This article originally appeared in the October 28, 2009 edition of the Portland Observer.
County chair calls for primary battle
The Portland Observer
Longtime community leader Lew Frederick became the newest state representative from Portland Thursday when the Multnomah County Commission voted to appoint him to replace Chip Shields in House District 43. Shields gave up the seat to replace the retiring Margaret Carter in the Oregon Senate.
A convention held earlier by Democratic Party precinct members nominated three African American candidates for the position. The others were Eddie Lincoln, the president of the faculty union at Portland Community College, and Karol Collymore, a staffer for County Commissioner Jeff Cogen.
Before casting their votes, commissioners questioned the candidates for nearly two hours on topics including funding for social services, education, jobs and the economy, as well as their personal experiences.
Lincoln pointed to his deep roots in north and northeast Portland, and described how he’s watched home prices soar, businesses struggle, and families fight to get by.
“I got to know Portland by driving a bus,” said Lincoln, who worked a litany of jobs while putting himself through college. “It’s time to give back to the community that has shown me much love and affection.”
Collymore, a New Mexico transplant with a background in political organizing, praised the work of Shields and former State Rep. Jo Ann Bowman who used to represent the area in the Legislature, and said she would bring new blood to Salem.
“What is also different is I’m a 31 year-old-woman with a different perspective,” she told commissioners.
Collymore pointed out that County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury once held the same seat when she was 31.
She called attention to her work with the county turning land into gardens that produced vegetables for the Oregon Food Bank, in addition to her wide range of volunteer and political work.
She told commissioners that, as a lawmaker, she would fight for the protection of social services in the down economy and equity in the school system. Her boss, Jeff Cogen, watched intently as she spoke, occasionally breaking into a wide grin.
Throughout the questioning, Frederick brought attention to his array of experiences as a TV news reporter, Portland Public Schools information officer, and member of the State Board of Education, and argued that they prepared him to be an able representative of the district, which covers north and northeast Portland.
Frederick reiterated that the district, which struggles with high unemployment, could experience revitalization if lucrative government contracts would be broken into smaller chunks so that small businesses could more easily secure them.
All of the candidates demonstrated that they probably have more in common than different. All supported the tax hikes passed by the Legislature last session on businesses and the wealthy, and opposed efforts to repeal them.
Each of them wanted to protect the ability of the county government to raise revenue in the recession. All called for a single-payer health care system. And all stressed the importance of education and social services.
After questioning the candidates, each of the five commissioners made a brief statement before saying who they were inclined to vote for.
Kafoury praised each candidate before throwing her support behind Collymore.
Cogen confronted the issue of whether or not he should recuse himself from voting for someone who works in his office.
“As an attorney, it didn’t feel like a conflict of interest to me,” said Cogen.
Cogen noted that he had asked the county attorney for advice, who said that it would be a conflict of interest if he stood to benefit financially.
He also mentioned that he had a tremendous amount of respect for Frederick after having run against him for his county commission seat in 2006.
“You’d be a terrific state representative,” he said to Frederick, before saying he would support Collymore.
Commissioners Diane McKeel and Judy Shiprack praised all the candidates before stating they would support Frederick in the final vote.
It came down to County Chair Ted Wheeler.
Wheeler reiterated his respect for each candidate, and expressed discomfort in making a choice that he felt should rightly reside with the voters of the district.
“This should not be our decision,” said Wheeler, who called on each candidate to run in the next primary for the seat.
He then threw his support behind Frederick.
With it being clear who the next representative from House District 43 would be, the commission voted unanimously for Frederick.
“I know the district, and the district knows me,” said an emotional Frederick after being voted in.
When asked about Wheeler’s call for the candidates to run in primary challenge against Frederick, Lincoln and Collymore said they would need to think about it. Collymore added that she was ready for nap.
Frederick, whose cheeks had turned red from the excitement, hugged and shook the hands of supporters, some of which came as far away as east county wearing “Lew” buttons.
“I’m up for a primary challenge,” he said.