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Election recap: Metro measure loses, Wheeler wins, and Nolan grabs Metro council seat

Posted by on November 4th, 2020 at 10:07 am

He’s back.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The establishment had a good night last night in Portland politics and the outlook for serious transportation reform took a hit as voters opted for a shift to the center.

Metro’s $5 billion funding measure lost by 14 points, earning just 43% support. Incumbent City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly was unseated handily by newcomer Mingus Mapps, Ted Wheeler beat Sarah Iannarone by under 20,000 votes, and the race for Metro Council District 5 wasn’t even close with veteran Democrat establishment politician Mary Nolan beating policy wonk Chris Smith 62% to 37%.

Here’s a bit more about the key races we were watching…

Metro 26-218

“Yes” is brown.

Local transportation advocacy insiders spent well over three years debating and crafting a regional funding measure that would be bold enough to move the needle, yet be palatable enough to actually pass. The “Get Moving 2020” package was ultimately developed by a very large and diverse coalition of interest groups. Unfortunately it failed to generate widespread enthusiasm — with people on the right and left of the political spectrum finding reasons to vote against it. Many transportation activists were disappointed the package didn’t do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and were skeptical of spending $1 billion on a new MAX line that doesn’t do enough to discourage driving. At the same time, business interests (falsely) claimed the tax would hurt businesses already struggling due to the pandemic. Nike and Intel spent record amounts to defeat the measure.

This is a big blow to Metro Council President Lynn Peterson. In a statement last night she said she was “disappointed”. “An incredible amount of community work, over the course of years, went into shaping the projects and programs in this measure… We are not giving up on it. We need to move forward as a region. We’re going to keep growing. Safe, reliable transportation remains a regional challenge that we must address together – doing nothing is not an option.”

On Twitter last night, PBOT said work on the measure won’t be for nothing: “The project list and outreach through this effort set us up to compete well in the event of federal investment in economic stimulus.”

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Wheeler gets second term

(Source: Multnomah County)

Iannarone is purple.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler squeaked out a win with less than 50% of the vote, beating Sarah Iannarone by 5 points. With just over 80% of all votes tallied, Wheeler has just less than 20,000 more votes than Iannarone. Write-in candidates — a majority of which likely went to racial justice activist Teressa Raiford — received 13%, or about 46,000 votes.

Wheeler’s re-election makes him the first two-term Mayor in twenty years. He fought off months of severe criticisms over his handling of the nightly protests and an impressive grassroots campaign from Iannarone, a relative newcomer who has never held public office. Iannarone, who gets around primarily on an electric bike, is a member of the PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee, and who enjoyed major support from biking, walking and transit activists, wasn’t able to expand her support in precincts west of the Willamette River or in outer east Portland.

Metro District 5 (N/NE Portland)

Few local leaders and policymakers are as well-liked in transportation circles as Chris Smith. He ran an inspiring campaign but in the end failed to win any precincts and garnered only 37% of the vote. Smith ran a campaign fueled by small donors and promised to make climate change his raison d’etre. “We got to run exactly the type of campaign we wanted to run,” Smith said last night during a Facebook Live campaign event. “I wanted to test the idea that climate could be a winning local issue and the second big thing was that we didn’t want to take big money to make it work.”

Mary Nolan is an experienced politician with a network of high-dollar donors. She received funding from realtor and fracked gas lobbyists, has supported freeway expansions, and said during a debate last month that it’s time to “reconsider” the urban growth boundary.

What are your takeaways from last night?

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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citylover
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citylover

I think the Metro measure would have passed if not for Covid. We have had tremendous success over the years funding transportation at the state and regional level and we should celebrate that. With so many people out of work and businesses closing, voters and taxpayers have to prioritize what we can support and school modernization, universal Pre-K, parks and libraries (and homelessness relief in 2018) is where we chose to put our dollars. We can’t do it all, especially not with the broken taxing system that we have in Oregon. More than anything Commish Eudaly did to ease burdens for renters, meaningful funding for affordable housing is really only possible via a real estate transfer tax. Unfortunately it’s a constitutional amendment.

As a relatively new participant in this space (though a longtime PDX resident), I have seen a lot of bashing ODOT occur here. While I recognize that the agency has its issues, I don’t think disparaging ODOT wholesale is very helpful. In my years in land use & transportation planning and bike/ped advocacy, the joint ODOT/DLCD transportation growth management program that funds all sorts of community projects is really a gold standard nationally. Only a small handful of states (MA, VT, NY)invest in connecting land use and transportation like we do here.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Pro-tip for Metro: Instead of inviting the usual suspects to the table and calling it community input, actually engage with the community. You know, real people, not politicians and NGO leaders.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I find it interesting that those who most supported the Metro bond within Portland were those most likely to be impacted by the Rose Quarter project. What does this say about Portland residents?

