FOR AN IDEA of how Ted Wheeler absolutely throttled the city's mayoral primary on Tuesday, you could do worse than talk to his opponents.
Not Jules Bailey or Sarah Iannarone, so much, but the political unknowns who always figured as immense underdogs.
There was David Schor, for instance, stopping by Wheeler's election night party on the way to his own, and talking about how Wheeler "went out of his way" to make the race more inclusive.
Or punk rock jeweler Bim Ditson, in the dusty dimness of the Firkin Tavern, telling the Mercury that Wheeler's "been a class act the whole time. I don't know if it's a pro move or honesty."
That's just how it went for Wheeler in this election. The state's treasurer—far and away the big-money establishment candidate in a town that's punished that status in years past—never relinquished the frontrunner position he assumed when his candidacy sent Mayor Charlie Hales from the race in late October 2015.
He was too likeable, too polished. And if it was all a cynical "pro move," Portland will find out sometime after January 2017. For now, the city knows who its next mayor is.
Wheeler's victory was the most important of the local races decided on Tuesday night, if not the most decisive. Commissioner Amanda Fritz easily handled a slate of opponents who'd only thought to run against her at the absolute last minute, getting nearly 70 percent of the vote (Wheeler had almost 58 percent in late returns).
Meanwhile, Commissioner Steve Novick appeared headed for a November runoff with Portland architect Stuart Emmons. The four-year, 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax Novick championed held a slim lead with roughly 63 percent of votes tallied, according to the Oregonian.
Two contested Multnomah County Commission seats—earning paltry votes compared to the city races—are both headed to a runoff.
The centerpiece of the evening, though, was the mayoral race—and how unsurprising Wheeler's near immediate victory felt.
"This has been an incredible and slightly early night," Wheeler told cheering, jalapeño-popper-filled supporters at Blitz Ladd. "Tonight the voters spoke loudly and clearly. We need to work together to create real progress for this community."
Meanwhile, in Old Town, Bailey's speech was more somber. "The numbers didn't work out," he said. "But there's much to celebrate."
Bailey, it turns out, hadn't created enough daylight between himself and Wheeler, in a race that could have made issue of the treasurer's heavy reliance on the city's political establishment. Despite being the clear big-money candidate (he dropped more than $500,000 this year alone) and a millionaire to boot, Wheeler easily parried Bailey's attempts to deride his largesse. Plus the two took nearly identical positions on every major issue, and Wheeler's a more relaxed, practiced campaigner.
Bailey logged some decent endorsements in the race—from environmental types and cops—but couldn't pull even.
The limited polling Portlanders saw in the run up to Tuesday's primary indicated many voters were undecided in the race, but it appears a lot of them landed on Wheeler.
Sarah Iannarone, who'd garnered roughly 10 percent of the vote with 59 percent of votes counted, wouldn't concede the race as of 9:45 pm, though news outlets had called it long ago. "I'm not ready to bow out yet," she said.
In some ways, Novick's outcome Tuesday is the partial conclusion of an arc that began May 22, 2014. That morning, dressed in a dark suit, in a sun-soaked Southeast Portland park, Novick was making his first formal pitch for a controversial street fee that would come to envelop Portland City Hall in negativity in the months to come.
On that sunny knoll, Novick uttered something that's been repeated again and again by his detractors in the years since. If voters didn't like the street fee he and Hales were proposing, he said, "They can throw us out."
The street fee eventually got bounced, but plenty of people were interested in taking Novick up on his challenge just the same. "Stuart Emmons" signs seemed to flourish in the West Hills and elsewhere. The Oregonian even based its endorsement solidly on the premise that someone must be better than Novick, then found reasons to make Emmons its pick.
And it mattered, apparently. Late returns, reflecting a little more than half the votes counted, showed Novick with 43 percent of the vote, Emmons with 15 percent, and Reading Frenzy owner Chloe Eudaly with 12.9 percent.
Novick, in his typical jocular way, readily accepted that a runoff was in his future. "I have no problem continuing to talk to voters," he said, hinting strongly he'd far prefer a race against Eudaly over one against Emmons.
More pressing to the city's transportation commissioner: The 10-cent gas tax he'd championed, which held a slim lead late on Tuesday. [NOTE: It's since been declared a winner.]
"Obviously we're on pins and needles over the gas tax," he said, as the measure showed 51.5 percent support with 63 percent of votes cast.
The gas tax is modest, compared to the street fee Novick was pushing that day in 2014. It's expected to generate around $16 million a year, for four years. The city needs to spend more than $100 million a year to get its roads up to par.
But a victory in Tuesday's race would also be historic. In the last decade, the state's fuel interests have repeatedly fended off attempts to generate new money for Portland roads. They tried again this time around. Since early April, the Oregon Fuels Association hauled in huge checks from fuel and trucks interests in Idaho, Washington, and California (along with plenty of smaller donations from local outfits), and dropped more than $137,000.
In the same timeframe, Fix Our Streets PDX, the "yes" campaign, spent $87,355, with sizeable donations coming from Wheeler and Novick's campaign committees, and labor unions.
In county races, local physician Sharon Meieran is headed into a runoff with county employee Eric Zimmerman for a slot on the county commission seat representing West Portland (and some areas east of the river). Lori Stegmann and Amanda Schroeder will continue to battle for a seat representing East Multnomah County.
And in Portland City Hall, the obvious question is how effective Mayor Hales can be now that his successor is chosen.
"I'll certainly offer [Wheeler] all the assistance I can when transition time comes," Hales told the Mercury, during his visit to Iannarone's campaign party (his wife Nancy is her boss).
At Wheeler's party, we asked Commissioner Nick Fish, who very publicly clashed with Hales over the budget recently, if the mayor's influence is diminished as a result of Wheeler's win.
"Of course," said Fish, palming a beer, "he's a lame duck mayor."
Which is true. But here's another thing that's true, Portland: Your next mayor has a sort-of serious full-time job already.
Toward the end of his victory speech, Wheeler mentioned he'd be "working on my success as state treasurer, which by the way I still am."
Everybody laughed and kept drinking.
Doug Brown, Megan Burbank, Suzette Smith, Courtney Ferguson, and Erik Henriksen contributed to this report.