For all the criticism of Portland’s liberal Mayor Ted Wheeler, his opponent might have residents wishing he were still at the helm come November.
In an interview with a local television station on Thursday, Portland mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone was asked if she denounced the violent anarchy that has overrun the city for more than 70 days. Iannarone demurred, saying she would need to consider what led up to the “uprising” and “work on the issues that are causing these folks to be angry in the streets.”
"I know that nobody controls a social movement," she said. "We need to understand these protests are an important part of a healthy democracy.”
But the reporter wouldn’t let her off the hook that easily, asking whether she would specifically denounce the violent aspects of the protests.
“I understand why they’re angry,” Iannarone said of the rioters.
“But lighting fires with people inside the building?” the reporter pressed. “Would you denounce that part of it? Arson with people inside buildings?”
“I’m not the person setting the fires,” she replied. “I’m not the person doing the graffiti. I don’t smash windows. I clean up when things are unfairly targeted, but here’s what I have to say. Their outrage at the police is valid and the problem of police brutality and executing black lives in the streets is more important than vandalism, and we can’t forget that in this historic moment.”
After controversy erupted over her comments, Iannarone’s campaign issued a statement attempting to clarify her comments:
Criminal activity is illegal, and of course I don't condone it. What I'm focused on is ensuring police do not use violence and even lethal force against people who have done nothing wrong, as we have seen nightly, and for decades. We must not take our focus off why these recent protests began, and reimagine public safety so we can save lives. I condemn arson, obviously. I also condemn the countless deaths of Black individuals at the hands of police.”
Despite her attempt to have it both ways, Iannarone’s initial sentiments aren’t out of step with her track record. A community organizer and urban policy consultant, Iannarone is a self-described “progressive.” She ran for mayor in 2016 as a Democratic Socialist, receiving 11.8% of the vote. In a 2019 Playboy Magazine article titled “Antifa in Focus,” Iannarone she said she felt a “responsibility” to change the public’s perception of “anti-fascism.”
“Our society’s lack of awareness and understanding of the issue is extremely disappointing to me,” she stated in the piece. “Because this problem exists within the system, it’s important we use radical tactics — though I definitely think electoral politics matter, and that’s why I’m running.”
And that same year, she made headlines for her “I am Antifa” tweet.
To those who say Antifa are violent thugs: I am not a violent thug and I am Antifa.— sarah iannarone (she/her) (@sarahforpdx) January 27, 2019
I am Antifa because the Red Hats are coming after brown & black people, after Jews, after queer & trans people, and more.
They are coming after our democracy. #HolocaustMemorialDay #NeverForget
Iannarone’s campaign website notes that under current circumstances, Portland is “not a safe place for all — in perception or in reality.” For that, she blames current police practices and the federal officers sent in by President Trump. If elected, Iannarone has vowed to push for a $50 million cut to the Portland Police Department, which is what Defund the Police activists have called for. According to her platform, this funding would be redirected toward other community programs.
“Reducing the budget of the PPB doesn’t mean there’s nobody there when you call for help,” her website explains. “It means more funds available for the alternative types of assistance you may need. We have enough money to help everyone feel safe, and that money should be invested in better housing, transportation, education, health care, and social services that lead to real public safety.”
Nevertheless, Iannarone doesn't view her positions as radical.
“These right-wing types call me an ‘anarchist’ and a ‘communist’ and a ‘terrorist’ because they’re scared of progressives to stand up to bullies,” she said in the interview. “We’ve seen it again and again and there are right-wing smears out there who try to make being anti-fascist something you should be against. It’s 2020! If you support fascism, you shouldn’t vote for me.”