Jessica Vega Pederson, Ally of Outgoing Deborah Kafoury, Leads in County Chair Race

Flush with establishment endorsements, Vega Pederson will head to a runoff with Sharon Meieran.

Jessica Vega Pederson leads in early returns in the race for Multnomah County chair against fellow County Commissioners Sharon Meieran and Lori Stegmann. The trio of commissioners seek to succeed Deborah Kafoury, who was prevented by term limits from running again.

Vega Pederson captured 38.62% of the vote in early returns, followed by Meieran with 19.79% and Stegmann with 13.66%. Political newcomer Sharia Mayfield, a lawyer who ran on a promise to clean up the city by compelling homeless people into shelters, had a surprising 14.78%.

County commission races are nonpartisan. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates go to a runoff in November. Given the numbers so far, Meieran said she expects to be in one.

“I am very optimistic that I will make the runoff,” Meieran said at a campaign party at the Grand Stark Hotel in Portland. “The race starts now. Our differences will become crystal clear.”

Vega Pederson, 47, served in the Oregon House of Representatives for two terms starting in 2013. Three years later, she won election to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.

An ally of Kafoury, Vega Pederson ran on her record at the county, where she championed the Preschool for All ballot measure that passed in 2020. Vega Pederson also played a part in siting a controversial permanent homeless shelter on Southeast Foster Road despite strong opposition; helped mediate a path forward on the Interstate 5-Rose Quarter project; and pushed for COVID vaccination clinics in east county.

Meieran, meantime, ran as a critic of the system, particularly the Joint Office of Homeless Services, a partnership between the city and the county. Meieran said the Joint Office lacked urgency and transparency and failed to make the best use of data.

Meieran said she expects to pick up support from voters who chose Mayfield this time around, because both appeal to voters who are discontented with the county’s direction.

“This was a very anti-status quo vote,” Meieran said in an interview.

Vega Pederson gathered most of the marquee endorsements in the county, including that of the Portland Association of Teachers, Service Employee International Union Local 49, and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters.