There was a celebratory atmosphere at the Silver Moon Brewery in Bend on Tuesday night, as unofficial results appeared to show a slate of Democratic candidates maintaining control of the Bend City Council, beating out spendy campaign challenges and negative ads.
City Councilor Melanie Kebler appears poised to replace Gena Goodman-Campbell as Bend’s next mayor, declaring victory Wednesday morning as her lead increased to 10 percentage points over former Councilor Chris Piper.
Kebler told OPB that results show the people of Bend want the council to continue its current trajectory.
“We’re just speaking to the things that people in Bend really care about,” she said. “We all have really sincere connections to the city and really love this community.”
Piper could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but posted his congratulations to Kebler on Twitter.
1/2: Good morning Mayor-Elect. Congratulations on the race and win to become Bend's next Mayor. You have served the Bend community as Councilor with energy and commitment.— Chris Piper for Mayor (@chrispiperor) November 9, 2022
Councilor Barb Campbell beat out a crowded field to win a third term, while Bend Parks Commissioner Ariel Méndez and Mike Riley appear to have handily beat their opponents. Méndez and Riley both held leads of 30 percentage points Wednesday, leaving little doubt that they will serve on the council once all votes are tabulated.
Many of the more conservative challengers in the council races focused their messaging on balance, arguing the current council is too ideologically uniform and progressive. The current City Council, which will have two new members, has regularly voted unanimously on issues.
While City Council seats are technically non-partisan, a slate of progressive candidates has maintained a majority control over the body for the past couple of elections.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars from real estate and development interests poured into the races this election, backing conservative candidates. The Central Oregon Association of Realtors PAC spent more than $287,000 this cycle, most of which went to local races in Bend and Deschutes County.
The Realtors PAC gave Piper alone more than $54,000 in donations and in-kind contributions. That money manifested in a large number of negative ads against Kebler and Méndez.
Speaking to a packed crowd Tuesday night, Méndez pointed to results and said that “money can’t buy elections.” Other candidates bemoaned the large amount of cash spent against them on the campaign trail.
The election pitted opposing views of Bend’s rapid development and solving the city’s affordable housing crisis. While both sides agreed more housing needs to be built, they differed on whether denser multi-family housing or separated single-family homes should be the primary focus.
Results as of Wednesday morning showed that voters chose the former. Kebler said once the new councilors take their seats, the plan will be to continue the council’s work on pedestrian infrastructure, addressing homelessness and establishing new forms of housing for residents.
“We’re on the right track,” Kebler said. “As far as what our priorities have been and how we’ve been moving forward on those and finding solutions, I think we’re going to keep doing that.”