May 20th, 2014 | by WW Staff News | Posted In: Multnomah County, PDX News, Politics

Deborah Kafoury Wins County Chair Race

"This time, I'm really done," Jim Francesconi says.

news1_kafoury_3941Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury - IMAGE: WW Staff
Former Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury will get the promotion she’s been asking for.

Voters elected Kafoury as county chair Tuesday night. Early results show her leading former City Commissioner Jim Francesconi 65 percent to 18 percent. Four other candidates split the remaining vote.

Kafoury will fill out the remaining term this year for ex-chair Jeff Cogen, who resigned last year in a sex scandal. She then will serve a four-year term starting in January 2015. (Under county rules Kafoury had to resign her commission seat in order to run for chair.) 

The race between Kafoury and Francesconi promised to be a contest between a rising politician and a veteran who had been office for a decade and was seeking a way back in. 

Kafoury—a former state legislator—ran on her five-year track record on the county board while steering away from defending programs promoted by Cogen.

On Tuesday night, Kafoury celebrated at a packed Jimmy Mak's. 

“I feel grateful to all my supporters and the voters of Multnomah County,” Kafoury told WW. “I don’t know why the margin is so large. I think that what resonated with voters was my honesty, and that they know when I say I am going to do something, I am going to do it.” 

Kafoury says she'll take over as county chair as soon as early June.

Francesconi’s last campaign was in 2004, when he lost a race for Portland mayor. He campaigned this year arguing that county government should be an economic development agency, and that the county board could do more to close the wage gap between rich and poor. 

He ran into trouble when he promised union officials considering a political endorsement that, if elected, he would work to increase their ranks. Francesconi backed away from the statement when WW reported carrying out that promise could run afoul of state law.

A few minutes before 8 pm on Tuesday, Francesconi sat with a couple of friends and his campaign manager in a nearly deserted room in the East Bank Saloon. A few minutes later, his campaign manager told him, "It's over. Deborah Kafoury has won."

Francesconi went to a second-floor meeting room where he conceded the race before 40 supporters. He said he was glad that he had made the persistent gap between rich and poor the central theme of his campaign.

Afterward, Francesconi sat sipping a double whiskey and reflected on his loss. 

“I’m sad,” Francesconi said. “People believed in me and they invested in me for a reason. I ran because I still believe government has the ability to do big things.” 

Francesconi said voters had the perception that Multnomah County is on the right track, which made it hard for him to run against Kafoury as the candidate of the status quo. 

“I knew I had an uphill climb,” he said. “Deborah Kafoury was a formidable opponent. I tried to elevate the conversation, but it didn’t seem to work.” 

A decade after his last loss, Francesconi said, he knows what his political career holds next. 

“This time,” he said, “I’m really done.”

 
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