Delivering his first State of the County speech to the City Club of Portland, Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen left us with these five impressions:
1. As usual at City Club events, the audience of mostly progressive and aging Portlanders left the most pressing question of the moment unasked. No one followed up previous media inquiries by putting Cogen on the spot with questions about his political plans, including whether he intends to run against Mayor Sam Adams (who attended the speech and is giving his State of the City speech in the same venue on Feb. 18). Cogen's ambitions have been the focus of intense speculation in local political circles. And after today's speech, they remain a mystery.
2. One thing for sure, however, is that Cogen probably doesn't plan on running for statewide office any time soon. Asked about tax policy, Cogen said Oregon could become the "Mississippi of the West Coast" if it fails to fix its revenue crunch. "We don't have a sales tax. We should," Cogen said. That may play well in progressive Portland, but Cogen acknowledged he'd just touched the Third Rail of Oregon politics. "I have just officially ended my political career," he said.
3. Cogen for years has made a name challenging City Hall's efforts to create or extend urban-renewal areas that cut into Multnomah County's tax base. He repeated those concerns today, saying officials should be "thinking very carefully" about the trade-offs involved with urban-renewal schemes. And Cogen had a receptive audience for those views at City Club—his warming about urban renewal was one of the afternoon's biggest applause-lines.
4. While Cogen and Adams are often perceived as rivals, Cogen went out of his way today to praise Adams—just as he did yesterday when county commissioners approved a deal with the City of Portland on the Sellwood Bridge. "Later this spring the county will open an important new facility to help mentally ill people who are in crisis," Cogen said today. "I'd like to acknowledge Mayor Sam Adams, who is here with us today, and who never wavered in partnering with the county to address this issue."
5. Whether purposefully or not, Cogen also set himself apart from Adams in one way. In his State of the City speech last year at City Club, Adams used as examples of everyday people two Portlanders the mayor referred to as "Mike and Jean." After the speech, some expressed doubt about whether Mike and Jean actually existed. Today, Cogen also referred to several everyday Portlanders in his speech. But Cogen pointed out that two of those people were actually in the audience—leaving no doubt his exemplars were non-fiction.