Volunteers for Total Recall. Courtesy of Total Recall PAC.

The effort to recall Ted Wheeler

A Portland group fights with forms in hand to oust the embattled mayor

Petitioners working on the campaign to recall Ted Wheeler visited parks, grocery stores and MAX lines to gather signatures for their cause on July 1.

Total Recall PDX, founded by Portland lawyer Alan Kessler in Nov. 2020, is a political action committee intent on getting Wheeler out of office.

Total Recall’s reasoning for starting a campaign against Wheeler is based mainly on the mayor’s alleged political and fiscal malfeasance. Audrey Caines, an environmental and social activist who joined Total Recall PDX in May 2021, is heading the recall efforts as campaign manager. 

In an interview with Portland State Vanguard, Caines said Mayor Wheeler had violated campaign finance law. “87% of Portlanders voted to get personal large donations out of elections,” she said. “And Ted Wheeler donated his own money to his election.”

This violation is in reference to the Nov. 2020 mayoral elections, when Wheeler donated $150,000 dollars of his own money to his reelection campaign. A donation this large goes against a 2018 city charter measure limiting donations to $500 per individual donor and $5,000 from candidates themselves.

Sarah Iannarone, who ran against Wheeler in the 2020 mayoral election, filed a lawsuit against the Friends of Ted Wheeler Political Candidate Committee seeking enforcement of the city’s campaign contribution limits. Total Recall PDX founder Alan Kessler is legally representing Sarah Iannarone in this effort.

Wheeler’s Portland political career started in 2007, when he was elected Chair of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, and he served in that post until 2010. At that point, Wheeler was appointed by the Governor to the State Treasurer’s office to fill a spot left vacant by the incumbent’s death. Wheeler served as treasurer until winning the 2016 mayoral election, a position he has held since.

As mayor, Wheeler assigned himself responsibility over the Portland Police Bureau, the Housing Bureau and the Portland Development Commission. Vanguard contacted the office of the mayor to request an interview about the recall efforts, but the office did not respond.

Total Recall PDX maintains getting Wheeler out of office as their sole political objective, and they do not claim to offer up an alternative candidate or promote any secondary agendas. They hold that, since Wheeler won with a plurality vote of 46% in the elections and broke laws that 87% of Portlanders approved of, he should be recalled from office.

Before the Nov. 2020 election, Wheeler held an unfavorable approval rating of 63%. In a report from Willamette Week, Total Recall’s argument to the city reads in part:

When we needed a leader to solve problems, Ted Wheeler’s inaction made our challenges worse. Portlanders have lost confidence that their government will be there in times of need….A recall is an expression of democracy designed to remove politicians who aren’t serving effectively. Portlanders are ready to recover and we can’t afford to waste the next three-and-a-half years….Ted Wheeler has repeatedly demonstrated to too many of us that he does not serve this city.

Regarding the efforts of the campaign, Caines says, “I think the recall will go well. We’re at the point where people are calling and asking to sign.” 

A total of 47,788 signatures are required for the recall efforts to succeed. The group is starting up now, in July, because there is a mandatory six-month waiting period from when an official is placed in office before recall action is possible. The group will have a 90-day period in which they have to collect the necessary signatures.

While volunteers for Total Recall can be found in the parks, public spaces and transit lines of Portland, people wishing to sign can find the necessary forms, of which there are two, on the group’s website. The group stresses the importance of accuracy and legibility when signing these forms, as any mistake will result in the signature being thrown out. There is also the option to donate to their cause on the site.

According to its social media, Total Recall PDX is openly accepting volunteers for signature gathering during this three-month period.

The fight to recall Ted Wheeler is not only being pursued by Total Recall PDX. A similar group, called Rose City Recall, with less of a public outreach agenda and seemingly right-wing or moderate views, exists with the intent to oust Wheeler as well.