Metro Council President Lynn Peterson is leading in early elections returns in her effort to capture a second term running the regional government that oversees land use in the Portland area. A victory would put her in position to help decide the shape and size of the region’s biggest looming infrastructure project: a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River.

“I’m really gratified by the numbers and will be monitoring the late ballots in hopes that this margin holds,” Peterson said around 9 p.m. Tuesday. At the time, Peterson held significant leads in Multnomah and Washington counties, but that was before Clackamas County had posted any results in the race.

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“It’s really a validation of our work at Metro to help the region with the housing and homelessness crisis, cleaning up our streets and sidewalks and investing in our parks, open spaces and qualify of life,” Peterson said.

Peterson’s first term was marked by rising homelessness and increased traffic — and two big elections involving Metro measures to address those two challenges.

Lynn Peterson

Lynn Peterson

Courtesy of Lynn Peterson for Metro President

In May 2020, voters in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties agreed to tax the region’s wealthiest residents to pay for more affordable housing and services to help people experiencing homelessness. The tax is expected to generate $2.5 billion over 10 years.

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Just a few months later, Peterson asked voters to approve the largest tax measure in state history: Measure 26-218, a $7 billion transportation package funded by payroll taxes. They soundly rejected that proposal.

Both those measures put Peterson at odds with many of the region’s more influential businesses and business leaders. A coalition of business groups spent $2 million to help defeat the transportation package. And a nonprofit called People for Portland is trying to put a measure on the November ballot that would divert the bulk of the money from the affordable housing measure to temporary shelters; it would also require communities that receive money from the new tax to enforce any existing anti-camping laws.

Still, Peterson faced minimal opposition in her reelection campaign. Her opponents included Alisa Pyszka, an urban and economic development planner, who won the endorsement of the Oregonian and Pamplin Media. Pyszka had said Metro needs to seek out more public-private partnerships to spur the region’s recovery and create more housing. She’s also suggested Metro work with the private sector and other local governments to find a middle ground between building long-term affordable housing — a time-consuming process — and more temporary solutions. Pyszka didn’t respond to OPB’s request for comment Tuesday night.

The biggest agenda item for Peterson’s second term, along with the region’s housing crisis, is to help lead the effort to replace the aging I-5 bridge. Previous negotiations to replace the bridge died when Washington state leaders walked away over their opposition to putting light rail on the new span. Staff working on the new replacement plan have recommended light rail on the latest version.

“How do we want to move forward with making investments in transportation in our region for the future, not only for climate change, but with a racial equity lens,” Peterson said Tuesday. “We’ve got a lot of big issues coming up, but this council will be able to meet those challenges and really put us back on the map for being an innovate region that really cares about our people and the affordability of this region for the future.”

Although not as prominent as the Portland City Council or the county boards in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas, Metro oversees a wide range of public services beyond land use, including garbage and recycling, the Oregon Zoo and Oregon Convention Center and a network of parks and natural spaces.

In other Metro Council races, incumbent Christine Lewis appeared headed to an easy reelection win in District 2, which represents Lake Oswego, Milwaukie and Oregon City. In District 6, which includes Southeast and Southwest Portland, incumbent Duncan Hwang leads Terri Preeg Riggsby, according to early returns. In District 4, which includes northern and western Washington County, incumbent Juan Carlos Gonzalez had a lead over James Ball.

This is a developing story. Watch for updates.

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