Dan Ryan, the former head of the education nonprofit All Hands Raised, has won the special election race for Portland City Council against former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith.

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Ryan declared victory Wednesday morning, saying he was “deeply humbled” by the win and thanking Smith for the “spirited debate.”

As of Wednesday morning, Ryan was ahead by just over 5,000 votes, with 95% of ballots tallied.

The candidates were vying for the seat previously held by former Commissioner Nick Fish, who died in January. The term runs through the end of 2022.

During the May primary, Ryan and Smith rose to the top of the 18 candidates running to fill Fish’s spot. Smith led with 18.8% of the vote, with Ryan not far behind with 16.6%.

With returns slowly trickling in Tuesday evening, Ryan had described himself as “cautiously optimistic,” a confidence that grew after the second batch of votes came in that showed his lead grow by 1,000. That lead grew overnight, leading him to declare victory Wednesday morning.

Ryan’s campaign said they’ve reached out to Smith’s team multiple times Wednesday, but had not yet heard back. Smith’s campaign has also not returned calls to OPB.

The two candidates had been locked in a runoff at an unprecedented time for the city as the coronavirus pandemic raged and protests against police violence and racism continued uninterrupted on a nightly basis.

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Safe to say, a special election to fill the fifth seat of the City Council may not have felt front of mind for many people in Oregon’s largest city. As of Wednesday afternoon, 39% of registered voters cast a ballot. Smith appeared to be taking the lead in North and East Portland, while Ryan was winning the city’s inner Eastside and Westside.

Pollster John Horvick with DHM research said he expects voter turnout will end up in the low 40s. For the primary in May, 52% of Multnomah County voters cast ballots.

Horvick said he was disappointed to see the massive call for change coming from Portlanders every night had not translated to a surge of voter turnout.

“This election just doesn’t capture the attention of the public,” he said.

To some voters, neither candidate had felt right for the moment, with both failing to capture the imagination of the nightly demonstrators who take to the street protesting against police violence.

In a press conference Wednesday, Ryan said he approved of the $15 million in cuts made to the police bureau’s budget in June, but stopped short of calling for further cuts. Protesters have coalesced around a call to cut $50 million in funding from the police’s budget.

“I support building more than demolishing,” Ryan said Wednesday, adding he appreciated how the money cut from the police bureau’s budget was earmarked for other purposes. This included the Portland Street Response and a fund to develop Black youth leadership.

“For me, we have to justify the strategy of what each investment is and what success looks like. It’s easy to destroy and a lot harder to build.”

On the campaign trail, Ryan had called for a “peace summit” that would convene protesters, police, and downtown small businesses and residents together to discuss how to respond to calls for police reform being made each night, and to bring the months of demonstrations to an end.

Ryan served on the Portland Public Schools board of directors and spent over a decade as head of All Hands Raised, an education nonprofit focused on reducing inequities in schools across Multnomah County. He’s credited with expanding the organization’s reach to support underserved school districts and provide additional resources to students of color.

He will join the City Council mid-September.

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