Loretta Smith and Jo Ann Hardesty are headed for a November runoff for the open seat on the Portland City Council.
Early returns Tuesday showed Hardesty won 39 percent of the vote in the primary, short of the 50 percent-plus-one-vote necessary to win outright.
Smith placed second, with 23 percent of votes.
They’re running for the seat held by Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who announced he will not seek re-election after five terms on the council.
Smith, 53, has been a Multnomah County commissioner for the past seven years. She was previously a field outreach director for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon.
Hardesty, 60, is a consultant and activist. She served in Oregon’s House of Representatives from 1995 until 2001, worked as a policy analyst for Multnomah County and has chaired the Portland chapter of the NAACP.
Hardesty raised just half as much cash as Smith, but she was the first candidate to launch a campaign, and her months of grassroots outreach paid off.
Late Tuesday, she thanked supporters and her staff for her victory. “This campaign was about drawing a line in the stand. The status quo is no longer acceptable in the city of Portland,” she said, to cheers from the crowd.
No matter who wins in November, it will be historic for Portland. The city has never elected an African-American woman to City Council.
The winner in November will also significantly reshape the balance of power on Portland’s five-person City Council.
Smith said she is ready to fight Hardesty, who holds a two-digit lead in the primary.
“We’ve been here before. We were here before in 2010, down 18 points,” Smith told supporters. “Nobody has ever come back from an 18 percentage point lead but Loretta Smith.”
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly has endorsed Hardesty. The two could form a more liberal voting block, challenging the mayor on issues like regulation of the housing market and renewable energy policy.
Groups like the Sierra Club, the Portland Association of Teachers, and Bernie PDX support Hardesty as well.
Smith, by contrast, is backed by business and labor groups, including the Portland Business Alliance, the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors, and a number of trade unions.
On the Multnomah County Commission, she has periodically cast the sole vote against parts of Chair Deborah Kafory’s agenda. Most recently, Smith opposed siting a new homeless shelter in the Foster-Powell neighborhood of Portland.
Smith has also championed public investments in low-income communities and communities of color in her time at the county, creating a summer jobs program for Multnomah County youth.
The primary was marked by low voter turnout. Fewer than 30 percent of eligible voters in Multnomah County returned ballots, according to unofficial results posted Tuesday night.