As City Hall Turns
It hasn’t been a banner year for anyone not named Jeff Bezos, but 2020 has been particularly unfortunate for embattled Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. Paradoxically, the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic played to his strengths—Wheeler was an early and forceful advocate for shutting down the state to contain the virus, and shepherding the city through the resultant economic downturn seemed like a good fit for the former state treasurer. Building on that momentum, he came close to winning the May primary outright, with 49 percent of the vote. Then came a summer of Black Lives Matter protests, during which Wheeler whiplashed between the protester demands for sweeping change and his role as police commissioner. Running to his left is Sarah Iannarone, an urban policy adviser who has made a point of regularly being on the ground with protesters. She’s calling for shelter hubs in every neighborhood for the houseless and, during the pandemic, a moratorium on police sweeps of homeless camps. Though Iannarone garnered just 24 percent of the vote in the crowded primary, she has a clearer path in November with a head-to-head matchup.
Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly ousted incumbent and consummate insider Steve Novick in 2016 to vault into public office from her perch as a leftie bookshop owner and tenants’ rights advocate. In nearly four years in office, Eudaly has focused on affordable housing, fiscal protection for renters, and transportation equity. But her attempts to broaden the scope of who gets to weigh in on critical development, budget, and policy decisions led to a showdown with entrenched neighborhood associations, and fueled Mingus Mapps’s rise as a candidate. In a twist, Mapps, who has worked as a political science professor and a community organizer, used to work in a city office under Eudaly’s purview, the Office of Community & Civic Life, but was fired after declining to discipline a fellow employee. Both are single parents, but Mapps, who is Black, has said he has the lived experience to address police reform; Eudaly, meanwhile, drew the ire of her fellow Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty earlier this year when she voted against a $15 million cut for the Portland Police Bureau, saying it was too incremental of a step.
Meanwhile, in Gresham
The political intrigue runs deep in Gresham, where the city manager, mayor, and police chief all resigned in June after a dispute over allegations of racism, only for the police chief to make a triumphant return to her job days later. Six people are seeking the mayoralty, including Latinx activist and city council member Eddy Morales, founder of political action committee East County Rising. Also in the race: Gresham Chamber of Commerce board member and tech CEO Travis Stovall, who has the backing of influential former mayor Shane Bemis, along with (not pictured) commercial garbage driver Joe Demers and residents Nick Switzer and Sean Bishop.
The Q Factor
Oregon’s incumbent Democratic US Senator, Jeff Merkley, is unlikely to be losing sleep over his reelection campaign, given Oregon’s status as a safely blue harbor. (Rumors he could be in line for a cabinet post—secretary of state?—would be more plausible if Sen. Bernie Sanders had captured the nomination.) Nevertheless, it should be noted that his GOP opponent, semi-retired insurance agent Jo Rae Perkins, who is making her fourth try at federal office, is a fan of Q-Anon, a dark-web internet conspiracy group that, among other things, theorizes that a klatch of high-ranking Democrats are Satan-worshipping pedophiles.
Was it a fluke when the late Dennis Richardson, a Central Point Republican, won the race for secretary of state in 2016, the first from the GOP to win a statewide election since former US Sen. Gordon Smith? Or are Oregonians seeking some checks and balances against the Democratic grip on the state capitol? We’ll know more after this race between two state senators, Republican Kim Thatcher of Keizer and Democrat Shemia Fagan of East Portland. At stake: who controls the every-10-years redrawing of political boundary lines, important because Oregon’s population growth of the past decade may yield a new congressional seat. (Whoever wins is also next in line to be governor: Kate Brown is a former secretary of state who rose to governor when her predecessor resigned.)
Three Seats to the Win?
Here’s what Democrats who run Salem are lacking: wiggle room, specifically in the state Senate. Sure, on paper, they have an 18–12 split in their favor. But in practice, that’s not enough for a quorum, which requires 20 members to show up to take a vote. Their Republican counterparts have staged high-profile walkouts in recent years to kill legislation, including a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade deal. This November, Democrats will try to neutralize that threat, with big races in three state Senate seats from swing districts in Salem, Bend, and along the coast. In the 10th District in Salem, incumbent Republican Denyc Boles faces a challenge from health care advocate and ordained minister Deb Patterson. In the 27th, which includes Bend, incumbent Republican Tim Knopp squares off with retired Daimler Trucks controller and Democratic activist Eileen Kiely. And the Republican mayor of Lincoln City, Dick Anderson, will face Melissa Cribbins, a Democrat and Coos County Commissioner, in the race to replace the retiring Democrat Arnie Roblan, in the Fifth District—a must-hold seat for Democrats in a district that’s been hard-hit by the pandemic. High turnout could make the difference in any of these races—will it be a Trump Bump or a Biden Bonanza?