A marquee race is shaping up to replace former Multnomah County Jeff Cogen, who resigned in September in the wake of his adulterous affair with a county health manager.
Former Portland City Commissioner Jim Francesconi filed Monday to enter the race. Hours later, County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury announced that she’ll resign her post so that she can begin campaigning actively for the chair’s seat.
Kafoury, viewed by many as the favorite, had previously stated an intention to retain her county commission seat for awhile to provide more stability in the wake of Cogen’s mid-term departure.
But Francesconi announced Sunday he’d made up his mind to enter the race, and made it official Monday by filing for the race.
Feeling some pressure to begin campaigning, Kafoury then announced she’ll quit her paid job on the commission this Friday and then file for the county chair’s post next week.
“I’m not going to underestimate Jim’s ability to raise funds,” Kafoury said of her decision. “He raised over $1 million in his last campaign. I need to take that under consideration.”
Francesconi was a prolific fundraiser in his unsuccessful bid for Portland mayor in 2004. But he lost to Tom Potter, and many believe his heavy campaign spending hurt his candidacy and gave a boost to Potter.
A personal injury lawyer for Haglund Kelley Jones & Wilder, Francesconi was first elected to the Portland City Council in 1997 and was re-elected in 2003.
Francesconi later become influential in setting state higher education policies as a volunteer member of the State Board of Higher Education. Before entering politics, he had his own law practice for 18 years. Francesconi also was active on the Portland Organizing Project, a church-based social service coalition.
“With the federal government in gridlock and the state short on funds, it’s clear that local government, like Multnomah County, is the key to protecting our quality of life,” Francesconi said in his statement Sunday that he’s throwing his hat in the race.
Kafoury earlier served in the Oregon House of Representatives, and rose to become House Democratic leader. She also cofounded X-PAC, the political action committee that nurtured young candidates from “Generation X.”
She will enter the race as the clear favorite of her peers on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. Kafoury said she’s been promised the support of Marissa Madrigal, the interim chair who was Cogen’s former chief of staff; as well as county commissioners Judy Shiprack and Loretta Smith. Smith earlier said she’ll seek re-election to her seat, though some had discussed her as a potential candidate for county chair instead.
The other member of the board of commissioners is Diane McKeel. She still hasn’t decided yet if she’ll enter the race for county chair, said Eric Zimmerman, McKeel’s chief of staff.
There also are two lesser-known candidates in the race, but neither expects to raise the kind of money needed to gain name recognition or mount a serious campaign.
Steven Reynolds, who lists his occupation as an entrepreneur and former U.S. Army officer, filed to fill out the remainder of Cogen’s term that expires next year, as well as the full four-year term after that.
James Rowell, a retiree who worked at the Viewmaster plant in Tigard, filed to fill out the remainder of Cogen’s term, but didn’t file to run for the subsequent four-year term.
Both men indicated they don’t intend to spend more than $750 on the race.
Kafoury’s place on the board will be filled on an interim basis by state human services manager Liesl Wendt, who also is former CEO of 211 Info.
The county chair’s post pays $145,000, and comes with significant power, as manager of the entire county. The other four county commissioners have relatively little power, but they earn sizable salaries of $95,000.