A YEAR THAT upended political precedent refused to exempt Portland City Hall on Tuesday.
In the biggest political upset in a quarter century, bookstore owner and affordable housing advocate Chloe Eudaly unseated City Commissioner Steve Novick—in a race that, at its outset, didn’t even appear to be particularly close.
As soon as initial results flashed onscreen at 8 pm, rapture erupted through Eudaly’s party at Holocene.
“Okay you guys, I’m not starting a cult,” Eudaly said. “I’m just going to be your new commissioner.” Everyone cheered louder.
In other results, Measure 97, the $3 billion statewide corporate tax increase, bowed under the pressure of unprecedented opposition spending. A $258.4 million bond dedicated to affordable housing in Portland cruised to an easy victory.
Meanwhile, Portlanders passed a 3 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana by a wide margin.
At the county level, emergency room doctor Sharon Meieran notched an easy win to land a spot on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, while Multnomah County residents approved bold, possibly illegal reforms to the campaign finance system.
But by far the most stunning apparent win of the night was Eudaly’s. The first results of the night showed she was up more than 10,000 votes, and that lead had grown to roughly 15,000 by the Mercury’s press time.
“Grassroots candidates can win,” the 46-year-old said, addressing a crowd rabidly chanting her name shortly after Novick’s concession. ”You don’t need a lot of money.”
The Reading Frenzy owner’s victory might well be unprecedented in city politics—she’s the first challenger to take out a sitting commissioner since now-Mayor Charlie Hales did it in 1992. But it’s also pretty much on track with the bizarre populist tsunami that—as of press time—showed Donald Trump had his terrible, tiny clutches on the White House.
You could also see how Eudaly’s victory happened—or at least Novick could. After he was forced into a runoff in May, a new sense of contrition crept into the commissioner’s sales pitch. He copped to flubbing his 2013 push for a “street fee” to repair Portland roads, and expressed regret for saying that if voters didn’t like his stance they could vote him out of office.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” he told supporters in his concession speech. “I was impatient and irritable and not my best self.”
Even a hugely successful fundraising push—almost $430,000 this year, as of latest reporting, to Eudaly’s roughly $100,000—couldn’t scrub clean the stain. Eudaly will become just the eighth female ever to serve on Portland City Council, and she’ll be serving with the seventh, Commissioner Amanda Fritz.
The defeat of Measure 97 leaves Oregon with some unenviable questions. First, now that the $3 billion corporate tax hike is off the table, how will the state cope with a budget shortfall expected to top $1 billion in the next budget cycle?
Next, will the corporations and business groups swearing up and down that they wanted a better solution than the oversimplified Measure 97 actually offer any real options for the state’s systemic funding problems?
That will become clear in coming months. On Tuesday, all anyone could say is that what looked to be the biggest nail-biter of this election wasn’t. Measure 97’s strong lead in early September slowly gave way before a flood of nearly $23.5 million in opposition spending, funded by companies like Costco, Anheuser-Busch, Kroger, and McDonald’s. As of last count, the measure was trailing by more than 250,000 votes.
Supporters, funded by public labor unions, spent more than $16 million hoping to sell the idea of a tax that would make corporations pay their fair share, without passing a single cent on to consumers. It didn’t work.
“We didn’t win the election this time, but we did win the debate,” campaign manager Ben Unger told supporters at the Oregon Convention Center. “We’re not done.”
Meanwhile, true to form, the corporate-backed opposition rented out an unsettlingly empty conference room at the downtown Embassy Suites. The room featured a No on 97 banner and pretty much nothing else.
The affordable housing bond never faced any organized opposition—no one wants to argue against more affordable housing in this market.
But the plan faced skepticism nonetheless. Were the 1,300 minimum affordable units promised by the bond worth all that money, or should the city be planning to get the absolute most bang for its buck? And could the Portland Housing Bureau, which has repeatedly blown commitments for affordable housing creation, be trusted with all that cash?
Voters decided yes, fairly resoundingly—as of press time, the bond was up more than 55,000 votes.
“There’s a lot more work to be done,” housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman told supporters gathered at the headquarters of arts organization p:ear. “This affordable housing crisis is not gonna be resolved overnight.”
In the battle to represent West Portland (and a portion of Northeast and Southeast) on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, emergency room doctor Meieran handily beat out Zimmerman, who serves as chief of staff to outgoing Commissioner Diana McKeel.
Meieran wrangled some powerful endorsements on her way to the win, but she also raked in more than $375,000. Zimmerman, unquestionably the more polished candidate, trailed in fundraising this year by more than $200,000.
As of press time, Meieran had 68 percent of the vote, to Zimmerman’s 31 percent.
In a race that didn’t see much heat, Portland voters also blessed a 3 percent sales tax on recreational pot sales that was pushed by Commissioner Amanda Fritz. Officials have said the tax will bring in roughly $3 million dollars a year, but the precise uses of that money are foggy—limited to drug treatment, training for cops, and support for small businesses.
Even with the new tax, Portlanders’ pot prices will be lower in January. The state sales tax is scheduled to drop from 25 percent to 17 percent, meaning Portland dispensaries will, as of January, have a 20 percent tax on recreational pot.
And in an interesting turn, Multnomah County voters approved a charter amendment that places stringent limits on how much candidates for county office can accept from donors, and new disclosures about who pays for their ads. Supporters of that proposal concede that it might well be ruled illegal, but hope to challenge Oregon’s toothless campaign finance limits in the courts.
Of course, pretty much none of this mattered to most people Tuesday night, as despondent Portlanders wrestled with the fact that Donald Fucking Trump might be America’s next fucking president.
It was a sentiment captured aptly by Hales, who approached a crestfallen Novick shortly before 9 pm and said merely:
Doug Brown, Megan Burbank, Suzette Smith, and Erik Henriksen contributed to this report.