An election in August? At least it’s a short ballot: one race, two names.
Following city commissioner Nick Fish’s death on January 2 and the failure of any of the 18 candidates for his seat to win majority of votes in the primary, this summer is prime campaign season for Dan Ryan and Loretta Smith. The city charter mandates that a runoff to fill a vacated seat occur on a speedier timeline than Oregon’s usual May primary–November general election rhythm. Ballots are due by 8 p.m. Tuesday, August 11. After Thursday, August 6, it’s safest to take them to a ballot drop instead of mailing them.
Both candidates have held office before: Ryan was briefly on the Portland Public Schools Board of Directors before resigning to become CEO of the chief fundraising foundation in the district, and Smith has spent most of the past decade as a Multnomah County commissioner. In 2018, she made her way to a runoff in the general election for a different city council seat but lost to Jo Ann Hardesty. Hardesty had the most votes in the primary in 2018, too, but another recent city runoff saw the second-place primary finisher claim victory in the general election, when Chloe Eudaly ousted incumbent Steve Novick from his council seat in 2016.
Most Portlanders who voted in May voted for someone else: Ryan and Smith won approximately 17 and 19 percent, respectively, meaning most voters now have to choose between two candidates they just weren’t that into. That’s a tone that comes through in local publications’ tepid endorsements of Ryan. Personal endorsements have been heartier, with both candidates showcasing their support among the Black community: Hardesty has appeared in TV ads for Ryan, and Smith’s campaign website prominently features the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
A one-race Voters’ Pamphlet isn’t as juicy as the primary’s thick read, so voters looking for more information might want to catch up on some of their recent joint appearances. They can’t quite be called debates, but the two met Friday in a City Club forum moderated by OPB’s Jeff Mapes and shown live on YouTube and Tuesday in a Zoom town hall hosted by the Associated Students of Portland State University and broadcast on Facebook Live. Thursday they meet again in a candidate forum presented by NAYA Native American Youth and Family Center.
In the forums, expect to hear a lot of the same phrases over and over (from Smith, “as a Black mother who raised a Black son,” “as a single mother,” “five generations”; from Ryan, “my brother who died on the streets,” “first in my family to graduate from college,” “Roosevelt High School”) and a lot of shared support for homelessness programs, affordable housing, police reform, and a city charter revamp.
The forums improve as they go. Last week’s City Club teleconference, for example, was a lot of note reading and rather staged-seeming delivery, and things got downright snippy at the end as each took a dig at the other’s past staff complaints and legal issues. Tuesday’s ASPSU event—moderated in part by Robin Castro, who was briefly a candidate for the same city council seat before suspending her campaign with a pledge to return in 2022, and Candace Avalos, who placed second in the May primary for the council seat won by Carmen Rubio—showed both candidates had grown more comfortable with the format. The only tense moment may have been when Smith, in her closing remarks, proudly announced, “Basic Rights Oregon Greenlight is endorsing me,” and Ryan tilted his head and tightened his lips just a bit as he took in that claim. The LGBTQ+ group’s “greenlight” is not an endorsement of one candidate over another, but merely a rubber stamp that a candidate has been deemed pro-equity. Ryan’s name is right next to Smith’s on the greenlight list, and he also has a rainbow flag below his photo, which Basic Rights uses to signify out LGBTQ+ candidates.