do in the future. But I do know that the majority of Portlanders are united in their belief that Wheeler should be removed from office as soon as possible. Again, he only received 46% of the vote—and people maybe didn’t agree about what they wanted at that time, but they did agree that he was not worthwhile enough to show up in force. And so we refuse to accept this. The failures impact the city and impact people who live here. We don’t have another three and a half years to waste on him.