Rene Gonzalez, a centrist businessman promising to crack down on homeless camps, looks headed to a runoff against Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, setting up what could easily become one of the most polarizing local races the city has seen in years.

Early election results on Tuesday night showed Hardesty would almost certainly be forced into a runoff election in November to keep her seat in City Hall. But the returns left wide open the question of who she would face: Vadim Mozyrsky, a federal administrative law judge backed by a cohort of powerful real estate interests, or Gonzalez, a tech business owner endorsed by some local media outlets who advocated a “tough love” approach with the region’s growing homeless population.

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Rene Gonzalez, center, a centrist businessman promising to crack down on homeless camps, is leading the third-place candidate by less than 1,000 votes, and he says he will endorse Vadim Mozyrsky, left, against Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, right, if the final results flip.

Rene Gonzalez, center, a centrist businessman promising to crack down on homeless camps, is leading the third-place candidate by less than 1,000 votes, and he says he will endorse Vadim Mozyrsky, left, against Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, right, if the final results flip.

Courtesy of the campaigns

Gonzalez, who had pulled ahead of Mozyrsky by about 900 votes as of noon on Wednesday, said he liked the odds he would be the one facing Hardesty in November — a blow to the small but deep-pocketed cohort of business and real estate interests that formed a political action committee a month ago to support Mozyrsky.

“Many of them were sold on the story of electability,” Gonzalez said Wednesday afternoon. “I think this narrative emerged within a certain segment of downtown [that] Vadim was more electable than me because I spoke very directly on some issues.”

Though new to electoral politics, Gonzalez has quickly gained a reputation for speaking plainly about what he sees as Portland’s most glaring problems — political extremism on the city council, filthy streets, rampant homelessness and too few police officers. He and Hardesty have that bluntness in common.

That is about where the similarities between the two end.

In her four years on council, Hardesty has been one of the most vocal opponents of “sweeping” — the practice of clearing out homeless camps — arguing it’s inhumane to force people from their tents when there is nowhere suitable for them to go. When it comes to homelessness, Gonzalez has said his number one priority is getting people off the sidewalks. He has called for city and county leaders to rapidly build more shelters and said, if people refuse to go, he believes they should face jail time or a citation.

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Hardesty is the council’s foremost critic of the Portland Police Bureau; in her four years in office, she’s pushed for more civilian oversight, interrogated their budget proposals, and publicly chastised bureau leaders for perceived blunders.

Gonzalez has said he believes the police bureau has been unjustly demonized and rebuked the “defund the police culture” he says Hardesty espouses. He has said the city needs a “police department cheerleader” and urged a pause on new police oversight mechanisms while legislators monitor how the police accountability bills recently passed in Salem pan out.

Gonzalez’s bluntness had caused jitters among some of the city’s powerbrokers, who wanted to see Hardesty defeated and feared he might prove too easy to paint as a conservative ill-suited for an ultra-progressive city, thus faring poorly in a general election. A PAC called Portland United ultimately spent over $300,000 to boost Mozyrsky’s campaign as well as that of Commissioner Dan Ryan, who easily won reelection.

Gonzalez said he would continue to speak “directly” about crime and homelessness in a general election. However, he said, he also wanted to remind voters that he was aligned with the majority of the city on the cultural and social issues dominating national headlines, including preserving Oregon’s abortion protections as the nation prepares for the Supreme Court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

“I’m pro-choice, I support gay marriage. We’ll have to spend time reminding folks of what I’ve always been on those issues,” Gonzalez said. “I get asked that all the time over the last few weeks.”

Should the results start trending in a different direction and Mozyrsky is ultimately the one headed to a runoff against Hardesty, Gonzalez said he will “unconditionally” endorse him.

That certainty did not extend the other way. Mozyrsky said he has not yet decided who to endorse if he doesn’t make the runoff. But he was still holding out hope he wouldn’t need to make the call.

“I think, definitely, we have a path to win,” he said. “There’s no concession until the last vote is counted.”

Gonzalez said he suspects he will be the recipient of many of Mozyrsky’s supporters if Mozyrsky finishes in third place and is therefore out of the general election. The two men ran on similar platforms, both calling for the region to build more shelters equipped with mental health and addiction services and for the city to hire more police.

A handful of people in Mozyrsky’s camp, he said, had reached out Wednesday morning to offer their support.

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