SAY HELLO to the new Portland City Hall—which looks just like the one we've had for the past year and a half.
Given a chance to salve their anger over rising sewer and water rates with a dramatic restructuring of city government, voters on Tuesday, May 20, furiously rejected a flawed, confusing plan to create a Portland Public Water District backed heavily by large industrial interests.
"The money grabbers win," said Floy Jones, a co-petitioner and water district backer, turning rhetoric many lobbed at the water campaign—that it was a big-money takeover—back on the victors. "We're gonna see, on Thursday, the water rates rise again."
Voters also embraced, overwhelmingly, a pair of city council incumbents who faced both criticism and unexpected challengers in what otherwise would have been scot-free runs to re-election.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman, in his quest for a fifth term, easily fended off his Mercury-endorsed challenger, university professor Nick Caleb. Caleb, raising only a few thousand dollars after filing on the second-to-last day possible to make the ballot, forced Saltzman to stake out radical positions on raising Portland's minimum wage. But Caleb couldn't force the council's dean into a runoff race, capturing only 17 percent of the vote in early returns.
It was about the same for Commissioner Nick Fish, who sailed to victory over Northeast Portland contractor Sharon Maxwell despite taking turns with Mayor Charlie Hales as the favored whipping boy of the crusaders pushing for a water district. Fish, named the city's water and sewer commissioner last summer right when rage over rates was cresting, still won nearly 73 percent of the vote.
But even with all that seeming good news, no one ought to be clapping too loudly.
Even in defeat, the water district still made it to the ballot and managed to attract thousands of voters so disillusioned with the status quo they were willing to strip Portland's sewer and water bureaus from city council's control and hand them to a separately elected seven-member board.
The district plan might have left most voters nonplussed, but the anger stoked by its backers—holding up expensive vanity projects like a water-technology demonstration house—won't cool in the absence of real reforms.
That the outrage was turned aside was a testament only to the hundreds of thousands raised in an opposition campaign led by Hales and assisted by environmentalists and labor unions.
"The voters gave Mayor Hales a second chance," said Kent Craford, co-petitioner for the water district along with Jones, making noise about reconciliation in the wake of his defeat. "He's not gonna get a third chance."
Hales was a bit more exultant when he addressed his team over at a Pearl District sports bar.
"The voters believe in good government," Hales said. "They want us to mind their dollars carefully, and we will do all these things. We will affirm their faith in our city, since they affirmed their willingness to stick with us."
Meanwhile in Multnomah County races, any suspense over a potential fall runoff between Deborah Kafoury and Jim Francesconi, both running to serve as the next county chair, died with a resounding and definitive thud just after 8 pm on Election Night.
Kafoury, who gave up her seat on the county commission last fall to try to replace sex-scandal-tarnished Jeff Cogen, had always been seen as the heir apparent and cemented that with an indomitable supermajority in early returns.
Francesconi, a former city commissioner who famously lost a high-priced mayoral run in 2004, didn't even scratch a quarter of the votes. That's despite a coup of sorts by Francesconi in stealing support from the county's main union away from Kafoury. He also went big on issues like the minimum wage and the plight of East Multnomah County.
"We talked about the gap between the rich and poor," he said while sipping a whiskey, neat, at his campaign party. "I'm happy about that."
In the race to fill Kafoury's old seat, State Representative Jules Bailey trounced local businessman Brian Wilson, holding roughly 72 percent of the vote, and proving that county residents are happy to have a numbers-oriented policy wonk help helm the region's social services.
Least surprising of all, incumbent Commissioner Loretta Smith easily won another four years in the county's District 2, garnering more than 76 percent of the vote.
As for races farther afield, Doctor Monica Wehby handily won the right to take on US Senator Jeff Merkley as the Republican Party's standard-bearer in a race that's got a national following. She beat state lawmaker Jason Conger despite a recent run of unflattering leaks about her personal life.
And last but not least, GOP State Representative Dennis Richardson, as expected, will try to take down (the very well-funded but potentially vulnerable) Governor John Kitzhaber this fall.