City Commission

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish Dies at 61

The long-serving commissioner had announced his intention to resign just two days ago.

By Fiona McCann January 2, 2020

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish has died after a two and a half year battle with stomach cancer, his office announced today.

“This afternoon I received word that Commissioner Nick Fish passed away peacefully today at home, surrounded by his loved ones,” his chief of staff Sonia Schmanski said in a statement. Fish had announced his intention to resign his seat on December 31, after more than 11 years on City Council. “The family wanted me to convey publicly their thanks for all  the words of love and encouragement sent to Nick since his resignation,” said Schmanski. “Nick called his 11 years of service on the Portland City Council 'the great honor of my life.'”

Earlier in December, Fish had announced he would be taking the rest of the month off due to complications from his illness and treatment. Fish, a Harvard graduate and lawyer who moved to Portland from New York in the mid 1990s, won his City Council seat in 2008 when his predecessor Erik Sten resigned midterm. He was reelected to successive four-year terms in 2010, 2014, and 2018. He had planned to work with Mayor Wheeler and City Hall to prepare for a transition and leave office on the election of his successor.

He had most recently been overseeing Portland Parks & Recreation and the Bureau of Environmental Services. Previous portfolios included the Portland Housing Bureau and the Portland Water Bureau. He was also known as a long-time advocate for the arts in Portland, and an avid Thorns and Timbers supporter.

Former and current colleagues took to social media after he announced his resignation, to pay tribute to the long-serving commissioner.

“Smart, hard working, values-based, results oriented: yes, that’s a lot of nerdy buzz words, I know, but, in Nick’s case, these attributes are actually true,” wrote former mayor Sam Adams—who beat Fish in his first bid for a council seat in 2004—in a Facebook post. “But most important, he’s down-to-earth, agrees and disagrees well, and has a sly sense of humor that makes him a lot of fun to work with.”

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz also lauded Fish’s “long list of accomplishments”:

And his beloved Thorns expressed their own gratitude for his service:

In his last public statement, Fish called out what he described as “a stark decline in civility” over the last decade in this country.

“Portland has not been immune to the national weakening of civil discourse. And, as we grapple with the future of our country and our planet, we are becoming a big city, with our own growing pains,” he said. “We can rise to this occasion and embrace inclusivity, sustainability, and shared prosperity for all. We must unite around these values and make them real through collective effort.”

Fish, who was married to PSU professor Patricia Schechter with whom he had two children, also thanked his family for their support over his illness.

“I am grateful for the support and love my family and I have felt over the last two and a half years that I have fought against cancer. And I am privileged to have had the opportunity to serve the community I love for the past decade. Thank you for allowing me this honor, and for all that you do to make Portland special. The future is bright.—Nick.” 

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