During a recess in last week’s Portland City Council session, I chased down Mayor Ted Wheeler.
I was interested in getting more details on a letter he’d sent to former Police Chief Larry O’Dea that laid out some stark findings in strong language. But before I could ask my first question, Commissioner Nick Fish intervened.
“I need to speak with him,” Fish told me matter-of-factly, urging the mayor over to his office. Wheeler said he needed coffee. Fish said no, they had to speak.
It was an uncharacteristically gruff moment for one of City Hall’s more affable and savvy operators. I wondered what sort of fight the two elected officials, frequently allies, were having behind the closed door of Fish’s personal office.
The next day, it made sense.
On Thursday morning, Fish’s staff released a statement announcing the nine-year city commissioner had been diagnosed with stomach cancer.
“Over the past few months, I experienced weight loss, poor appetite, indigestion, and abdominal pain,” Fish said in a statement. “A recent CT scan rang a number of alarm bells. A follow-up laparoscopy this week confirmed our worst fears: adenocarcinoma of the abdomen.”
It is frightening news for Fish and his employees, of course, and the outpouring of support—from colleagues, from community members, from social media antagonists—has been enormous. When I visited Fish’s office last Friday, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly had popped in from vacation to wish him the best.
And given the uncertainties, it was good to hear Fish repeating his bullish outlook last week. He’s confident in the abilities of his doctors at OHSU, and plans to keep a full schedule as he undergoes outpatient chemotherapy.
“The medicine will weaken my immune system, but should not prevent me from continuing to serve on the city council,” Fish said in his statement.
That’s in the short term. Fish has yet to figure out what this means for his long-term service on city council.
Prior to his diagnosis, the 58-year-old commissioner, in office since 2008, made plain his intention to run for re-election. But in light of the fight ahead, he’s trying to determine whether a potentially grueling campaign is worth it.
Don’t expect word on that to come too soon. There are too many outstanding questions.
If Fish does decide to run (he’s already got one confirmed challenger in environmental advocate Julia DeGraw), he’ll be the formidable incumbent he was during his last race in 2014, with the name recognition and financial backing to run roughshod over those who would unseat him.
Yes, it’s true that Portland’s still trying to figure out precisely what the formerly ironclad incumbent’s advantage means in light of Eudaly’s victory over Steve Novick last year. But it’s hard to think Fish would be anything other than the heavy favorite.
If Fish makes the decision to duck a political fight to focus on his health, though, it may be a free-for-all.
Would candidates like Jo Ann Hardesty—curently planning a run against Commissioner Dan Saltzman—gravitate toward a potentially easier race? Would other seasoned local politicos throw their hats in the ring? It’s too early to tell, and far, far too early to count Fish out.
Regardless: We wish him the best.