Candidate Criticized After Mocking 'City of Roaches'

Oregon governor contender Betsy Johnson takes heat over her label of Portland
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 30, 2022 4:04 PM CDT
Candidate's Portland Mockery Criticized as Dehumanizing
Betsy Johnson, shown in her campaign office in Portland, Oregon, last month, brought roaches into her campaign rhetoric.   (AP Photo/Sara Cline)

An independent candidate for governor of Oregon took an interesting approach to building support, criticizing the state's largest city by suggesting the bloom is off the City of Roses because of homelessness. Betsy Johnson's comments appeared this week in a New York Times newsletter, the Bulletin reports. "You can see the deterioration of the beautiful City of Roses, now the city of roaches," Johnson said. The candidate added that Portland "is failing" and that "I don’t think any problem demonstrates the need better to change Oregon's politics than the failure to solve homelessness on our streets."

Equating people who lack housing with vermin didn't go over well with everyone. Marginalized groups have been labeled "cockroaches" in the past, said the director of Portland State University’s Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative. Such language "completely erases their humanity," said Marisa Zapata. "It's deeply upsetting to have somebody using that language to describe people who are living their lives the best they can. It's especially upsetting to have someone who’s been in a position of leadership in our state talk about future constituents this way."

Porland's mayor saw it the same way. "We need a governor who will partner with us to help find solutions and fight for Portland—not disparage and write us off," Ted Wheeler said. Johnson's communications director said the comments resonated with people. "What Betsy has been saying for months is that Oregon cannot succeed if Portland fails," she said, adding that just 8% of residents say the city is on the right track. The mayor invited all candidates for governor to tour Portland with him to learn about the city's issues, per KOIN. (More Oregon stories.)

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