Dan Ryan Elected to Portland City Council, Defeating Loretta Smith in Runoff

Strong support in some inner-east-side neighborhoods made the difference.

By Margaret Seiler August 12, 2020

Dan Ryan was elected August 11 to Portland City Council.

Dan Ryan has been elected to the Portland City Council to finish the term of Nick Fish, whose January death prompted a special election. After finishing second to former city commissioner Loretta Smith in the May 19 primary, which saw 18 candidates vying for the spot, Ryan, a former school board member who then headed a school fundraising organization, eked out a win in a very close race. Results in nearly half of the 81 voting precincts in Multnomah County showed Ryan and Smith within 100 votes of each other.

About 3,000 votes separated the candidates shortly after the 8 p.m. ballot deadline, growing to more than 4,000 in Ryan’s favor by midnight as counting continued, and more than 5,500 by Wednesday morning, giving Ryan just over 51 percent of the votes cast. This is a reversal from the May primary, which saw Smith in the lead by about 4,600 votes. In that election, though, nearly two-thirds of voters picked someone other than Ryan or Smith.

In a Wednesday-afternoon press conference on Zoom, Ryan said he barely slept last night and had “never pressed refresh so many times in my entire life for a website.” He said he expects to take office in September after results were certified, and that he’s “looking forward, not matter what my bureau, to work as a collaborative team that’s focusing on the top crises of our city at this time, so COVID recovery and how we’re building a new community safety system, just to name two.”  

Turnout in the county topped 38 percent, fairly strong for an off-month local race and higher than the county’s percentage for most nonpresidential-year primaries. (A few hundred voters in Clackamas and Washington County residents fall in Portland city limits, too, but not enough for meaningful turnout comparisons.)

Ryan’s winning margin came largely from a handful of neighborhoods, with Alameda and Beaumont-Wilshire giving him nearly a fifth of the overall vote difference and an inner Southeast swatch from North Tabor through Laurelhurst, Sunnyside, Ladd’s Addition, Brooklyn, and Eastmoreland adding significantly to his total, as well as west-side areas like the Pearl, Slabtown, and the Southwest Hills around OHSU. Smith’s strongholds were Kenton and Portsmouth in North Portland and outer Northeast and Southeast from Parkrose south to Pleasant Valley. 

Fish’s term expires at the end of 2022, so Ryan will have to run for reelection in two years to keep the seat. In other council races this year, Carmen Rubio won outright in the primary to claim the seat of Amanda Fritz, who is retiring; incumbent Chloe Eudaly faces a challenge from Mingus Mapps, who just barely beat former commissioner and mayor Sam Adams to come in second and advance to a runoff; and Mayor Ted Wheeler just missed the 50 percent mark and faces a runoff against Sarah Iannarone, as well as a write-in campaign favoring Teressa Raiford. The only council seat not involved in an election this year is held by Jo Ann Hardesty, who defeated Smith in a runoff in 2018 and endorsed Ryan in this race.

While Ryan previously ran for and won a seat on the Portland Public Schools Board of Directors, this is his first city council race. Fish himself had run unsuccessfully twice before he won his seat in 2008, also in a special election to finish an unexpired term after an unexpected council departure—in that case the resignation of City Commissioner Erik StenRyan makes history as being the first person living with HIV known to be elected to the Portland City Council. Adams and Eudaly are the first and second out LGBTQ+ members of city council, Ryan is the third, and Iannarone would be the fourth, according to Basic Rights Oregon’s Equity PAC.

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