Karol Collymore was absent from the county building this morning while Chair Ted Wheeler officially stepped down. In fact, she's taken a leave of absence for the next 44 days until the election on May 18, when she's hoping to win election to replace her boss, County Commissioner Jeff Cogen—who is running to replace Wheeler.


Collymore—who voters last met during her effort last October to replace Chip Shields for North Portland legislator—says she's running to replace her boss because she's in a "unique position to continue the good work" he's been doing. "There are some great projects we've started, finished, and more that are continuing," she says. "I have a unique knowledge of that work." Read the Mercury's interview with Collymore after the jump. We'll have more of these over the coming weeks before the May 18 election.

Collymore points to Cogen's efforts on childhood obesity, food disparity, opening a new library in Kenton, a one-stop domestic violence center, creation of an urban farm that's grown 14,000lbs of food, and says she has a "breadth of knowledge" from her three years working on those projects.

Mercury:Your main rivals for this seat are Chuck Currie and Gary Hansen, right?
Collymore: "I'd never underestimate any of my nine competitors. I'm going to run the best race I can—it's not about the others, it's about me."

Until they start slinging muck?
"I don't want to be that person. It's not okay with me. We're all human beings, and I don't see why going negative helps the people of Portland."

So you've got 44 days to raise money and win this. How much have you got so far?
"So far I've got $3,000 pledged in personal contributions, $1,000 in the bank—ideally that'll change by the end of the day. If you've only got 44 days, you need money to get your message across, and I'll be doing it the old-fashioned way and picking up the phone to call friends, former colleagues, groups I support like Basic Rights Oregon."

Whose endorsements do you have so far?
"I've got the endorsements of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, NARAL ProChoice Oregon, [State Representative] Tina Kotek, [House Majority Leader] Mary Nolen, [County Commissioner] Jeff Cogen, [City Commissioner] Dan Saltzman, [State Representative] Brent Barton."

Who's endorsement would you most like to get and why?
"Governor Barbara Roberts. She's a great example of what politics in Oregon should be."

Oregon AFSCME split their endorsement vote last night between you, Hansen, and Currie. Does that disappoint you?
"No. If anything I'm encouraged, because if you feel like you've got a few good candidates in the field and you've got to hold you cards back to make a race, that's okay."

Do you think SEIU and the OEA, some of the other big unions, might be more amenable to endorsing you?
"I think I've got some street cred there. I think they'd like what I have to say. With SEIU, for example, there's an issue right now with the janitors that service our libraries—allegations have been made that the contractor doesn't pay its people on time. I've been trying to get the chair's office to drop that contract. Another project I've been working on has been adding value points to RFPs so that companies offering health insurance, pensions and sick leave to their employees can compete."

The unions all have connections to Gary Hansen. Are you concerned that they might be too cowardly to risk offending one of your competitors by endorsing you in this tight race?
"No, not at all. Gary Hansen spent eight years as a county commissioner, he was a state rep for six years—it's time for something different. We talk about being progressive, let's be progressive."

What do you think of Chair Wheeler's idea to take control of jail management from the Sheriff's office?
"I think it's a good idea worth exploring. There's also the issue of whether we make the sheriff elected or appointed, and whether we can get more control over those budgets. At the moment, every time we say there's less money for the sheriff's office, they cut jail bets. And I'm saying we could be looking at other things—at streamlining IT, at streamlining management, and other things. On the other hand, if you have an appointed sheriff there's no accountability if he's tight with the chair."

Some would argue that there's been no accountability in that office for years.
"And I wonder whose fault that was. Because of course all of us insiders were like, this is wrong, but I think I wondered why the people out there weren't paying attention."

When you ran for state rep you said "We need to start being in a position where we open up our mouths and don’t care if we don’t get reelected.” Give us an example of an issue you might do that on, if you're elected county commissioner.
"That makes me sound aggressive, and as a person of color I don't want to sound aggressive. Especially as a woman. But I think it's important to do what's right. For example, President Obama is focused on health reform. If he doesn't get reelected in 2012 and he's pursued health care, that's a success. So on a smaller scale, when an issue comes around that's unpopular but there's the right thing to do, I'm okay to lose next time if I've done the right thing."

Steve Novick, for example, talked about the issue of revenue reform during the six hours he was running against Cogen on Tuesday.
"The five of us should be marching to Salem in January, saying: 'Lift this preemption on counties doing tobacco taxes. The citizens approved it two years ago in Multnomah County. Please release us. Let us help the poor and the sick.' That may not be popular, but it's the right thing to do."

I don't want to ask about race.
"I think the overwhelming question is what we want to reflect to the rest of the country about Oregon. What kind of people we are. It's really important that Tina Kotek is a state representative and a lesbian. It doesn't matter that she's a lesbian, but also it does. Because people say, oh there's Tina Kotek, she's a great legislator, and guess what, she's gay. That's why it is important."

Are you perceived as an outsider, coming from New Mexico to Portland?
"There are people who say I've been working in Oregon for 25 years, and it's sort of hard for me to compete with that because I've only been alive for 32 years. But I threw my stuff in the car and came to Portland to make a life for myself."

So you're a pioneer perceived as an outsider in a state of outsider pioneers?
"It hurts a little bit, I have to say, because I have fully immersed myself in Portland. I was on the board of the Q Center, Basic Rights Oregon, I've worked for NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, I've worked for a statewide candidate. The list goes on. I'll work to continue to try to prove that."

Is this going to be a coronation?
"No. Last time I checked my blood line was not pure. And I think that's insulting to the other nine people in the race. But I've worked really hard for 10 years to be in a position where I can run for this office."