Mayor Ted Wheeler declared victory Tuesday night in Portland’s mayoral race over his far-left challenger Sarah Iannarone, a political newcomer who declared “I am Antifa” during her campaign to unseat the embattled mayor.
“I want to thank the voters of Portland for the opportunity to continue serving as their mayor,” Wheeler said during a press call Tuesday evening as he maintained a healthy lead of about 20,000 votes over the course of the evening, which ended with 90 percent of the vote counted.
The 58-year-old Democratic mayor commended Iannarone and her supporters, who he said have “passionately pushed forward important ideas.”
The Associated Press has not yet officially called the race for either candidate. If Wheeler holds onto his lead in the mayoral race until it is called, he will become the first incumbent candidate to win a second term as mayor of Portland in two decades.
“This has not been an easy year for any of us, and I know many of you are frustrated with the direction of our city,” Wheeler said in his brief remarks Tuesday night, referencing the struggles the city faces related to the coronavirus pandemic as well as the nightly violence by protesters.
“We’re going to need to come together as never before to address short-term issues and the long-term changes and investments needed to rebuild our economy, rebuild confidence in law enforcement and restore hope for our future,” he said.
Iannarone, 47, gained support among progressives who were galvanized against Portland Police’s response to months of protests downtown, which have devolved into violence almost every night since late May when George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police.
She previously allied herself with Antifa, the anti-fascist far-left group whose members have been a mainstay of the riots in Portland since the spring.
“To those who say Antifa are violent thugs: I am not a violent thug and I am Antifa,” Iannarone said on Twitter in January of last year.
She added that “I am Antifa” because the “Red Hats,” presumably a reference to Trump supporters, are “coming after brown & black people” and want to “exterminate” Jewish people, transgender people, and women’s rights.
“They are coming after our democracy,” she said, claiming that all “acts of domestic terrorism” in the U.S. in 2018 were committed by “white supremacist extremists.”
Iannarone officially conceded the race Wednesday evening.
“I love that over half of Portland voters went not for the status quo, but for change, this election,” Iannarone said in a video that was livestreamed on her campaign’s social media pages.
She offered her “hearty congratulations to Mayor Ted Wheeler,” and called on her supporters to “hold him accountable.”
Portland has slashed the city police department’s $250 million budget by about $15 million since demonstrations began in May. Iannarone supported stripping the department of $50 million in funding and criticized Wheeler for balking at calls to cut the police budget even more drastically.
Wheeler, who also serves as police commissioner, was considered vulnerable in his race for reelection as mayor after he came under fire this year from protesters, police officials, and the Trump administration alike for his failure to address the nightly violence that has plagued the city.
Progressive protesters along with members of Antifa clashed often with police, and in late August, police declared a riot after about 200 demonstrators marched on the mayor’s residence to demand that he resign. Rioters broke windows and attempted to set a store on the ground floor of the Democratic mayor’s condominium building on fire. The next month, Wheeler announced that he planned to move out of his apartment building due to repeated protests outside his home.
Demonstrators who remained on the streets after dark engaged in property destruction, throwing rocks at police, marking buildings with graffiti, and briefly set a courthouse on fire over the summer.
Earlier in August, a pro-Trump demonstrator was shot and killed during clashes between Black Lives Matter protesters and a caravan of Trump supporters who drove trucks through the downtown streets. The suspect declared his allegiance to Antifa on social media before the incident.
President Trump repeatedly slammed the mayor’s failure to handle the protests over the summer, saying, “Portland will never recover with a fool for a Mayor.”
Wheeler blamed the president himself for the unrest, saying, “it’s you who have created the hate and the division,” and accusing Trump of pushing a “campaign of fear.”
As the violence continued, Trump sent federal law enforcement agents to handle the situation, which he described as “out of control,” prompting Wheeler to accuse the president of abusing the use of federal officers and demand that they be removed from the city.
Tuesday’s mayoral election in Portland was a runoff election after neither Wheeler nor Iannarone received a majority of votes during the first round of voting.