Fish's death triggers special election
Portland is poised for the most sweeping change to the City Council in modern times.
Four-fifths of the council seats now are up for election following the death of Commissioner Nick Fish. At least two, and up to four, of those elected this year will be newcomers.
Fish died on Thursday, Jan. 2, from stomach cancer he had been fighting for more than two years.
The council chose the May 19 primary as the special election to choose a replace to fill out Fish's unexpired term. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, a run-off between the top two vote-getters will be held at the Aug. 11 special election allowed by Oregon law.
Of the five council members, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly already were running for reelection in 2020. Commissioner Amanda Fritz chose not to seek another term. Now voters also will pick a midterm replacement for Fish this year.
Only Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the newest member of the council, is guaranteed to continue serving in 2021.
"I think the number of contested seats is uncharted territory at a time when 'uncharted territory' is becoming a cliché," said Portland-based lobbyist and veteran City Hall watcher Len Bergstein. "It's a 'best of times, worst of times' scene. If you like stability and continuity, you are in for a nail-biting election. But if you like fresh faces, new energy and innovative ideas, you will be loving it."
Fish was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2017 but had been maintaining a busy schedule until December, when he took most of the month off because his disease had gotten more "complicated."
No candidates immediately announced for Fish's position.
Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson and state Rep. Diego Hernandez have previously expressed interest in the council but have not yet filed for any of the other three position that are up in 2020.
Former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith ran for the council in 2018 but lost to Hardesty in the runoff election. Metro Councilor Sam Chase previously served as Fish's chief of staff at City Hall. Former Mayor Sam Adams has returned to Portland. And some of the candidates who previously filed against Wheeler and Eudaly also could switch to a run for Fish's seat.
Regardless of the results, the council will at least be losing its two most senior members.
Fish, a lawyer, joined the council in 2008 after winning a May special election to fill the unexpired term of Commissioner Erik Sten, who resigned to pursue other interests. Fish was reelected to a full four-year term in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
Fritz, a psychiatric nurse and neighborhood activist, also was first elected to the council in 2008, but did not take office until the next year. She was reelected in 2012 and 2016.
In contrast, Wheeler and Eudaly were elected to the council in 2016, and Hardesty took office in 2019.
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