Lisa Batey is finally declared Milwaukie's next mayor
Milwaukie Councilor Lisa Batey will become the city's next mayor in what was by far the most dramatic election in the city's past decade, featuring a vote-counting process that extended nearly a month after the Nov. 8 deadline to mail in ballots.
With the certified election results on Dec. 5, Council President Kathy Hyzy only lost by 20 votes, which was only one vote outside of the 0.2% threshold to trigger an automatic recount.
While thanking Hyzy for running a clean and professional campaign, Batey recognized the closeness of the race meant that she did not have a mandate as mayor-elect.
"I commit to spending the coming four years working for the benefit of our whole community, not just those who supported me," Batey wrote.
Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba is vacating his city position at the end of the year to run for state representative, prompting the two other City Council members to vie for the Nov. 8 vote of citizens to fill his seat.
In conceding the race to Batey, Hyzy told her supporters that citizens will remain a "critical component of city government" with a council that Hyzy was confident will continue to do good work under Batey's leadership.
"The participation of its residents is one of the things that has made serving this community such a privilege, such an education and such a joy," Hyzy wrote.
Stakes were high for Hyzy's and Batey's personal political futures, as both women are reaching the end of their four-year terms on the City Council. Now that Hyzy lost the mayoral election, she will have to step down from public office in January.
Batey says that Milwaukie City Council will continue to have "a good mix" of perspectives, with Rebecca Stavenjord taking office in Hyzy's seat come November. Like Hyzy, Stavenjord is known as a strong voice for housing choices, equity and LGBTQ initiatives.
"I look forward to having Rebecca be our conscience on those issues as well," Batey said.
A race for the history books
Batey on election night had 54% of the partial count of ballots. But as additional votes were counted last month, Batey's lead narrowed after election officials counted each successive batch of ballots until both Batey and Hyzy had less than 49% of the voters in the city of more than 21,000 population. Batey won the race with less than 50% due to 77 voters writing in alternative choices.
Why did it take so long to count the ballots? It always takes several weeks for elections to be certified, but news media and candidates often "call" races before the official results come in, because in most races, the eventual outcome of the election is clear early in the counting process.
But in the weeks after the election, Milwaukie's mayoral race remained too close to call. Election workers on Nov. 17 were still counting ballots with valid postmarks, and at that point there were still potential ballots with signature issues that voters could resolve over the following two weeks. Clackamas County's Elections Office has been behind in its vote-counting schedule during both major elections this year under the leadership of embattled Clerk Sherry Hall, who was ousted from office by voters on Nov. 8.
On Nov. 23, with 39 votes separating the two candidates, Hyzy obtained a list from the Clackamas County Election Office of 219 Milwaukie voters whose ballots were "challenged," meaning they were not counted because the voters either forgot to sign their ballots, or because their signatures were deemed not to match their signatures of record (sometimes due to name changes). Hyzy contacted some of these voters whose signatures were determined not to match in an effort to get their votes counted.
As Batey's lead in the election continued to narrow, Clackamas County came out with a new set of results on Nov. 30, but there were still hundreds of ballots countywide that had to be duplicated in order to be counted, according to election officials. These ballots had been damaged in transit, often by water or rips in the mail.
Why does the mayoral race matter?
Hyzy says that she respects her opponent and enjoyed working with her on council, but Hyzy sees herself as stronger in terms of issues of equity, transportation and housing. Batey, for her part, would prioritize the needs of current residents over what she considers to be loftier goals in some areas.
Batey acknowledged Milwaukie's need new housing options to enhance citizens' ability to stay in town. But Batey voted against the "middle housing" package that the Milwaukie City Council recently passed because she said, "a few provisions went too far — most notably by allowing three-story buildings that may dwarf traditional Milwaukie homes and by eliminating off-street parking requirements for some homes. I am already hearing concerns from residents about developments in their neighborhoods because of both building height and inadequate parking on the street."
On Nov. 6, Batey was the lone no vote against the city's high density residential zones. Batey wanted the large apartment buildings to be permitted across a smaller swath of the city.
Batey says she stands by her vote earlier this year against the more permissive middle-housing provisions and says that many citizens remain concerned about livability. After more large construction projects come to town, she expects to hear from a larger range of impacted residents.
On July 29, Batey announced a mayoral run just after retiring as an employee of the federal government. Within a year of buying her home in Milwaukie in 2002, she began serving as chair of the Island Station neighborhood association.
Batey says that her decades of experience in Milwaukie politics makes her stand out the most from her opponent in the mayoral race. Hyzy moved to Milwaukie in 2014 and was first elected in 2018.
Batey served on the Milwaukie Planning Commission for more than nine years, including three years as chair, before being elected to city council in 2014.
Batey earlier served on Milwaukie's Citizens Utility Advisory Board and from 2011-18 as a member of the board of Celebrate Milwaukie, Inc., the community nonprofit that oversees the Milwaukie Farmers Market.
Since 2015, Batey has served on the board of the North Clackamas Watersheds Council, where she helped advocate for removal of the Kellogg Dam. In 2018, she joined the board of the newly-formed Milwaukie Parks Foundation.
Batey served as the city council's liaison to various regional committees, including the Regional Water Providers Consortium and the Clackamas Fire District.
Born and raised in Oklahoma, Batey lived in seven states and three foreign countries before moving to Milwaukie. She has received a bachelor's degree from Syracuse University and a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School.
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