City Hall: 'Sea change' or change of course?
PORTLAND — Change is well underway at City Hall. The next City Council might have a new mayor and majority. And Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty could be the most senior member with just two years of experience.
At the May 19 primary election, voters chose Carmen Rubio to be the first Latina on the council. The Latino Network executive director will replace the longest serving current member, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who first took office in 2009.
The previous senior member, Commissioner Nick Fish, died of cancer in early January. He first began serving after winning a May 2008 special election. Portland voters now will choose between former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith and longtime school advocate Dan Ryan to replace him at an Aug. 11 special election.
And voters also could choose to replace the two incumbents running for reelection, creating a council with four new members by January.
Mayor Ted Wheeler won easily in the May 19 primary election but he needed 50%-plus-one to avoid a runoff at the Nov. 3 general election. He narrowly missed that mark and has been forced into a runoff with instructor and community activist Sarah Iannarone.
And Commissioner Chloe Eudaly will face neighborhood advocate Mingus Mapps in the same election.
John Horvick, the director of the Portland-based DHM Research firm, was not surprised that both Wheeler and Eudaly were forced into runoff elections.
"Even pre-COVID-19, we know the mood of Portland voters was pretty sour, with a high level of concern about homelessness," said Horvick, who also thought it was likely Wheeler would be reelected outright.
The uncertainty also seem appropriate, given the extraordinary circumstances of the primary election, which was conducted during the COVID-19 shutdown and made conventional campaigning difficult. Social distancing requirements prevented volunteer gatherings, fundraising parties, door-to-door canvassing and debates before live audiences. They were replaced by social media campaigns, online debates and a greater reliance on mailings and TV advertisements.
At first glance, Wheeler seems to have an overwhelming advantage in his race against Iannarone. He came within less than a percentage point of winning outright while she only attracted 24% of the vote.
"I am humbled by the support I've received thus far," Wheeler said after the runoff was confirmed. "Portlanders from all walks of life know how much I love this city, and they know I'll continue to work hard for them day in and day out."
Iannarone only won two of 92 precincts in Portland. Perennial candidate Bruce Broussard won another one. Wheeler won all the others, despite falling just short of winning more than 50% of the total vote.
"Wheeler has to be considered the favorite. It's doubtful that a majority of voters support Iannarone's progressive politics," Horvick said.
But the Wheeler campaign only has around $51,000 in the bank and it is unclear how much more he can raise. The Oregon Supreme Court approved a voter-passed contribution limit of $250 weeks before the election that had not been enforced up until then. Wheeler had collected contributions of $5,000 and more up until the ruling. Iannarone and campaign finance activists are suing Wheeler's campaign in Multnomah County Circuit Court to prevent him from spending what they are calling his "illegal contributions."
In contrast, Iannarone already has qualified for Portland's new Open & Accountable public campaign financing program. That is how she collected more than $430,000 to finance her primary election campaign. It will again match all small contributions she raises six-to-one in the general election.
"We are confident that we have everything we need to succeed in November when voter turnout will likely be much higher, the incumbent is forced to adhere to campaign finance laws, and many of the benefits he gained from the pandemic begin to fade," Iannarone said.
Eudaly's challenge looks even harder. She was held to just around 31% of the vote and Mingus Mapps nearly matched her at 29%. Another 28% showed their dissatisfaction with Eudaly by voted for former Portland Mayor Sam Adams. Although both Eudaly and Mapps are participating in the public campaign financing program, he outraised her by a better than 2-to-1 margin in the primary.
"Eudaly has to be considered the underdog if the election were held today," Horvick said. "Mingus has to be congratulated for doing as well as he did against an incumbent commissioner and a former mayor."
But Eudaly has risen to the occasion before. She came in second behind then-Commissioner Steve Novick in the 2016 May primary election before coming from behind to beat him in that year's November general election.
General election campaigning already is underway. Last Thursday, Hardesty endorsed Ryan over Smith, whom she defeated in the 2018 runoff election. The bad blood between Hardesty and Smith is no secret.
Full coverage of the May primary election: http://www.PortlandTribune.com.
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