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Progressive Prosecutor in Portland Faces Bitter Challenge From Co-Worker

U.S.Progressive Prosecutor in Portland Faces Bitter Challenge From Co-Worker

Four years ago, Mike Schmidt handily won the election to be the top prosecutor in the Portland, Ore., area, expanding the ranks of progressives looking to remake the criminal justice system from the inside.

But he faces a daunting re-election bid from one of his deputies at the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office. His rival, Nathan Vasquez, a deputy district attorney, has blamed Mr. Schmidt for Portland’s recent problems with drugs and crime.

Many residents have said they are fed up with the city’s troubles — a sentiment shared by big-city residents across the country since the pandemic, but one that is perhaps more acute in Portland. Homicides there hit record highs in 2021 and 2022. Businesses have fled the city center. Homelessness has soared. Opioid overdose deaths have tripled.

Mr. Vasquez has said that he wants to take on lawless behavior and prosecute even petty crimes. Mr. Schmidt, who campaigned in 2020 on making low-level crimes a lower priority, has responded to voter concerns by trying to burnish his law-and-order credentials. He supported a partial rollback of Oregon’s pioneering drug decriminalization law this year and dedicated more staff members to prosecuting violent crime. Car theft numbers have dropped rapidly in the past year, and he has touted that progress.

Voters across the West Coast have sent signals in the last few years that they want to see a crackdown on crime. In 2021, Seattle elected a Republican as the city’s lead prosecutor for low-level crimes. The next year, voters in San Francisco recalled that city’s progressive prosecutor, Chesa Boudin.

Mr. Vasquez was previously registered as a Republican. The post under contest in Tuesday’s primary is nonpartisan, with only two candidates on the ballot. Whoever gets more than 50 percent of the vote will lead the office next year.

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