Rumors of Jo Ann Hardesty’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Hardesty, the first Black woman on the Portland City Council, as well as its most progressive and polarizing member, enjoyed a comfortable lead over her two challengers Tuesday evening and appeared poised to advance to a November runoff.
She snagged 39% of votes in early returns, while both her challengers—lawyer Rene Gonzalez and administrative law judge Vadim Mozyrsky, both running to Hardesty’s right—snagged 25% and 24%, respectively.
Update, 8 am Wednesday: Hardesty’s lead grew to 41%, while Gonzalez leads Mozyrsky by 900 votes. Both are quivering right around 24%.
Suddenly, the big suspense on Tuesday evening shifted from whether Hardesty would survive to whom she will face in November.
Both Mozyrsky and Gonzalez are centrist candidates running on platforms that, to varying extents, would scale back the police reforms Hardesty championed. Hardesty has been an outspoken critic of the Portland Police Bureau and has more often than not opposed sweeps of homeless camps. The three candidates have sparred, sometimes heatedly, at a number of forums over the past three months.
In 2018, Hardesty’s rise to City Hall was greeted as a civil rights triumph. She rode that momentum—plus public outrage following the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd—to a successful trimming of $15 million from the police budget.
But her constant criticism of the Police Bureau often left her alienated from her council colleagues—and seemed to place her at odds with voters furious at mental illness and addiction on the streets and gun homicides that rose far faster than in most U.S. cities.
At a campaign party at a neighborhood restaurant in Southeast Portland, about 50 Hardesty supporters drifted in and out, sipping beers and martinis.
After initial results came in, Hardesty offered impassioned comments.
“Now people said we were done. People said that the people of Portland did not believe that a working person could make a difference on the Portland City Council,” Hardesty said. “There were people who thought big money would win this campaign, but they forgot the power of the people. They forgot that when we organize, we win.”
“We are the power of the city of Portland,” Hardesty said, wearing shiny black high heels and a printed dress. “I am so proud of Portland this evening...you told the rich power interests, ‘Not on my watch.’”
She will need to build on tonight’s strong showing to win over some of the nearly 50% of voters who supported one of her leading opponents.
Multnomah County accepted 144,000 ballots as of Tuesday evening; 85,000 of those ballots have been counted so far in this particular City Council race.
Earlier in the day, Mozyrsky looked calm at a viewing party his campaign held at a swanky hotel in inner Southeast Portland. About 40 supporters of his and three other local candidates represented by his campaign team watched picture slideshows of each candidate on the campaign trail on a small television placed behind the bar. During Mozyrsky’s slideshow, two alternative rock songs played, followed by Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”
Key political blocs in the city made defeating Hardesty a priority this May.
Gonzalez received the endorsement of the Portland Police Association and The Oregonian. Power brokers and downtown real estate moguls spent hundreds of thousands of dollars buying ads promoting Mozyrsky through independent expenditures, and the Portland Business Alliance, the most powerful business lobbying group in the city, endorsed Vadim.
Hardesty is backed by a dedicated group of Portlanders who praise her for her criticism of the Police Bureau and her implementation of Portland Street Response, which sends unarmed social services teams to people in distress rather than police officers.