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

“The establishment had a good night last night in Portland politics and the outlook for serious transportation reform took a hit as voters opted for a shift to the center…Incumbent City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly was unseated handily by newcomer Mingus Mapps”

Again presenting Eudaly as the bike community’s choice.

I don’t think the Eudaly v Mapps race turned on bike issues, or on broader transportation issues. It mostly turned on voters’ reaction to Eudaly’s style, if you will, of governing, of which her concession statement was a reminder.

Also, I recall Mapps opposed the RQ project before Eudaly did.

A rigged city in a rigged nation
Guest
A rigged city in a rigged nation

My take as someone who voted for Eudaly but wrote in people for the other positions.

Wheeler is still a republican whatever his more recent voter registration says.

Mingus Mapps appears to favor landlords, the police, and big business — all hallmarks of a republican pretending to be a democrat.

It’s actually Iannarone who was the centrist in that she is a friend of unfettered real estate development while allegedly supporting mildly progressive climate, transportation, and civil rights reforms.

Chloe Eudaly was moderately anti-establishment when it came to housing but was a mildly-progressive centrist when it came to climate, transportation, and civil rights reforms.

The only genuinely anti-establishment candidate lost to Wheeler and Iannorone.

X
Guest
X

Could we have the transportation projects á la carte? And lead off with some serious modeling on greenhouse gas reduction. It wouldn’t hurt to talk about benzene emissions either.

I know the general election is supposed to be good for tax measures but seriously, who had the bandwidth to consider a $7B tab?

Bicycling Al
Guest
Bicycling Al

Metro 26-218 was on a ballot crowded with a LOT of other attractive measures. It was one of the few, or only, I’m not familiar with the entire gamut of measures across all jurisdictions, that failed. But why was this even a measure to begin with? Isn’t this something that the legislature should be taking up? It’s time to ask questions about what Oregon’s measure system has actually delivered because I’m becoming increasingly frustrated by what it denies us instead.

J_R
Guest
J_R

What’s your evidence that businesses claims that the payroll tax would hurt them are false?

Is it something other than “well, they make a lot of money?”

squareman
Subscriber

I’d say I’m most shocked by the Nolan over Smith win. That one bums me out.

Iannarone had no chance of winning once the write-in campaign for Raiford took off. Such folly. You don’t introduce a third candidate, especially one who passively isn’t even willing to run, in a runoff election. All you’re going to do is split votes against the incumbent. Wheeler won the runoff with an even smaller vote share than he did the primary election.

PRIMARY ELECTION:
Wheeler: 49.1% – forced the runoff because it wasn’t over 50%, barely.
Iannarone: 24%
Raiford: 8.5% (plus two other candidates about equal with her)

RUNOFF ELECTION (as of hours ago):
Wheeler: 46.26%
Iannarone: 40.76%
Raiford: 12.98%

Just so … ugh.

I didn’t expect Eudaly to loose so sharply – thought it would be a lot closer either way. But I am also not shocked by this one. It was a hard choice for me. I like-hate her.

Metro bill was a tough one for me. I was about to say which way I voted but now I’m not quite sure. I changed my mind so many times on it. I think I voted yes, but when my general gut reaction is so indecisive on legislation, I usually lean toward a no just to be safe. So, I don’t even remember.

JR
Guest
JR

No big surprises in the election results to me. I just hope the new city council leads to significant change to the city’s form of government. I’m tired of having a political head in charge of various bureaus and all of which are assigned at the will of the mayor, who has very little other power to exact influence.

I don’t think the problem with the transportation measure was that it wasn’t inclusive enough. It was too inclusive. It was measure designed by a very, very large committee. It didn’t provide enough assurances to the public about what would exactly get built. It didn’t even have a sunset date – geez! It also exempted the tax on governments and non-profits at the last minute. It was too easy of a target from the big business interests for these and other failings. I wish it would’ve focused on things that would be transformational like a systemwide approach to better bus service and a network of new trails and fixing the gaps in the existing trail network. The light rail project just wasn’t that pivotal to the rest of the region. A downtown subway network for east-west and north-south lines would’ve been more transformational. I voted for it, even though it wasn’t perfect for my expectations only because I don’t think Metro can put together anything remotely perfect.

Megan
Guest
Megan

Despite being passionately pro-transit, I abstained from voting at all on Metro 26-218 because… the light rail line in it was just so, so bad. I love light rail, I ride it every day, but that proposed line is (was? can it be was??) such garbage – it missed most if not all of the regional destinations, paralleled a freeway, and had parking garages (instead of, cough, affordable car-free housing, cough) planned for its out-of-the-way station locations. I felt bad not supporting the local groups, but… that light rail line… the fact that it was ever put in front of my transit-loving face as a worthy cause still makes me angry. Add that to most of the projects in that bill being automobile-oriented, the wonkery with who got exempted from the tax (all the bureaucrats who would benefit from the funding – SURPRISE), and then asking for a tax on business in the middle of a recession… while my family, personally, is pinching pennies to cover our bills… it was too much. Just… too much.

