Despite Four Commission Votes, Jeff Cogen Refuses to Quit

Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen defied his board of commissioners this morning, refusing to resign his job despite all four of his colleagues demanding he quit after an affair with a county employee.

In a hushed board room, Cogen said he deserved a full investigation, not a "rush to judgement."

"I have promised to cooperate entirely with the investigation," Cogen said. "I do not believe the investigation will find any abuse of power—but in any case, why call for an investigation without allowing it to even begin?"

This morning's vote, which commissioners hurriedly placed on the agenda Wednesday afternoon, was purely symbolic.

But the vote—coming a day after Sonia Manhas, the county health department employee he had a two-year affair with, resigned under duress—placed Cogen in an extraordinary position. He cast the only vote against a demand for his job.

The commissioners asking Cogen to quit—Deborah Kafoury, Diane McKeel, Judy Shiprack and Loretta Smith—expressed pain and outrage.

"It would not be wrong to say I am angry," said Commissioner Loretta Smith. "I am angry on so many levels… It has ripped apart all of us that you see.  In our current configuration, will we be able to conduct the people's business under a cloud of suspicion?"

Commissioner Deborah Kafoury brought the resolution. "It saddens me deeply to be in this position today," she said. "This has obviously been a huge distraction in the public's eye, and it needs to end."

But Cogen was not alone.

A parade of at least 19 public commenters—most of them mentioning they were Cogen's friends and neighbors—said Cogen should stay.

"I believe Jeff is a very, very good person, and a very, very good leader," said Glen Gilbert, executive director of Cascade AIDS Project. "It is clear to me that Jeff is incredibly sorry. My heart goes out to Jeff. I believe we should let the voters decide in 10 months."

An air of gender hostility pervaded some of the comments.

"We have a new set of Mean Girls," said one man, Jimmy Dade Whittenburg. "What you're doing is wrong, wrong, wrong. I do not like you." He then ripped up his Democratic Party voter registration card.

Some observers—including most media following the spectacle on Twitter—were skeptical of this outpouring.

"You have a lot of good friends in this room," said a homeless activist named Lightning, who argued the investigation of former Portland Mayor Sam Adams had crippled local economic development. "But if we show a budget shortfall, I will blame you. Resign."

In the nine days since Cogen confessed the affair, his story about his use of public dollars and influence has been undermined by public documents.

Cogen said he didn't deserve to be drummed out by a "media frenzy." He said he deserved a full finding of facts.

"That's one of the core principles America was founded on," Cogen said. "I don't understand the rush to judgement."

The four commissioners voted "aye" in unison. Cogen loudly declared, "No. The unanimous consent item fails for lack of unanimity."

The crowd applauded.

UPDATE, 1:30 pm: Cogen has told a county spokesman he called friends last night, asking them to testify on his behalf.

"He said he made a few phone calls," reports county spokesman David Austin, "but he did not use public or private email."

Cogen also told Austin some people had called him, asking if they should testify. "He told them, 'Sure.'"