Teen wins seat governing Gladstone in progressive wave that also ousts embattled mayor

A slate of four progressive candidates – including a 19-year-old recent high school graduate – swept their races for Gladstone City Council, unseating the mayor and filling three other positions on a political body plagued by squabbles.

Michael Milch, a 69-year-old retired church educator, won 37% of the votes in the three-person mayoral race. Incumbent Tammy Stempel – an environmental consultant who drew controversy throughout her tenure for appearing supportive of the far-right’s presence in Gladstone and seemingly tolerating her sister’s harassment of detractors – won 32%.

Stempel’s three political allies, perennial candidate Bill Osburn, former councilor Neil Reisner and city council president Mindy Garlington, all lost their races to left-leaning political newcomers.

Milch, who ran on a platform of equity, education and economic development, was appointed to a vacant seat on Gladstone City Council in 2017 but lost re-election in 2018 to Councilor Randy Ripley, whose term expires this year. He said residents were unhappy with Stempel, who made a “calculated political decision to align herself with right-wing extremists.” Osburn, Reisner and – to a lesser extent – Garlington all took the same approach, Milch said.

“We were afraid the message of violence and hatred coming from their side was harmful to the city, and we feel the voters agreed with us,” Milch said. “I want to try to lead the city in a more civil and respectful way.”

Under Stempel, dysfunction on the city council grew so intense that the city hired a professional facilitator to help members work together. The facilitator resigned eight days later, citing the mayor’s lack of cooperation.

Stempel did not respond Thursday to an inquiry from The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Administrative services worker Vanessa Huckaby bested Garlington, the incumbent, with 56% of the vote. Garlington was elected in 2020 but ran for a different position on city council to stay in office another four years instead of two. She will remain in her current city council position until her term expires in 2024.

Huckaby ran on a platform of improving local parks, supporting diversity and revitalizing the city’s downtown. Garlington, who is a production manager, pledged to pass a city charter, lower property taxes for seniors and create a Gladstone parks district.

In a statement Monday on social media, Huckaby said her group’s victory was a sign Gladstone chose “inclusion, collaboration, civility, kindness, progress and hope.”

Recent Gladstone High School graduate Luke Roberts defeated Osburn, a truck driver, after winning 57% of the vote compared with Osburn’s 43%. Roberts served as student body president his senior year and graduated in June. He pledged to focus on public safety, renewable energy and social infrastructure.

Osburn, who supported banning tolls on Interstate 205, was ousted from the city’s traffic safety advisory board in 2021 after introducing a leaked personnel complaint during a city council meeting that year.

This year’s election marks the fourth time Osburn has lost a race for Gladstone City Council.

Reisner, a council member from 2012 to 2020, lost to Veronica Reichle, with 47% of votes compared with her 52%. Reichle, an insurance verification specialist, was a co-petitioner on two successful 2016 ballot measures to protect local parks and served on the Gladstone Public Library Foundation. Reisner served as chairman of the city’s planning commission and on the board of Gladstone’s parks and recreation department, school board and budget committee.

The Nov. 8 election did not end without controversy.

Gladstone residents in October received an anonymous flier in the mail signed by the “Concerned Residents of Gladstone,” the Portland Tribune reported. The flier opposed the candidacies of Huckaby, Reichle, Roberts and Milch, whose photos were covered by X-es.

The opposite side of the flier was supportive of Garlington, Reisner, Osburn and Stempel, whose photos were left untouched.

The mailer may have violated state statutes requiring disclosure of who paid for the communication endorsing or opposing a political candidate, according to the news outlet.

While the mailer did not indicate who authored it, it did accuse Milch and Huckaby of promoting the “outrage of the day.” In an Aug. 26 email to The Oregonian/OregonLive, Stempel said she refused to “react to the outrage of the day.”

— Catalina Gaitán, cgaitan@oregonian.com, @catalingaitan_

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