Multnomah County Board of Commissioners
Deborah Kafoury • NonpartisanThe Multnomah County chair’s job is too important to be a consolation prize.
The county spends $1.2 billion annually, most of it on public safety and health. As the county’s top executive, the chair presides over the five-member board of commissioners and plays a key role in how well the county runs its jails, monitors parolees and provides a vast array of safety-net services for county residents, from housing for homeless families to medical care for one in 10 local citizens.
For former two-term City Commissioner Jim Francesconi, however, the county’s mission is secondary to his own personal journey back from political oblivion. A heavy favorite in the 2004 mayoral race, Francesconi took a shellacking from a lightly financed, little-known former police chief named Tom Potter.
He’s spent a decade in the political wilderness since then, serving on the board of the Oregon University System and lobbying for various clients.
Francesconi, a lawyer, thought long and hard about running for mayor in 2010, telling The Oregonian he’d talked to more than 100 people about entering that race. Instead, he’s now telling voters his heart has always been with the county’s human services mission. He’s campaigned on the county’s role as a job creator (which isn’t part of its charter) and its potential to close the income gap.
His message is admirable, but the motive behind it is dubious, given that he’s passed on other opportunities to run for the county board. In 2004, Francesconi lost in part because he sold his soul for big campaign contributions from business interests. He now says that was a big mistake and he’s learned from it.
This time, he’s aligned himself with organized labor, making written promises to help unionize county contractors that, were he to carry them out, would appear to break the law (“The Great Race,” WW, March 26, 2014).
His rival for the chair’s job is Deborah Kafoury, a former minority leader in the Oregon House. Kafoury is just as smart and has more relevant political experience with her five years on the county commission from 2009 to 2013. (County rules forced her to resign from the commission to seek the chair’s job.)
Kafoury is as low-key as Francesconi is animated. In the Oregon House from 1998 to 2004, she led a caucus that included such alpha males as Randy Leonard (who went on to the Portland City Council) and now-U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley.
Democrats were then a small minority, but Kafoury passed legislation that beefed up child care for working mothers and provided new funding for victims of domestic violence, issues squarely inside Multnomah County’s wheelhouse.
As a county commissioner, Kafoury took charge of the long-stalled Sellwood Bridge replacement project, helped consolidate the city and county’s overlapping work on homelessness, and displayed a useful ability to obtain funding from the Legislature.
She was born into a political family. Her parents (Steve and Gretchen Kafoury) held elected office for 30 years combined. But Kafoury comes across as an almost reluctant politician. She’d rather talk about the county and its mission than herself.
That’s made her campaign lackluster and understated in the face of Francesconi’s quest for redemption. But it’s an approach Multnomah County residents deserve.
Voters have other candidates to choose from. Steven Reynolds, a West Point grad, makes a case for cutting county spending but lacks the needed experience for the job. Others include James Rowell, perennial candidate Wes Soderback, salsa bandleader Aquiles Montas, and Patty Burkett, who lists her occupation as “nonfiction research advocate.”
An important note on how this race works: The candidates are running both to fill the remaining term of ex-County Chairman Jeff Cogen (who resigned last year amid a sex scandal) and to fill the position’s next four-year term. That means the list of candidates appears on the ballot two times.
Vote Kafoury twice.
Who Kafoury would be if not herself: “My grandmother, Eleanor Kafoury. She was a giving individual and a talented painter.”
Commissioner, District 1 (West and inner Southeast Portland)
Jules Bailey • NonpartisanWhen Deborah Kafoury vacated this seat to run for the Multnomah County chair job vacated by the self-immolating Jeff Cogen, she created the chance for a true contest to replace her. And voters do have a choice between two highly qualified candidates.
Until recently, Brian Wilson ran his family’s real-estate management business, the Kalberer Co. But he’s better known for his wide range of volunteer work in public life—advocating for the Sellwood Bridge, library funding and gay rights.
Wilson is whip-smart on the challenges facing the county—especially its homelessness and drug-treatment programs. He may have the stronger grasp on these local issues, and his suggestions for trimming fat from the county budget are welcome.
But his interview with WW raised questions about his preparedness for office. Without prompting, he confessed to having drinks at a charity event in 2007 and crashing his car into a bank. (He was charged with drunken and reckless driving, and got it erased from his record by attending alcohol diversion classes.) Wilson told us the experience has helped him understand what people face in court-mandated diversion programs. It was one of the stranger moments we’ve seen in an endorsement interview, and it causes us to question his judgment in how he deals with personal challenges. (After Cogen, this is not a trivial matter for Multnomah County.) We hope Wilson runs again, but in this race, our nod goes to Bailey.
A 34-year-old three-term state legislator, Bailey has gained a reputation in Salem as a clothes horse and a brilliant policy mind. He demonstrated both traits in our interview. His bicycle cufflinks gave a sartorial nod to his district, and his experience chairing the House Energy and Environment Committee shows he knows how to work with colleagues to manage public dollars. “Budgets,” he told us, “are how you effect change.” And his plans to reform the cost overruns in the Multnomah County sheriff’s office are much needed.
As unusual as it is to enjoy a county race with two solid choices, it’s even rarer to see a brain of Bailey’s wattage pointed toward a building that often attracts B-teamers. Our only concern is that he’ll see the seat as a launching point to some larger ambition. We urge you to vote for Bailey—and urge him to stick around.
Who Bailey would be if not himself: Rosa Parks. (Yes, really.)
Commissioner, District 2 (North and Northeast Portland)
Loretta Smith • NonpartisanIt’s impossible to talk about why Loretta Smith should be re-elected to a second term on the county commission without discussing the bad behavior publicly directed her way last summer.
That’s when Baruti Artharee, Mayor Charlie Hales’ then-police liaison, stood up at a gathering of African-American leaders and made sexually harassing remarks about Smith. Hales reluctantly suspended Artharee for a week. It was light discipline, but it factored into his subsequent resignation from the mayor’s office.
The dismal event matters now because it has obscured Smith’s achievements in office and exposed resentment that has festered toward her within the African-American community.
Smith, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), has been part of the coalition that helped steady county government in the past few years.
She also deserves praise for championing better health care for the county’s poorest citizens, and for backing job-training programs for minorities.
Smith’s three challengers in the race—all African-American—complain she has lost touch with the people living in her district. Their claims are harder to believe, however, since two of them—business consultant Teressa Raiford and perennial candidate Bruce Broussard—have aligned themselves with Artharee, who has somehow made himself out to be Smith’s victim.
During our endorsement interview, Broussard, a perennial candidate, voiced only vague, empty complaints against Smith, and Raiford seemed barely awake.
The fourth candidate, Concordia University graduate student Kelvin Hall, offers a more interesting critique of Smith: He rightly points out how closely her favored nonprofits are aligned with the county power structure. Hall wants the county budget to be apportioned to the geographic districts each commissioner represents. But his plan for how to do that is hazy.
In our interview, Smith appeared irritated and patronizing to her opponents. They do have a point: We’d like to see her acknowledge she could take a more visible role leading North and Northeast Portland’s African-American population. But we still think she’s the best choice to carry out that mission.
Who Smith would be if not herself: She mentions a number of people, including Wyden, President Obama and former state Sen. Margaret Carter (D-Portland).