Mayor Ted's not-so-excellent adventure
It was a heck of a night for Ted Wheeler, the mayor of Portland. He stood in front of hundreds of demonstrators in the heart of the city for a "listening session." What he mostly listened to was the singsong chant of "Fuck Ted Wheeler."
He did manage to get in a few talking points about how he was on the protesters' side, especially against the federal occupation force, and how the city has defunded the police, at least a little. But many in the crowd, some of whom have felt the stings of Portland police batons and Portland police tear gas over the last couple of months, weren't buying. They called for his resignation repeatedly.
I was astounded that Wheeler didn't lead his talk with the fact that the City Council yesterday ordered the local police not to cooperate with the federal paramilitary. I don't think he even mentioned it. You have to wonder what was up with that omission.
In any event, after about an hour and a half of Q-&-A and attempted speechifying – one guy poignantly reminded Wheeler that as police commissioner, "you have to be the boss" – the mayor joined the smaller sub-crowd over by the federal courthouse, where the border patrol jackboots are stationed inside every night. At about 10:50, the nightly crapshow began. The remaining protesters, down from what seemed like 2,000 to more like 200, started shooting Roman candles and throwing lit highway flares at the courthouse. A few climbed the fence that the feds had put up around the building. Somebody lit something on fire – a fairly sizeable blaze – between the fence and the building.
At this point, all peaceful protest had stopped, and it was clear that the kids at the fence were going to keep egging the stormtroopers on until they came out. And as everyone knows for a couple of weeks now, the federales' reaction is always way overblown. They emerge with tear gas as their calling card. No one there could have doubted for a New York second what was about to happen.
It took nearly a half hour for the provocateurs to finally get what they wanted. There was plenty of time for any sensible person to get out of there. But Wheeler remained by the fence, with lots of company, while the tension mounted.
Then sure enough, out came the G.I. Joe-wannabes in their camo pajamas, tear gas raging. Wheeler stood there and took some of it in the face. It was not pleasant, apparently.
Less than an hour later, he was gone. Very shortly thereafter, the Portland police sound truck declared a riot and threatened that the local cops would jump into the fray. So much for the City Council edict, I guess. But it's not clear that they did get involved.
Anyway, points were scored for Ted, but not on everyone's scorecard. One fellow yelled out at him, "You fucking fake ass liberal, you gassed us first.” Others said basically the same. How's that for solidarity? But at least the mayor got the footage he came for.
Word was that Wheeler's opponent in the November election, Sarah Iannarone, was also there. You got the feeling that some of the anti-Wheeler catcalls were coming from her supporters, maybe even her paid people. But who knows?
It's been a most interesting couple of weeks, but the basic script seems to be the same every evening now, with the occasional cameo appearance of somebody like Wheeler. Meaningful protest, even after dark, until 11 or 12, then vandalism and police violence until 2:30 or 3. The last hours of the nightly play are dangerous as all get-out, and I continue to hope and pray that a fatality is not in the offing.