With the filing deadline at 5pm, the race to replace Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler is on. Steve Novick's fanpage is off and running, while County Commissioner Jeff Cogen is also in the running, according to Big Jimmy Pitkin at WW—who seems to have suddenly decided he's a reporter over the last couple of days.
Update, 10:04 Retired state senator Margaret Carter is also running for chair. Now, why would Novick run for this impossible job? "Because it's an extremely important impossible job," he says. "The county plays a critical role in public safety, in health care, and of course it has a delightful sideline in libraries. We have one of the strongest library systems in the country, and I was involved in the library levy when I was working for Chair Linn."
Novick says his rival, Jeff Cogen, would be "great" for the job. "We're both extremely well qualified," he says. "Jeff is great, I simply think I'd be greater. Partly because the county is so inter-woven with the state and federal governments, I think it would be valuable to have someone with good relationships at that level. A lot of people know Jeff and like Jeff, but I think that I have a somewhat higher profile."
Novick, fresh from his triumph with Measures 66 and 67, says he plans to prioritize getting more money for the county's basic services.
"If the property tax measures hadn't passed in the 1990s, we'd have an additional $5billion every two years," he says. "We need to explain that to people. 66 and 67 were great, but at some point, we've got to do better."
"We've got one of the lowest beer and wine taxes in the country, and the legislature has shied away from raising that. I plan to work hard with our legislature next session to change that so that we have some money for basic services," he says. "I've developed a pretty good relationship with our legislators in the 66 and 67 campaign, and I think their level of boldness will be strengthened as a result of that."
"If we don't get another round of Federal stimulus money next year, then the state and the county will be sunk," Novick continues. "We need to make our congressional delegation as acutely aware of that as possible, and find creative ways to help them make the case in congress and to the president that we need help."
What about improving revenue streams in the longer term?
"One thing that a lot of folks have talked about is property tax reform that—the effect of Measure 47 was that people who live in different neighborhoods pay wildly different tax rates, even if the market value of their homes are the same," says Novick. "That is something that we need to find some way to address, and it might take a constitutional amendment, an initiative, but I think we can make a case in terms of tax fairness."
Novick also suggested emulating places like Grand Junction, Colorado, which has worked with local health insurers to find efficiencies for health care costs for government employees. "I would be delighted to work with Mayor Adams on that," he says.
Update, 12:12: "I care deeply about Multnomah County and I've been working there for three years. I'm up to speed on the challenges that the county faces, I feel like I've been part of the effort to turn things around," says Cogen.
Does he have the state, and federal connections Novick has mentioned to turn things around? "I actually have brought more funding to the county, with the vehicle rental tax that bought in $6million last year. There's no question that the county's budget is under-funded and we need to come up with more funding sources. I think I have a track record of doing that and I think I'm well positioned to keep doing it."
He's had to withdraw from reelection for commissioner and gone all in for the seat. That's ballsy. "Sometimes you've got to take risks if you want to make things happen," he says.
But he was about to have a cushy run for commission. "I woke up this morning thinking I might wind up running unopposed for County Commissioner," he said. "And now I'm in a very tough and challenging race for County Chair."