More pedantically, I don’t believe light rail functions properly outside of a gridded street system of the sort our country hasn’t built since 1945. SW does not have the mixed, walkable land use necessary to “deserve” light rail, and as long as that remains true building a line there no different from lighting our money on fire. If we ever build light rail again, it needs to be within the boundaries of the city as they were in 1945.

If we get another shot at a giant pot of federal money for transit, we should use it to tunnel underneath the Willamette and create an express line on/adjacent to lines that already exist, enabling riders to get from one side of town to the other faster than taking the freeway. To get THAT done, I’d tax Nike into the stratosphere ANY day! And I bet a majority of Portland-region voters might just agree…

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Hopefully TriMet will take the time to rethink the SW transit project in the wake of this. It’s possible that the line could attract a bunch of private development (as our own southwest line here in the Twin Cities has already done, two years before opening – but then again, I’m not sure there are enough big employers along Portland-Tigard’s SW corridor to justify it). But it’s probably a much better candidate for BRT than for rail – and there should be room for dedicated ROW along much of the route – at probably less than a tenth the cost.

Rail is great. I’ve ridden MAX between 2,500 and 3,000 times. Love it. But for me, TriMet’s SW line is kind of on the edge of justifiability. And let’s get real: given the results of the election, even if Biden wins Congress isn’t going to be handing out rail-line funding left and right.

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

RE: Metro Transportation Tax: I am so glad that Metro voters are not just rubber stamping every pro-transit tax referred to them. The failure of this project (let’s call it what it was; a LRT project) will hopefully send all these overcompensated planners, designers, facilitators and consultants back to the drawing board and begin afresh with all options on the table not just rail. Rail is great. Rail is fun. It is foundational to all TriMet does but the systematic failure of that agency to maintain, manage and grow the system in a acceptable way has become glaringly apparent to those who use it. Demand Better for your dollar!

The days of 75% federal match are over and we are forever stuck with rising maintenance and operational costs on what we have already built. If you want to see what poorly maintained transit looks like go to NYC where transit has become a hellish experience. Maybe this will change with COVID-19, the coming Great Depression Part II. but right now things are not looking good.

roberta
Guest
roberta

I really dislike the characterization of the Metro 2020 Bill in this article. It never had widespread support because the original SW alignment was a racists decision. Opal was the lead organization educating people on the issue. Having the new Opal leader completely co-op and take down all of the websites documentation was the last nail in the coffin of death for Opal and Metro 2020. Same thing happened with BikeLoudPDX, new leadership came in and completely tanked the historic meetings, agendas and position statements were removed from the web. Transport activists were divided and conquered by themselves. The union supported democratic machine protecting PERS and Police re elected the status quo with the help of a mayoral spoiler. That’s the democratic machine that only prefers climate change solutions that include more taxes and roads.

Censure ship from BikeLoud and Opal was the death nail in the unity of cyclists and transport activist. I went to many of these Metro ‘listening’ session Pederson is referring to and there was a lot of opposition Metro just ignored. Just adding more wish list projects and free bus passes for kids is not a negotiation; its a buy out list of nonprofits willing to censure their old school hard core activists for tax crumbs off the Democratic table. Seems like all the COVID federal crumb$ went to Black groups willing to swallow thi$$ pill of truth.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Disappointed as I am that Wheeler won reelection, it’s even more disappointing to see destructive protests over it. C’mon Portland, the RWM amplify this stuff massively. Most progressives around the country don’t know this happened, but I can assure you that most conservatives do. It only gives the more unhinged elements of the other side an excuse to run wild if (as seems more than 50-50 likely right now) Biden pulls out a win.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

Most people seem to be giving Wheeler a pass on his massive last minute loan to his campaign. Even though it was technically legal, it was clearly against the intent of current legal thinking. I have heard some pundits (geez, they are so annoying) attribute his victory to his late negative campaigning against Sarah. Of course, without accurate exit poling, we will never know what happened to her the last month or so.

Fred
Guest
Fred

I’m typing this comment before reading the 104 comments already posted, but let me just say that I live in SW Portland, and I hope all you naysayers about the MAX line are pleased that SW Portland, Tigard etc will continue to be car-dependent. Special thanks to that guy from Sightline who wondered “who that MAX line is for” (for people who live in SW and want to commute downtown, dummy!).

I know a line to Bridgeport wasn’t great, and I know the measure itself and the way it raised funding had problems. But this is a case of “the ideal becoming an enemy of the good,” as a great man once said. The defeat of the measure and the MAX line ensures automobile dependence in SW for the next 20-30 years.

Oh yeah – message to PBOT: You now have no excuse NOT to get moving on plans to replace the two Barbur bridges with truly bike-friendly and ped-friendly bridges.