Jo Ann Hardesty Is the First Black Woman Elected to Portland City Council

After a hard-fought City Council race, a historic outcome.

Jo Ann Hardesty celebrates on Nov. 6, 2018. (Abby Gordon)

Former legislator Jo Ann Hardesty will become the first black woman elected to Portland City Council.

"I am proud to say this is the Portland I thought it was," Hardesty said in a speech shortly after the initial returns rolled in. "I thought this was a city of compassionate people. People who thought we could do better than jail cells for people who are homeless."

Hardesty is cruising to victory tonight in early returns in the Portland City Council race. She was up 62 percent to 36 percent in early returns against Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith.

The results were expected after the nonpartisan primary. Hardesty beat Smith by 25 points in May. The two women finished first and second in a six-way race to replace departing Commissioner Dan Saltzman.

The results are historic. The two women were competing to become the first African American woman elected to Portland City Council. Hardesty will also be just the ninth woman to serve. For the first time in the history of City Council, women will hold the majority of votes.

"I want to thank the voters for knowing there is a difference in black skin," Hardesty said—making a not-so-veiled reference to Smith.

She urged her supporters to keep working. "You know what you did [after] Obama. You went home and put your feet up. That's not acceptable today."

She says when she takes her seat she'll be ready to "do the people's business."

Hardesty's supporters had gathered in the blue lights of the nightclub Holocene in Southeast Portland to cheer her victory. Many had their eyes locked on a projection of ABC's election coverage. They cheered as the Democrats took control of the U.S. House minutes before Oregon's early election results were posted.

They lined the stage and cheered as it became clear Hardesty had won in a landslide. A live band played and the crowd chanted "Jo Ann" as she took the stage. She stopped along the way to hug supporters and members of her campaign team.

During her speech, Hardesty was interrupted by a little boy who said he wanted to show her his dance moves. She replied, with a laugh: "I have some dance moves. They get me in trouble sometimes."

That's an obvious reference to the defining moment of the fall contest: Hardesty dancing the "electric slide" with former City Hall staffer Baruti Artharee, who had sexually harassed Smith years ago. Smith repeatedly attacked Hardesty on the campaign trail for dancing with her harasser.

In North Portland, the mood in an Elks Lodge where Smith supporters gathered was muted. A sympathetic cheer went up when early results appeared.

Smith invited her family to join her on stage.

"The chapter on Loretta Smith is not done yet," she said, "and if you leave with one thing know that I am unapologetically black. And I'm proud to be a black woman in this city.

"The saying says black don't crack," She concluded. "It don't, we just come back."

Hardesty is a former state legislator whose most high-profile recent role was as president of the local chapter of the NAACP of Portland.

Smith has had a long career in public service. She served for two decades on Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon)'s staff before serving two terms on the county commission. (She faced term limits and could not run for reelection this year.)

In the last weeks of the election, Smith campaigned aggressively on the idea of turning never-used Wapato Jail into a homeless shelter. Hardesty scorned that plan.

Hardesty and Smith were both damaged by concerns about their record of management. Hardesty faced questions about her financial management of the NAACP chapter. Smith was investigated at the county for allegedly bullying employees—a charge an investigator found was probably true.

In the race for Multnomah County Auditor, Jennifer McGuirk leads Scott Learn.

And in the contest for an open seat on Metro Council, state labor spokeswoman Christine Lewis narrowly led Lake Oswego restaurant owner Joe Buck.

WW news intern Anamika Vaughn contributed reporting to this story.

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