On paper, Chloe Eudaly would seem to have zero chance of unseating Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick.
Eudaly, 46, is a high school dropout with a GED who never finished community college. She has never previously run for elected office. Her central qualifications are running a barbed online forum about housing costs and keeping a tiny, independent bookstore afloat for 22 years.
"I know that I'm not the traditional candidate," Eudaly acknowledges.
But elections aren't held on paper. And Eudaly, who finished second in a field of 10 candidates in May with 15 percent of the vote, has already advanced further than any Portland insurgent candidate since a bartender named Bud Clark sought to become mayor—and did.
What's more, her campaign has two distinct advantages as the race speeds toward the Nov. 8 election.
Novick, who also lacked experience managing complex bureaucracies when he first won election in 2012, alienated many of his supporters in his first three years in office. Fifty-seven percent of May voters picked a candidate other than him.
And on the single biggest issue animating voters—Portland's skyrocketing rents—Novick has largely been absent. That single issue motivated Eudaly to enter the race and call for a citywide rent freeze.
"She should have a chance," says Stephen Kafoury, a lobbyist for taxi drivers who tangled with Novick when the commissioner helped ride-hailing giant Uber to enter Portland. "Steve is enormously vulnerable."
Novick has long billed himself as a progressive who stands up for the little guy—a motto made quirkier by his own short stature.
Eudaly is running to his left.
In a year when Portland Democrats rallied behind Bernie Sanders for president, Eudaly echoes his socialist rhetoric. She says she's never paid herself more than $36,000 a year running her bookstore, Reading Frenzy. She says political insiders like Novick are in thrall to Silicon Valley and real estate developers, and have lost touch with people like her: a renter dealing with the rising costs of housing and a single mother raising a physically disabled child.
"I am the little guy," says Eudaly. "For years, I felt like I had what I wanted and what I needed living here and running my business, and now I'm acutely aware of the fact that I am low-income by new Portland standards."
In Eudaly, voters have a chance to register their distaste with the establishment and to vote for a candidate who seems to embody a Portland that's disappearing amid tech money and new apartment towers.
"I don't see that kind of passion coming from our current council," says John Mulvey, a Eudaly supporter. "She's got a keen sense of what we're losing."
Eudaly lacks a conventional biography for a candidate.
Her parents christened her Clover Delight Esther Eudaly, taking her second middle name from their landlord at the time, Esther Dayman Strong, a prominent Portland educator. Born in Portland, Eudaly spent her childhood in Gales Creek, Ore., near Forest Grove, where her parents aspired to a back-to-the-land lifestyle, then Sherwood. As a fourth-grader, Eudaly recalls telling classmates her favorite TV show was 60 Minutes.
When Eudaly was 13, her father died in a car crash, leaving her pregnant mother to care for Eudaly and another child in preschool. She attended Tigard High School before finagling a spot at Portland's alternative Metropolitan Learning Center.
One day in 1986, when she was 16 and on her way to a Psychedelic Furs concert, Eudaly walked past the Big Bang, a vintage store downtown, and was drawn to the elegant mannequins. "I just marched over there and said, 'I want to work here,'" she says now. "'I know all about this stuff. I'll work for free.'"
"Can you be here at 9 o'clock?" she recalls one of the owners replying.
She dropped out of MLC a few months later. No one tried to stop her, she says. "I felt failed by the public school system and I had a definite chip on my shoulder about it," she says. "I was proud of being a dropout."
For years, Eudaly lived a comfortable life in Portland—a life many of her supporters say is no longer possible here.
At 18, Eudaly moved into a 1907 Craftsman with five bedrooms and 1½ bathrooms in Northwest Portland, where she and two roommates each paid about $170 a month. (When she left 19 years later, in 2007, she was paying $1,100.)
Six years later, after stints working in retail and as a junior travel agent, Eudaly opened Reading Frenzy at Southeast 37th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard. Her original storefront was 150 square feet and cost $150 a month to rent. She and a partner launched the business with only $4,000—about $6,500 in today's dollars.
"We parlayed that into a small but bustling little book shop," says Eudaly. "That really is one of my skills, turning ideas into reality and DIY-ing everything and making my resources stretch a really long way."
A review of public records reveals minor financial hiccups at Reading Frenzy and nothing more significant than parking tickets for Eudaly.
In 2001, Eudaly gave birth to a son, Henry, who was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. She split with his dad when the boy was 3.
Henry's birth launched her on a path of advocacy for children such as hers with significant disabilities. When Henry was ready for kindergarten, he couldn't go to Chapman Elementary School in his neighborhood because it didn't have an elevator.
In 2008, Eudaly helped create a districtwide Parent Teacher Association for parents with children in special education as a way to amplify their voices.
"We weren't getting any traction trying to have our voices heard in our own PTA," says Stephanie Hunter, who joined Eudaly in helping to launch the group.
