IN THE END, the polls taken in the waning days of this year's seemingly endless primary election didn't lie. Mostly. And when the voters finally spoke, they proved a familiar Portland political truism: Money helps candidates talk, but it doesn't make voters listen.
As results started pouring in late Tuesday, May 15, Charlie Hales, the former city commissioner working to resurrect his political career, had staked his claim as the frontrunner heading into November's mayoral runoff. Behind him was Jefferson Smith, the charismatic state representative who surged into contention on the back of an impressive get-out-the-vote push as Election Day drew near.
And in the denouement of a quiet, agonizing fade, Eileen Brady, the New Seasons co-founder who raised (and then promptly spent) a staggering $1 million-plus on consultants and fuzzy TV ads, was left hoping and praying that a late surge of votes might miraculously push her ahead of Smith and keep her campaign alive.
"I did call Charlie, and I did congratulate him," Brady finally told supporters gathered on the Portland Spirit, after watching the first results at home—a sure sign she knew what was coming. "And I did tell him I hope to be in the runoff with him. And he was very gracious... We're just going to wait a little bit longer."
As of press time, the writing was on the wall. But Brady was among a handful of candidates who proved that, in this town, in this state, raising the most money is rarely a sure path to victory.
State Representative Mary Nolan, with more than $300,000 at her disposal, was heading to a runoff with incumbent City Commissioner Amanda Fritz—despite hopes she'd raised enough to win the fight outright. And in the Oregon attorney general's race, former federal prosecutor Dwight Holton, despite enjoying a sizeable fundraising lead up until the campaign's last days, wound up trounced by retired judge Ellen Rosenblum.
But all this business about who's going to preside over the future of our city and our state and blah blah blah—that's just formalities. Election Night's also about parties—deli platters and cash bars and bad music and snark. The Mercury sent correspondents to as many bashes as we could and watched the results into the wee hours. This is what we found.
Charlie Hales, unlike every other candidate, had a modest party at campaign headquarters, which fit in neatly with his political messages of earnestness and getting back to the "basics." No booze, just Widmer kegs and sausages and shave ice. Before the party, he was walking around in a T-shirt and jeans, helping his staff move desks. Then he stepped out for a quick gym workout. "I pumped desks and then I pumped iron," he joked.
Jefferson Smith, as is his way, meandered to his party at the Bossanova Ballroom well after the action started. Hours after the results were announced, the floor was covered with spilled booze and dancing revelers. (Rumor has it drinks were STRONG.) Smith himself was drinking and hugging everyone in sight, and his wife was glowing. "It's good to see people here, feels really powerful," he said late into the evening. "I don't expect an answer until tomorrow. I'm here tonight for the people. I'm emotionally prepared to advance−or to get my tail kicked."
Aboard the Portland Spirit, Eileen Brady was upbeat, though realistic about her fading chances, promising her doggedly devoted crowd that they would "continue this work" regardless of how the votes turned out. But things were not looking good—she was behind Smith, far behind Hales, and presiding over a booze cruise that was subdued to begin with and grew progressively mellower, until, aside from a cluster of stragglers, it turned into a ghost ship. As the evening wound down, the mood wasn't angry, frustrated, or even unpleasant—there was just a mild sort of disappointment hanging over the night as, one by one, partygoers filed off the gangway, heading home.
Ellen Rosenblum's supporters were drinking wine and munching on cupcakes while waiting for her victory speech. It was fair to wonder what might have been inside those baked goods—after months of trailing Dwight Holton in fundraising, Rosenblum tightened that gap in the last days of the race with a $180,000 infusion from two medical marijuana groups—cash she earned thanks to her more sensible stance on enforcing pot laws. Pot advocates crowed about her landslide win over Holton as proof of their power. Rosenblum wouldn't go that far, saying it's really just a "health care law."
Poor Amanda Fritz. Her party was as Spartan as her campaign: No alcohol, and it wrapped early, at 9 pm, so she could wake up for work, AKA Wednesday's Portland City Council meeting. As much as Mary Nolan was hoping to win outright, Fritz was really, really hoping to not have to spend the next four-plus months in the trenches. She's tired. And because she won't accept more than $50 from any single supporter, she's had to spend tens of thousands of her own cash to keep pace. She's not going to start asking for more money now—even if that means she loses. "So be it."
At Mary Nolan's party, the crowd was small but boisterous. Kanye West songs gave way to an impromptu piano performance. Nolan's in a good position for the fall runoff—not least because of support from city unions. Jim Forquer, president of the Portland Firefighters Association, Local 43, whose organization backed Nolan's campaign, was watching the results and said he didn't expect to see much change.
Steve Novick didn't have to wait long to figure out he'd won Randy Leonard's city council seat in a landslide. No surprise, given he didn't have a high-profile opponent. Novick was drinking at Holocene with Metro Councilor winner Bob Stacey, and despite (or maybe because of) imbibing, he couldn't help but drift into wonkery: health care, public safety, earthquake preparedness, foreclosures, etc. But first? A trip to New Orleans with his girlfriend.
Asked if he expected to be ahead by such a large margin in the mayoral race—10 points after the first results came in—Hales replied, "No. In a word." He credits a grassroots campaign, knocking on 35,000 doors and listening to Portlanders about the issues they cared most about: "You hope that gets you traction," he says, "and that that substantial basis is better than marketing. And we were up against a significant amount of marketing." Was he surprised that Brady was third? Yep. "It really seemed like she faded."
—Denis C. Theriault, Alex Zielinski, Erik Henriksen, Courtney Ferguson, Nathan Gilles, Jake Thomas, Georgia Perry, and Jake Hachquet contributed reporting.