Will fired-up electorate roll dice on challengers?
The 2022 primary may be the most unpredictable local election since 1984, when little-known tavern owner Bud Clark seemingly came out of nowhere to knock off establishment-backed incumbent Mayor Frank Ivancie.
But on May 17, few will be surprised if any incumbent is defeated or forced into a November runoff with less than 50% of the vote. After years of pandemic disruptions, political protests, growing homelessness, surging violence and increasing trash, polls show that most voters are deeply dissatisfied by their elected leaders. Majorities believe Portland and the larger region is headed in the wrong direction.
"Voters are in a historically bad mood and it's clear what they're upset about. There's just nothing that compares to this moment," said John Horvick, senior vice president of the Portland-based DHM polling firm.
Significantly, a number of incumbents are facing strong challengers. Metro President Lynn Peterson, who is defending the elected regional government's response to the homeless crisis, is facing articulate urban planner Alisa Pyszka and two other candidates. Metro District 6 Councilor Duncan Hwang, a nonprofit director and affordable housing developer who has only been in office for three months, is opposed by auditor, nonprofit director and conservationist Terri Preeg Riggsby.
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners chair race has attracted three current members of the board, Sharon Meieran, Jessica Vega Pederson and Lori Stegmann. Meieran launched her campaign by calling for wholesale changes to how homelessness is addressed, and both of the other candidates have picked up that theme.
And both Portland City Council races are hard to predict. Incumbent Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty is being challenged by lawyer and community organizer Rene Gonzalez, administrative law judge and civic activist Vadim Mozyrsky, and eight other candidates. Incumbent Commissioner Dan Ryan, who has only been in office two years, is being challenged by Black activist, nonprofit director Alanna (AJ) McCreary, and seven other candidates.
Endorsement can play an outsized role in close races.
The local media has split on these races, with the most liberal outlets largely supporting the status quo. Willamette Week and the Portland Mercury have endorsed incumbents Peterson, Hwang, Hardesty and Vega Pederson, the most establishment-backed county chair candidate. They have split on the other council race, with Willamette Week endorsing Ryan and the Mercury backing McCreary.
In contrast, the Portland Tribune and the Oregonian have endorsed challenger Pyszka and Meieran. The Tribune endorsed incumbent Hwang and the Oregonian endorsed challenger Riggsby. Both endorsed incumbent Ryan but split on the other council race, with the Tribune backing Mozyrsky and the Oregonian supporting Gonzalez.
Metro's Peterson and Multnomah County's Vega Pederson have attracted the most other endorsements, with each being back by many well-known community leaders and organizations. But some of their challengers also have attracted significant supporters. For example, Pyszka is backed by both the Home Builders Association of Metro Portland and former 1000 Friends of Oregon director Robert Liberty. Meieran is backed by Ed Blackburn, co-founder of the well-established Central City Concern social services agency, and Alan Evans, founder and director of the Bybee Lakes Hope Center. And Mozyrsky is endorsed by both the Portland Business Alliance and several unions.
Only two Portland city commissioners have made endorsements in city races, with Carmen Rubio supporting Hardesty and Mingus Mapps backing Mozyrsky.
The top fundraisers in each of the races are Peterson, Hwang, Vega Peterson, Hardesty and Ryan. Although Mozyrsky and Ryan are participating in the city's Small Donor public campaign finance matching program, they also are supported by the independent Portland United political action committee that has reported raising more than $255,000 so far, mostly for Mozyrsky.
The Portland Association of Teacher also paid $20,000 for an independent mailer for Hardesty.
No head-to-head polls had been publicly released in any of these races by press time. And the results may not be known on election night or the next day because a new Oregon law allows ballots mailed by election day to be counted if they arrive at elections offices up to one week after May 17.
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