"I've always felt a little bit marginalized and on the outside," says Eudaly. "Henry became this bridge to the rest of the world, and he also made me want to do bigger things with my life."
Eudaly found that route accidentally in 2015, while scrolling through Craigslist looking for a new place to live.
She stumbled onto a listing for a 165-square-foot "tiny home" in the backyard of somebody's house near Hawthorne Boulevard. The landlord wanted $950 per month—plus help with chores in the main house—a setup Eudaly found outrageous.
She posted the notice on Facebook. "That's a goddamn shed," a friend responded.
Eudaly snickered. (A Google search revealed an identical dwelling for sale at Home Depot.) She then created a Facebook group as a joking homage—calling it "That's a Goddamn Shed." She invited friends, who invited others.
"It really quickly snowballed into something really unexpected," she says. "People started talking about what was really happening in their lives. It became this sort of clearinghouse for information and resources and promoting events and organizing."
The Facebook group, now called the Shed, has close to 2,500 members, many of whom are pushing for tenants' rights.
"This thing I'd mostly been suffering in silence with, feeling like I'm a personal failure for not being able to keep up with these extraordinary rent increases, was not just me," she says.
The Shed is a showcase for Eudaly's unapologetic defense of renters and her sarcastic jabs at Portlanders who support the idea, backed by economists and developers, that Portland can build its way out of the rental crunch. In her frequent postings, she takes aim at landlords, short-term rental website Airbnb and the fellow renters who think they've earned what they can afford.
"Our bans on rent control and mandatory inclusionary zoning (only partially overturned) feel like economic eugenics," she wrote in an Aug. 24 post. "It's survival of the fittest. Never mind age, disability, racism, income inequality or that wages haven't kept pace with rents. Can't pay? Get out. Nowhere to go? Sucks to be you."
Joe Cortright, a Portland economist who supports Novick, says rent control is probably the one thing his fellow economists agree is a bad solution. "The root of our housing affordability problem is a lack of housing supply," he says.
The Shed gave Eudaly a louder voice. But she didn't limit her activism to social media. Eudaly has testified before the Oregon Legislature for renter protections, and is a familiar sight at Portland Tenants United protests shaming landlords.
"She has been a very effective advocate for housing," says Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer (D-Portland), who is staying neutral in the race. "She's reached a lot of people in a short amount of time."
The idea that Portland is a divided city, one that serves its well-to-do residents at the expense of everyone else, emerged in the 2012 election for mayor, when it was raised by candidate Jefferson Smith. It grew in 2014 when housing activist Nick Caleb challenged Commissioner Dan Saltzman, drawing close to 20 percent of the vote but failing to force Saltzman into a runoff.
"I was on the front end of ringing some alarm bells," says Caleb. "Chloe is starting to tap into that sentiment."
She's racked up some high-profile endorsements from former Mayor Tom Potter, former City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade and environmentalist Bob Sallinger. Last week, the second-most powerful woman in Oregon politics echoed Eudaly's calls for a rent freeze.
"I support a temporary ban on rent increases above a certain percentage until the housing crisis subsides," tweeted House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland).
Yet other signs point to Novick surviving Eudaly's populist challenge.
Novick championed the passage of a 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax in May, which gives him a much-needed accomplishment to trumpet. But he's still making panicky leftward gestures—like a demand to tax companies where CEOs draw big salaries.
Eudaly's hostility to moneyed interests also means that she's at a distinct financial disadvantage. She won't take money from groups that have business interests in front of the City Council, meaning she had to turn down donations from a taxi industry still burned by Novick's embrace of Uber.
Novick didn't join her in limiting donations. He had $95,000 on hand, and she had under $7,000, as of Sept. 19.
In some ways, Eudaly is a mirror image of Novick—including the impulse to pick public fights with self-appointed enemies.
Last week, on Sept. 14, Eudaly attended a meeting with the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors, a lobbying group that is allied with home builders.
She took to the Shed to vent her frustration.
"Oh Shedizens," she wrote. "Today I walked into the belly of the beast—the HQ of a certain association of realtors—where I got to listen to the sad tale of a speculative real estate investor who doesn't always make money on her properties, mom and pop landlords who might get out of the business if they can't treat their tenants like human ATMs, and of course how rent control doesn't work. Let's just say they won't be cutting me a check."
Jane Leo, an association lobbyist, declined to address Eudaly's visit, saying the meeting was confidential.
Eudaly called the meeting "the highlight of the campaign" so far for her, because she could confront the representatives with the "reality of their practices" on the 25 percent of Portlanders who pay too much in rent. But Eudaly maintains she's willing to work with people she disagrees with.
"I'm not a know-it-all, and I'm not coming into council with this sense that I know better than everyone on everything," she says. "When it comes to the lives of at least a quarter of our population, it's OK to be very assertive."