Early returns show Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson leading the race for county chair over fellow Commissioner Sharon Meieran.
Both are vying to replace Chair Deborah Kafoury, who has served in the role since 2014 and was prevented by term limits from running again.
Vega Pederson finished first in the May primary but could not capture the majority needed to avoid a general election. In May, she captured nearly 42% of the vote compared to Meieran’s 18%.
Whomever does not win the election will serve two more years as a county commissioner.
The county government’s primary function is to provide health and human services, and the Multnomah County Chair plays a huge role in that. The chair heads the board of commissioners, they oversee department heads, and they develop the multi-billion dollar budget that the board votes on every year. The budget determines spending priorities and the work that the county will do that year.
Vega Pederson and Meiran are both progressive candidates, who have emphasized a need to find solutions to the county’s homelessness issues in the campaign. Meieran has been more outwardly critical of the way the current chair and board have handled the issue thus far.
Vega Pederson lost her Willamette Week endorsement to Meieran after the primary. Willamette Week applauded Meieran for challenging the status quo within the county government.
The outlet also criticized the high price of Vega Pederson’s Preschool for All measure, which was passed by voters in 2020. It is Vega Pederson’s highest-profile accomplishment as a commissioner.
Vega Pederson started community work in the Portland area two decades ago as a volunteer with groups like the Sierra Club. In 2012, she became the first Latina to serve in the Oregon House. Her district as a Multnomah County commissioner includes Southeast and East Portland. She has worked as a project manager in the tech field, and is a mom of two.
As a commissioner, Meieran did not have an effort on the scale of Vega Pederson’s Preschool for All measure. However, Meieran sponsored and directed the Multnomah County Mental Health System Analysis in 2017, which has been used to improve mental health services in the county.
Meieran’s professional background covers a wide range. She worked for seven years as a lawyer in civil litigation and intellectual property law. She also volunteered in children’s advocacy, in family law, and as a counselor on a child abuse prevention crisis line. She is an emergency room doctor and volunteers tending to people experiencing homelessness with Portland Street Medicine.
Meieran’s platform supported creating alternative housing, like micro-villages, while working on permanent housing solutions. She put an emphasis on increasing access to behavioral health services, and public health and safety.
As part of her campaign platform Vega Pederson said she would combat homelessness by expanding shelter capacity, dramatically increasing the supply of affordable housing, and cleaning up debris from unregulated camps.
She also spoke about expanding the capacity of community-based organizations to do the work necessary to reduce gun violence, domestic violence, and the perpetuation of incarceration. She also promised to continue funding to the district attorney to ensure the timely investigation and prosecution of gun violence crimes.
Her platform supported climate action, reproductive justice, as well as mental health and addiction services among other issues.
Despite the impact of the role, ads and canvassing from the candidates were limited by campaign donation limits approved by voters in 2016.