State Rep. Mary Nolan's strong showing against Commissioner Amanda Fritz in the primary election raises the possibility that a majority of the City Council could be replaced in November.
The last time an incumbent commissioner was forced into a November runoff election, she lost. The year was 1986, when Portland Police Officer Bob Koch came in second after holding Commissioner Margaret Strachan to under 50 percent of the vote in the primary election.
Koch then went on to defeat Strachan in the general election by a margin of 80,527 to 77,467 votes.
Incomplete results in the Position 1 race show both Nolan and Fritz at around 44 percent each. Fritz blames the outcome on being outspent by Nolan, whom she accuses of running negative advertising.
"The reason candidates use negative advertising is because it works. I made a principled stand not to do that," Fritz says.
Nolan defends her advertising as fair.
"Fritz says she is running on her record and we are just telling voters what third parties say about it. I am supported by a broad organization that wants to move a progressive agenda forward, and that's what we're going to focus on in the November election," Nolan says.
According to the most recent campaign filings, Nolan outraised Fritz by a margin of around $330,000 to $227,000. Nolan's supporters ranged from public employee unions to developers to bike advocates. Contributions to Nolan's campaign included $10,000 from the Portland Police Association PAC and $20,000 from the Portland Metro Firefighters PAC, which both are upset with Fritz over her handling of a new 911 emergency dispatch system -- an issue Nolan raised in her TV ads.
Fritz had run twice before under the former public campaign financing program, winning on the second try in 2008. After Portland voters repealed the program, Fritz promised to limit campaign contributions to $50. According to the most recent campaign reports, Fritz ended up spending more than $185,000 of her own money on the primary election campaign, including more than $134,000 on TV ads.
Fritz said she tapped family savings to pay the campaign and cannot continue to do so in the general election.
"I will need to come up with a new fundraising strategy, but I am not going to accept unlimited contributions from special interest groups," Fritz says.
Nolan came from far behind to achieve a virtual tie with Fritz. A former city administrator and businesswoman, she had represented parts of Southwest Portland in the Oregon House. The Fritz campaign released a poll in March showing Fritz with a 34-point lead over Nolan. Independent polls released after that showed Nolan rapidly closing the gap as election day approached.
If Nolan were to defeat Fritz in November, it would be the first time a majority of the five-member council has turned over in modern times.
Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Randy Leonard both chose not to run for re-election. Adams will be replaced by either former Commissioner Charlie Hales or state Rep. Jefferson Smith, who will face off in November. Steve Novick, a state health care analyst and political activist, easily won the race to replace Leonard with more than 74 percent of the vote.