City Council Race Gets Even More Hostile as Election Day Approaches

Cease-and-desist letters, internet sleuthing, risky flyers and maybe, just maybe…an olive branch.

The most deeply felt race of Portland’s election continues to get nastier as Election Day approaches.

City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the incumbent, and Rene Gonzalez, a lawyer and small businessman who’s running for political office for the first time ever, have been taking incessant jabs at each other for the past month.

As the deadline to drop off ballots approaches (it’s 8 pm Tuesday, Nov. 8), here are a few of the most recent spats.

1. Hardesty’s campaign unearthed a 2021 donation Gonzalez appeared to have made to the Republican PAC WinRed. Gonzalez took to Twitter to set the record straight: He had actually donated $50 to Nate Sandvig, who ran in Oregon’s 6th Congressional District this spring but lost in the Republican primary. But this clarification may have not been the clap-back Gonzalez wanted it to be. Among the top priorities Sandvig lists on campaign literature: “Secure the border,” “Stand up to the Woke Mob,” and “Listen to Parents.” He’s also pro-life.

Gonzalez says the campaign overlooked the donations he’s made to Democratic candidates in statewide races. In mid-October, he gave $1,000 to the campaign of gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek.

2. Gonzalez sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Hardesty campaign, alleging it made “demonstrably false” allegations in its campaign literature. Among them: that Gonzalez uses Republican consultants and that he engaged in illegal activity by accepting downtown office space for $250 per month, for which he was initially fined $77,000 by the city’s Small Donor Elections program. (Last week, an administrative law judge nixed the entire fine.)

And yet, a flyer sent out this week by the Hardesty campaign doubled down on many of those same points—though this time through visual insinuation rather than written allegation. That flyer shows an outline of Gonzalez’s profile and then fills in a number of names and phrases that the Hardesty campaign alleges he’s connected to: Marjorie Taylor Greene, Texas Right to Life, and the Oregon Republican Party. “Portland needs positive change, not a HARD RIGHT turn,” the flyer read.

3. The Hardesty campaign went to Twitter to claim that if Gonzalez is elected, Portland would “slide back into Oregon’s white supremacist and classist history.”

4. On Nov. 2, Hardesty offered what may have been an olive branch. After Gonzalez’s campaign attempted to draw a line between Hardesty’s rhetoric and the broken windows at the Gonzalez office last weekend, she said in a statement several days later that any protest should be nonviolent.

“It saddens me to hear that anyone feels unsafe in their home or their workplace,” Hardesty wrote. “I want to extend a clear message to Portlanders. We can make ourselves heard and create real change peacefully. I have seen us do it in the past. Please use our cherished rights to free speech and the power of your vote to support or oppose the candidates and issues you care about. We are one community, and when one of us is threatened or attacked, we all suffer.”

5. The incident’s connection to the race is tenuous, but it’s still pretty funny. On Thursday, the Portland City Council voted on five resolutions proposed by Mayor Ted Wheeler to combat homelessness. Hardesty proposed a number of amendments to the resolutions. When it came time for the council to discuss her amendments, City Commissioner Mingus Mapps—whose frosty relationship with Hardesty is no secret—peppered her with numerous questions.

At one point, while discussing one her amendments, Mapps said he doesn’t make “aspirational policy.” At this, Hardesty looked briefly around in disbelief and then remarked, “What an asshole.” The microphone happened to be close to her face—and on.