May 14, 2012 at 8:47 AM
Portland’s mayoral race: 23 candidates, three frontrunners, only two can advance
PORTLAND, Ore. — May the odds be ever in your favor, Portland’s mayoral candidates.
With Portland Mayor Sam Adams not running for re-election after one term, 23 candidates are competing for the open seat in this Tuesday’s primary election in what might be called a Hunger Games-like scenario. The two top vote-getters will go on to compete for the seat in November, unless someone wins more than 50% of the vote, in which case he or she wins the mayoral race.
UW Election Eye had the chance to catch up with the race’s three frontrunners and one alternative candidate during their last campaign weekend before the primary. With only 17% of ballots mailed in as of Friday afternoon, this was the last chance for candidates to push their get-out-the-vote efforts across the city.
Candidate Jefferson Smith, a former state representative from East Portland, held a get-out-the-vote celebration Saturday after 188 volunteers knocked on nearly 10,000 doors just that day. The rally featured the city’s own March Fourth Marching Band.
“Politics is more like democracy when it’s more human,” said Smith, who created the Oregon BUS Project, the first of its kind in the nation. “Our campaign is at its best when it’s more driven by relationships and purpose, by a shared and common cause.”
Smith said he wasn’t sure if his campaign would make it out of the primary this Tuesday, but said the race would be “much more boring” without him.
We caught up with the other two front-runner candidates and one alternative candidate the next day at the Sunday Parkways–an event where the city closed greenspace roads to motor traffic so that families could enjoy biking and walking around an eight-mile loop encompassing four city parks. There were food carts, rock climbing walls, and outdoor activities, alongside a number of mayoral candidates vying for the opportunity to mingle with Northeast Portland voters.
“I think personal outreach will make the big difference,” candidate and City Commissioner Charlie Hales said. “We’ve held more house parties and coffee meet-ups with Portlanders and I think that will really make a difference when voters sit down to fill out their ballots this weekend.”
In a stab aimed at Commissioner Hales, candidate Eileen Brady said voters were looking for leadership on complex problems, not a career politician. She’s an entrepreneur who created Portland’s local New Seasons Markets, a local chain of Whole Foods-esque grocery stores.
But with weak turnout going into the final weekend, candidates said their campaigns were focused on final GOTV efforts.
“We’re staffing a booth at Alberta Park [at the Sunday Parkways event],” Brady said. “In the next few days we’ll be canvassing, phonebanking, blogging, tweeting, and pushing radio and television content.”
Hales had similar plans. He is campaign has knocked on more than 35,000 doors so far and plans to continue phonebanking and canvassing efforts up to the Tuesday evening deadline.
The race is a toss-up, recent polling by The Oregonian and KING-5 affiliated news station KGW indicates Hales is in the lead with 29%, Smith following with 28% and Brady trailing with 16%.
As we interviewed Brady, a man with no shirt and a bumper sticker stuck to his chest wearing a cardboard box advertisement walked by. “That’s Cameron Whitten, he’s also running for mayor,” she said. “He’s an interesting guy, you should really talk to him.”
So we did.
Whitten, running on the campaign slogan “candidate for unity,” said that the local establishment media casts him as an alternative candidate and has focused on the three frontrunners Hales, Smith and Brady.
But he’s also been in the news. A Portland State University student, Whitten helped to organize numerous demonstrations associated with last year’s Occupy demonstrations. He was arrested four times and lived in the downtown Occupy camp for the duration of its existence, nearly 40 days.
He’s been endorsed by the Pacific Green Party and the Oregon Progressive Party and cast himself as the perfect candidate in “this representative democracy.”
Whitten was up-front, giving out his personal phone number on campaign flyers and describing his background: “In this race, I’m the only queer identified person of color and youth from a low-income background.”
He advocated for a more direct-democracy type of system, saying that voters should have the opportunity to vote on reforms to the city’s charter.
Candidates said there were numerous ways Portland could work with Seattle to promote regional interests.
“[We share] common values and strategic strengths,” Smith said. “Transportation is one of those places I hope we work together on. I hope that we won’t merely be limited to unfundable highway projects, we should be looking at joint infrastructure investments such as joint seismic safety projects.”
“Seattle has done a better job at becoming an international city,” Hales said. “Both police forces have had problems with the use of force — there could be room to collaborate because Seattle and Portland are culturally similar.”
Brady said Portland and Seattle should advocate for a federal spending on a bullet train corridor stretching from Vancouver, B.C. to Eugene.
Only two candidates will progress out of Tuesday’s primary into the general election, unless one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote. Polling indicates that would be an unlikely scenario, but it’s possible that this town could have a mayor-elect Tuesday night.
In Oregon, ballots must be turned in by Tuesday to a ballot drop-box. It is too late for Oregonians to mail their ballots as elections officials must receive them by Election Day; hopefully voter turnout will be as popular as the Hunger Games.
Elizabeth Wiley, Azusa Uchikura, Betsy Hauenstein, and A. V. Crofts contributed to this post.