Mayor Ted Wheeler today announced the appointment of Bobby Lee as his Chief of Staff. In this role, Lee will lead implementation of Mayor Wheeler’s second term priorities: actions to reduce homelessness and the impacts of street camping, clean up garbage and graffiti, improve public safety and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession it has caused. Lee joins the mayor’s office after serving as director of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development.
Lee will begin his new job on February 22nd. Sonia Schmanski will be acting chief of staff from February 4th through 22nd. Wheeler’s current chief of staff Kristin Dennis’ last day is February 3rd.
“Bobby Lee’s public, private and civic experience, along with his work bringing partners together to tackle complex challenges, will help us address Portlanders’ top concerns – homelessness, COVID and public safety,” Wheeler said. “He knows this community. He knows economic development, which is essential as we support our local businesses through the pandemic. And, he has the management experience to get the most from our amazing City team.”
Before working for the City of Seattle, Lee was director of economic development for Prosper Portland. In that role, Lee helped launch the Portland Means Progress, Inclusive Business Resource Network and commercial affordability programs to support and grow local businesses.
Lee also has significant experience at the state level. He focused on regional economic and community development as regional solutions coordinator for Oregon Governors John Kitzhaber and Kate Brown. Prior to the Governor’s office, Lee spent five years at Worksystems, Inc., a non-profit organization helping underserved adults and youth get the skills, training and education they need to go to work or to advance in their careers.
“I’m really excited to return to Oregon and to Portland,” Lee said. “There’s no denying that 2020 was a difficult year for Portland and Seattle. We all faced so many interrelating crises at the same time, from the global pandemic and subsequent economic recession, to the civil rights reckoning, to wildfires and more. Fortunately, today we have a chance to bring Portland back. With the new federal partnership, we have a chance to accelerate economic and civic recovery that brings real relief. If there was ever a time to come together and step up, it is right now.”
Lee also has experience as an elected official, having served on the Eugene City Council where he helped expand programs to support homeless youth and affordable housing. He also was appointed by Governor Barbara Roberts to serve on the Oregon State Board of Higher Education and has served on numerous boards for community-based organizations with progressive missions.
“After talking to many candidates, it was clear Bobby Lee brings the right experience and skills to serve Portlanders as my Chief of Staff,” Wheeler said. “He has experience working with community members, elected officials, civic organizations and businesses to collaboratively address complex challenges, which is exactly what we need.”
Like Mayor Wheeler, Lee uses exercise to manage professional stress. He has run 20 marathons.
“Running keeps me centered,” Lee said. “I normally come in last place –– just to be clear.”
Lee holds a master’s degree in Planning, Public Policy and Management from the University of Oregon and a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology, also from U of O. While studying at U of O, Lee was elected president of the student body, becoming the first Asian American to hold the office.