Watching the constant political clashes of recent years, Seattle voters could be forgiven for yearning for a simpler time in urban democracy. A time of so-called “smoke-filled rooms,” when a city’s power brokers and political bosses decided elections out of the public eye, selecting winners without any real input necessary from voters.
Well, the dream of pre-determined elections is alive in Portland, Oregon. And soon, a man once registered as a Republican will almost certainly become mayor of one of America’s most liberal cities, anointed by a virtual who’s who of Portland's political heavyweights for reasons that baffle close observers.
Since 2004, every person elected as mayor of Seattle’s southerly sister city has decided against running for a second term, following three consecutive terms by Vera Katz. The latest in this trend is current mayor Charlie Hales, who’d been expected to run a fierce race against Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler for a second term. Hales shocked the city when he dropped out on October 26, explaining he couldn’t campaign and be mayor at the same time. Wheeler was left as the only credible candidate in the race.
Into this vacuum, some fresh challengers were expected in short order. This is because the election could be finished after May's primary – under local election rules, anyone securing a single vote north of 50 percent wins the position. To raise necessary funds and secure endorsements, political consultants like John Horvick, political director of DHM Research, agree that contenders must jump in by around Thanksgiving. And the list of potential challengers is shrinking.
“Anything can happen, but the field looks pretty clear at the moment,” says Horvick, referring to a field that consists of one credible candidate. “Every day, it seems less likely someone will jump in.”
Drew Atkins is a journalist and writer in Seattle, and the recipient of numerous national and regional awards. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Seattle Times, The Oregonian, InvestigateWest, Geekwire, Seattle Magazine, and others. He also previously served as the managing editor of Crosscut. He can be contacted at email@example.com.