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Portland voters elect Dan Ryan to fill Nick Fish's seat on Portland City Council

Commissioner Nick Fish died in January after a two-year battle with cancer. He had been elected to a four-year term in 2018.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland voters have elected Dan Ryan to be Portland's newest city commissioner after a special election for Portland Commission, Pos. 2. Ryan will join city council in September and serve until 2022.

Ryan had a lead of 51.3% to 47.9% over Loretta Smith, with more than 95% of the vote in. The Oregonian called the election for Ryan shortly before 6:30 a.m. Wednesday.

"I am incredibly honored and deeply humbled to be elected to this position," Ryan said. "This campaign was about bringing Portlanders together to address the issues we all face. Our city is in crisis, and I am eager to jump in and get to work. I want to thank my opponent Loretta Smith for bringing her passion and love for this city into the special election runoff. We both share the same love and commitment to Portland, and I’m grateful for the spirited debate we participated in throughout the campaign."

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Ryan said he had reached out to Smith but had not heard back yet.

Neither candidate received more than 50% of the vote for former Commissioner Nick Fish’s seat during the primary in May.

Fish died in January after a two-year battle with cancer. He was elected to a four-year term in 2018.

Ryan will likely be sworn in in early September, after the results are certified by the Multnomah County Elections office.

According to the county, voter turnout was 172,340 or 39% as of late Tuesday evening. Most of those ballots (64%) were returned by mail and 36% were returned to drop sites. 

Anecdotally, elections officials noticed an uptick in mail-in ballots this year, partially due to free postage and the pandemic.

KGW's Laural Porter spoke with Ryan on Tuesday night.

In May, the field was narrowed from 18 candidates down to the top two. Ballots went out on July 22 and were due back by 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Click here to see the results

Ryan is a former education nonprofit executive and a first-time candidate. Smith is a former Multnomah County Commissioner and has years of political experience behind her. 

The pair talked with Laural Porter on Straight Talk about a variety of issues. Here's a look at how they differed on key issues in Portland.

Portland protests

The two candidates differed on how they would try to resolve the protests that have continued in Portland for months. 

Ryan said he thinks the city needs to have a peace summit bringing together representatives from various groups, including protesters, police, business owners and residents who live near areas affected by the protests.

"I grew up admiring Jimmy Carter and the work he did in the Middle East. I think we need a Middle East-type peace summit here in Portland. I have the skills in conflict negotiation. We need a different approach," he said.

Smith disagreed with the idea of a meeting with different groups of people. She said there needs to first be a meeting with only people who are protesting.

"We need to make sure we have a clear agenda for them, because they are the ones protesting in the evening. They're the ones fighting the establishment and status quo. We can't always bring other people in the room just to make us feel comfortable," Smith said.

WATCH: Dan Ryan on protests, police reform

WATCH: Loretta Smith reflects on civil unrest and protests

Businesses hurt by protests

Business owners have told KGW the protests are hurting them and they're not sure they can survive. Some have said they plan to leave downtown.
They point to the homeless crisis, the pandemic, and now the protests as a set of challenges they aren't sure they can overcome.

Ryan said he would want business owners at the table for a summit to discuss a resolution to the protests.

"We are in economic devastation. We are in a pandemic and we need to figure out how to get the revenue streams moving again. We have to turn the spigot on for currency. We can't lose our businesses," he said.

Smith said she thinks the city needs to set aside a pot of money for small businesses to recover from COVID-19 and from the protesting.

Making their case to voters

Dan Ryan pointed to his 35 years of experience as a tested executive leader in the nonprofit space as one reason he believes he's the best choice to replace Fish on city council.

"When you're a nonprofit leader and community leader, you really have to rely on bringing people together to make results," he said.

He called himself a reformer and change agent ready to take on all the challenges the city faces.

"There's nothing like a lot of crises for a lot of opportunity," he said.

Smith highlighted her decades of political experience. She is a former Multnomah County commissioner and served as a staffer for Sen. Ron Wyden for 20 years.

"Now is not the time for on the job training," she said. "We need someone like me who has experienced leadership."

RELATED: Loretta Smith, Dan Ryan make their case to replace the late Nick Fish on Portland City Council

Both said Portland faces a daunting economic and health crisis and they're eager to serve.

"We have widespread poverty in this city, in every ZIP code. I want everybody to not just survive in this city, but to thrive," Smith said. "I'm the person who is going to speak truth to power."

Ryan asked voters to give the newcomer a chance.

"I think you ought to give the new person the shot who's from the community, who's from the independent sector, who's been able to get results with little means," he said.

Smith and Ryan also discussed their ideas to solve homelessness and accounting problems each faced with Portland's public campaign financing program.

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