In a somewhat unusual move, four of the five Multnomah County commissioners today endorsed Mike Schmidt, one of the two remaining candidates for the Multnomah County District Attorney's position that will be vacant next year following the retirement of incumbent DA Rod Underhill.
Commissioners Sharon Meieran, Susheela Jayapal, Jessica Vega Pederson and Lori Stegmann put their names behind Schmidt in a joint statement.
"As Multnomah County Commissioners, we work closely with the District Attorney to keep our community safe. We're united in supporting Mike Schmidt because he's a proven reformer with a smart plan to improve the effectiveness and fairness of our criminal justice system and make it work for all the people of our county," the commissioners said.
It's unusual in the first place for the county to experience a contested race for the top prosecutor's spot. Former DA Mike Schrunk held the job for 32 years, hand-picking Underhill, a top lieutenant, to replace him in 2012.
Underhill's retirement brought forward Schmidt, a former Multnomah County prosecutor who now heads the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission; Ethan Knight, an assistant U.S. Attorney and former Multnomah County prosecutor, and Kristin Naito, an assistant attorney general in the Oregon Department of Justice.
Naito dropped out of the race last week, leaving a contest between Schmidt, who has lined up with criminal justice reformers, and Knight, the more experienced prosecutor and the choice of people who favor a more traditional law-and-order approach. Both men have raised about $100,000 and drawn endorsements from impressive lists of supporters.
The endorsement today from the four county commissioners is unusual because they will have to work with whoever wins. (Chair Deborah Kafoury has not endorsed in the race.) The commission works with the DA to set policy and also establishes the DA's budget. That could make things awkward for the commissioners should Knight win—and that's why incumbents often do not endorse in closely races where they will work directly with the winner. (Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese, who will also work closely with the winner, has also endorsed Schmidt.)
"I'm proud to have the support of Commissioners Meieran, Jayapal, Vega Pederson, and Stegmann," Schmidt said in a statement. "I'm ready to work with them to make our criminal justice system smarter and fairer for everyone in our county."