Two candidates are vying for a seat on Portland’s City Council in November. Bookstore owner Chloe Eudaly is hoping to unseat incumbent commissioner Steve Novick. It’s a non-partisan race, and both call themselves progressive Democrats.
On a recent fall evening, dozens of Bernie Sanders campaign volunteers stuffed envelopes. With Sanders out of the spotlight, they’re focusing on local races and have thrown their weight behind Eudaly.
Kieran Silverman fed yellow sheets printed with “Vote Chloe” into a metal machine and pulled a lever.
“It’s a button press. We are making a bajillion buttons,” she said with a laugh.
The DIY buttons are just one of many ways the Eudaly campaign is trying to reach voters on the cheap. Eudaly won 15 percent of the vote in the primary, forcing Novick into a run-off.
Eudaly has raised about $80,000. Not bad for a first time candidate who isn’t backed by unions or political action committees, but it’s dwarfed by the $400,000 Novick has raised to defend his seat.
Eudaly, 46, grew up in Portland. She’s owned and run an independent bookstore, Reading Frenzy, for more than 20 years. It’s a hangout for local illustrators, writers and cartoonists.
Eudaly said she wants to be a voice on the council for people that Portland isn’t working for right now, people being priced out of the city.
“As a small business owner and a community activist for the last 25 years and a renter, I will bring needed experience and perspective to the council,” she said.
Eudaly hasn’t held elected office before. But she has been a community organizer. She started a PTA for parents of children with disabilities, and served on the Multnomah County Cultural Coalition.
If elected, Eudaly said her priority will be protecting renters. She’s called for an emergency freeze on rents, and she wants Portland to implement some form of rent control. She outlined her proposal in a debate on OPB’s Think Out Loud.
“Three percent or more to cover people’s property tax increases, plus some kind of metric like the consumer price index would be a reasonable place to start,” she said.
Top democrats in the state legislature have said they want to lift a state ban on rent control in the upcoming session. But implementing rent control in Portland could be a difficult campaign promise for Eudaly to deliver.
The city’s mayor-elect, Ted Wheeler, has said he opposes what he terms “New York-style” rent control.
Eudaly said her campaign isn’t just about pushing for more regulation to protect renters.
It’s also about shaking up the City Council. She said too many of the commissioners are wealthy, Ivy League-educated men who live on Portland’s west side. Or as Eudaly puts it: political insiders.
“Maybe we need some of those people on City Council, but we also need people like me to keep them in check and to make sure the city is working for everyone,” she said.
“I do not represent a group of folks with silver spoons in their mouths,” countered incumbent city commissioner Steve Novick. “My dad was a union organizer, my mother for a long time was a waitress before she became an education researcher.”
Novick said that while he lives on the west side, and yes, he attended Harvard, as a city commissioner he’s stuck up for Portland’s workers.
“I was proud to be part of the council that passed paid sick leave for all Portland workers. I was proud that within the Bureau of Transportation I was able to establish a discounted garage permitting program for low-wage workers who work downtown,” Novick said.
On the council, Novick, 53, oversees the Bureau of Transportation, the Bureau of Emergency Management and the Bureau of Emergency Communications.
He was an environmental lawyer with U.S. Department of Justice, and had a long career as a policy advisor to political campaigns in Oregon.
In his first term as commissioner, Novick angered some progressives when he called the company Uber a bully and then voted to allow it to operate in Portland.
And he’s faced criticism for not working well with others, in particular during an early effort to get the City Council to fund street repairs. Novick said he’s learned and adjusted his style.
He gave his stump speech to a small crowd at a southwest neighborhood association forum, and he started with an apology.
The latest election coverage for races from around the region and across the U.S.
“I was eager to get things done, and in my eagerness, in the first part of my term, I was sometimes a little impatient and not always easy to work with. And that showed,” he said.
In the end, Novick did secure funding for street repairs and safety improvements. He led the campaign for a 10-cent gas tax approved by voters in the May primary.
Novick said his top priorities are addressing global warming and income inequality. Those priorities have won him support from some progressive groups, like the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. But at times, they’re a hard to sell voters focused on hyper-local issues.
At the forum, Multnomah neighborhood resident Houston Markley stopped Novick to complain about the new duplexes and apartments he sees going up.
“Developers come in, buy those homes, they’re demolished. The trees, they go. They’re clearcut. You’ve seen this, you live here,” Markley said.
Novick listened but he also pushed back. Density, he said, has environmental benefits.
“When you have more compact development and people living closer together, it increases the likelihood that there will be a grocery store that springs up within walking distance of people so you can walk rather than drive,” he said.
Novick said he’s confident of his chances in November. Eudaly, for her part, said she has a broad base of support and is used to people underestimating her campaign.
If she wins, it would be the first time a challenger has beat an incumbent on Portland’s City Council in more than 20 years.
An earlier version of this story misstated the name of a regional arts council candidate Chloe Eudaly served on, and misstated her title. OPB regrets the error.