In one of the most closely watched local races on the November ballot, claims being made by Multnomah County Board of Commissioners candidate Karol Collymore contain several exaggerations.
Both Collymore and her opponent, Loretta Smith, have campaigned heavily on their experience to represent North and Northeast Portland on the county board. Collymore has been an aide to county Chairman Jeff Cogen since 2007; Smith has been an aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) since 1989, when Wyden was still in the House.
Smith has a longer political résumé than Collymore, but she isn't claiming nearly as many concrete achievements. Instead, Smith highlights her work for Wyden helping secure federal funding for local projects.
Former county Chairman Ted Wheeler confirms Smith's account. So do Friends of the Children, the Oregon Food Bank and Portland YouthBuilders—all nonprofits Smith has assisted.
Collymore, meanwhile, focuses on programs she says she started, or helped to start, as Cogen's aide. Some of Collymore's claims, however, directly conflict either with press reports or accounts of key people involved. Collymore, who moved from New Mexico to Portland in 2003, nevertheless defends her campaign statements.
"I'm happy to offer my record to anyone," she says.
On her website, in campaign fliers and in the Voters' Pamphlets for both the primary and the general elections, Collymore claims to have helped start the St. Johns Farmers Market, which opened in 2009.
People who run the market say Collymore organized a handful of meetings in early 2008. But Collymore left without turning over her contacts, and residents had to start the project again from scratch, says Simone Streeter, president of Friends of the St. Johns Farmers Market.
Market supporters were surprised when Collymore showed up last summer to shoot a campaign video for her website.
"There's people on our board who didn't know who she was," Streeter says. "My concern really is that the community is being used [politically] without receiving anything in return."
Cogen confirms Collymore asked him in 2008 if the county could help start a market, but Cogen says he was never directly involved. Collymore says she helped print and distribute surveys but wasn't a leader.
"I needed it to be a neighborhood-driven project," Collymore says.
Also on her website and in the Voters' Pamphlet for the primary election, Collymore claims she "laid the groundwork" for a new library branch in the Kenton neighborhood. Campaign fliers and the general-election Voters' Pamphlet contain similar statements.
Miriam Linder, a resident of the Arbor Lodge neighborhood, laughs when she hears of Collymore taking credit for the library. Linder had been working to bring a new library to North Portland since 1999. Other residents had been pushing for the cause even longer.
"Everybody wants to say, 'That's my library,'" Linder says. "I just have to laugh. Hundreds of people feel proprietary of that library, and that's the way it should be."
North Portland residents and former Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz-Walsh managed to secure funding for a new branch when the library levy passed in 2006. The task remaining was to work with the community to agree on a site. Collymore took on that job.
As to her claim to "laying the groundwork" for the new branch, Collymore says now: "It's important to note that there were a ton of people for the last 25 years trying to find a third North Portland library."
In the Voters' Pamphlet for the May primary, Collymore also claims she "started a cell-phone recycling program." The claim still appears on Collymore's website, but she did not include it in her Voters' Pamphlet statement for the general election.
The boast is problematic because of a story in The Gresham Outlook from December 2007 about Nick Kahl, a Rockwood resident later elected as a Democratic state representative. The story, headlined "Rockwood Man Tackles E-Waste Issue," says the cell-phone program "was his idea" and "became the focus of his work" during a three-month internship with Cogen.
Collymore tells WW the program was Kahl's idea but that she implemented the project. Cogen, her boss and political supporter in the race, backs her version of events.
"Karol took the idea and made it happen," Cogen says.
In her WW endorsement interview during the primary, Collymore said she "got to do a lot of really wonderful things for people" in Cogen's office. Among her examples: opening a farm in East County that grows crops for the Oregon Food Bank. She made a similar claim to the county board last fall, when she sought appointment to a vacant state House seat.
But a 2009 story in The Oregonian quotes Cogen saying the farm "was Marissa's idea," referring to his chief of staff, Marissa Madrigal. Collymore says now her only role was to drum up media attention for the farm.
"We all work on projects," she says. "My intention is not to imply that I started it."