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Image: Amy Martin

It was a classic scene of Rose City democracy. In a packed inner Southeast bar, fraying sweaters brushed against suit jackets; gray ponytails contrasted with extra-tight hipster vests. As city council incumbent Steve Novick and challenger Chloe Eudaly began their first head-to-head debate at the Slide Inn in September, the 15-minute beer line almost meandered right into the corner where the rivals sat, crammed side by side.

Yes, it looked awkward, but the setting underscored the race’s quintessential Portlandness. Novick, the council’s old-school progressive, faces a challenge from the left after Eudaly, an electoral rookie, channeled Portland’s affordability crunch in May’s primary to force a November runoff. And so while Hillary and the Donald waged rhetorical Ragnarok for control of the nuclear codes, Novick and Eudaly earnestly debated housing bonds, zoning codes, minority contractor hiring, and seismic preparedness.

Early in the debate, Novick noted his childhood support for pioneering black presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm. That’s Steve: the 53-year-old former environmental lawyer who often frames his work as part of a long heritage of practical reform. Eudaly, for her part, traced her political education to Portland’s “Little Beirut” protests against the 1991 Gulf War. And that’s Chloe: the 46-year-old longtime owner of zine shop Reading Frenzy who represents DIY culture and grassroots activism.

In interviews, the rivals amplify their themes. “This is kind of like the [national] election of 1992,” Novick says, “in that people really want to hear specifics. They realize there aren’t silver-bullet solutions.”

“I’ve never seen people this engaged,” Eudaly says. “Maybe it’s because of the air-quality and water-quality issues that we’ve seen this year. But it does feel like people are realizing and seizing their power.”

Novick offers himself as the candidate who can run the city’s gears, talking about paid sick leave and work scheduling reform. Eudaly counters with a promise to bring the concerns of renters, low-income Portlanders, and people of color to the fore.

“We have a small segment of the population vastly overrepresented on the council,” she notes. (She would, for example, be the only east-sider now that Nick Fish has moved to Goose Hollow.)

If nothing else, Novick vs. Eudaly offers a glimpse of a fantastical alternate American universe. The whole country might be blasting off for political Mars, but Steve and Chloe are are happy to compare equations back at ground control. 

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