On Thursday, PJ Media reported on the decision to erect a plywood wall around City Hall in the city of Portland, Oregon. Other outlets, including this one, couldn’t help but notice the hypocrisy of this notoriously liberal city and its mayor, Ted Wheeler, a strong opponent of border walls, which, in his view are racist.
Soon after the story was published, PJ Media was contacted by Heather Hafer, the public information officer for the city of Portland’s Office of Management and Finance, requesting a retraction of the article.
I’m writing to confirm that Mayor Ted Wheeler was not aware that a wall was being erected around City Hall. This decision was made by the Office of Management and Finance’s Division of Asset Management. This decision was made to protect a City asset, the historic City Hall building, which had recently undergone a multimillion dollar renovation. As soon as both the Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer, Tom Rinehart, found out about the wall they immediately directed staff to remove it. I would like to reiterate that we know putting up the wall was a mistake and it was not the message we want to send to our community members.
However, the Portland Tribune noted on Wednesday that the mayor’s office was involved in discussions on how to protect the historic building after fencing failed to protect it from vandalism. This appears to contradict Hafer’s claim that Wheeler wasn’t aware of the decision because his office was clearly directly involved in those discussions.
Hafer’s claim that Wheeler immediately directed the plywood wall to be removed appeared to contradict a previous statement attribute to Wheeler’s office that was made to the Portland Tribune: “Cleaning the buildings each day is taking public resources, particularly due to the limestone surface at City Hall. We are looking into the possibility of partnering with the arts community to create murals on the plywood in support of the racial justice movement.”
This statement suggested that the mayor’s office was aware of the plywood wall, and had actually discussed turning them into murals as some sort of solution to appease the protesters.
Hafer explained this contradiction by noting that the quote was not from Wheeler himself, but from Tom Rinehart, the chief administrative officer of the Office of Management and Finance. “The Office of Management and Finance is responsible for facility management and maintenance, we are the ones who made the decision to erect the wall – and we are the ones who decided to take it down, a decision which Mayor Wheeler fully supported.”
But Hafer’s clarification contradicted her original statement to PJ Media when she said “As soon as both the Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer, Tom Rinehart, found out about the wall they immediately directed staff to remove it.” [Emphasis added]
Hafer later explained that “Both the Chief Administrative Officer, Tom Rinehart, and the Mayor independently wanted the wall removed. Tom Rinehart is the one who directed his staff to remove it.”
Hafer than denied being able to speak for Mayor Wheeler. “I cannot speak on the Mayor’s behalf. I’m the spokesperson for the Office of Management and Finance, so I am unable to answer any of your additional questions.”
Further requests for comment were not answered.
It’s still unclear as to what Mayor Wheeler knew about the wall and when he knew it, but one thing is for sure, the city of Portland wholeheartedly believes the erecting of the wall was a mistake. Why? Is protecting a historic building wrong? What kind of message does it send to allow vandals to deface a historic building? Isn’t this a slap in the face to taxpayers who are on the hook for the clean-up? These are the kinds of questions I was not able to get answers to once Hafer decided she doesn’t speak on behalf of the mayor.
The mixed messages in and of themselves were very revealing. In cities across America, leaders seem unwilling to control the riots or protect public property from damage. Mayor Wheeler clearly doesn’t want people thinking he condoned or even knew about the plywood wall that stood for a mere 12 hours before someone realized, “Oh, yeah, walls are racist!”
Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis