The following story has been updated to reflect new information.
On Tuesday, a plywood wall was erected around Portland City Hall to protect the building from rioters and vandals. A sensible move, considering the building has been repeatedly vandalized with graffiti on a near-daily basis since the Black Lives Matter protests started.
A plywood wall is going up around Portland City Hall. pic.twitter.com/Wb3xCvZi4J
— Portland Tribune (@ThePortlandTrib) June 9, 2020
According to the Portland Tribune, Wheeler’s office says “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.”
Obviously, the costs of cleaning the graffiti had to be dealt with, and putting the wall up made sense… so much sense that Wheeler’s hypocrisy did not go unnoticed.
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) June 9, 2020
The move, while sensible also reeks of hypocrisy for the notoriously liberal city of Portland. Even Mayor Ted Wheeler is on the record saying that building walls is racist. “The reality is that we’re living at a time where at the federal level, we have an administration that’s seeking to build a wall to divide us…We have a president who emboldens racist behavior,” Wheeler said during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech titled “Building Bridges, Not Walls.”
Portland putting up a wall around City Hall? What kind of message does that send? Someone must have figured out the hypocrisy because the wall put up to protect Portland City Hall is now gone, having only lasted 12 hours.
City officials reversed themselves Tuesday and decided to remove plywood walls being erected around City Hall and the Portland Building to protect them from vandalism.
The walls were being installed on Tuesday morning because both buildings continue to be marked with graffiti each night of the ongoing protests. The price tag: $30,000.
“The plywood was intended to protect iconic public buildings and minimize expenses,” Rinehart said. “But we need to put our relationship with the community first. The City of Portland is open for civic engagement — especially now. We need to hear our community’s demands for racial justice, even when those demands take the form of spray paint.”
A spokesperson for the city’s Office of Management and Finance emailed a statement to the Portland Tribune:
This decision was made quickly, from an operational standpoint, in an effort to protect City Hall’s recently renovated limestone exterior. But we quickly realized that we need to start making decisions differently, and think from a community standpoint….Boarding up City Hall is not the message we want to give our community members right now. Even though City Hall is currently closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, it remains a symbol of civic engagement and our commitment to having all voices be heard. We made a mistake, but we’re learning from our mistakes so we can make better decisions in the future.
Got that? Protecting the building sends the wrong message. Apparently “It’s okay to deface this building” is the message Portland officials want to send.
UPDATE: Heather Hafer, the Public Information Officer for the City of Portland Office of Management and Finance, contacted PJM to deny Mayor Wheeler’s involvement in the decision to erect the plywood wall to protect City Hall. “This decision was made by the Office of Management and Finance’s Division of Asset Management,” Hafer said in a statement. “This decision was made to protect a City asset, the historic City Hall building, which had recently undergone a multimillion dollar renovation.”
Hafer added. “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.”
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