Mayor Charlie Hales—looking to fill two senior policy director posts in his 10-month-old administration—has gone with a pretty big name, politically, for one of those vacancies: State Senator Jackie Dingfelder. The news was announced to reporters today via statement.
Dingfelder, a Democrat who represents parts of Northeast and Southeast Portland (District 23, is quitting the Senate imminently and will start in Hales' office on November 4. She's been in the Legislature since 2001. She was re-elected to a second term in the Senate last fall.
The statement indicates she'll likely take over for Noah Siegel, who left city hall last month to work for Metro, mentioning land use and environmental issues. Though it's likely she'll be involved in most major decisions, given the petite size of Hales' staff. Dingfelder, the statement takes pains to note, was beloved by Oregon's environmental community. (Click here for more info on her legislative career.)
The dueling prepared quotes from Hales' office:
Hales: “I am delighted that Senator Dingfelder is joining my team. She brings a diverse portfolio of academic and professional expertise to us on sustainability, planning, social justice, and environmental issues. Her political and policy background will be a huge asset for us and for the city. Soon all of Portland will know what District 23 already knows about her effectiveness!”
Dingfelder: “I have been privileged to serve Northeast and Southeast Portland for many years. However, now, I look forward to bringing my skills to all the people of Portland."
Hales' office still has one more job to fill after Dingfelder starts. Baruti Artharee, his liaison to the Portland Police Bureau, is stepping down tomorrow to deal with the aftermath of a grueling divorce fight and to take some time off after health issues and the unexpected death of his partner.
UPDATE 3:05 PM: Senate President Peter Courtney sent a very dramatic statement about Dingfelder's new job.
“This is a staggering loss for Oregon’s environment. Jackie Dingfelder has been the Legislature’s go-to person on the environment for more than a decade. It’s a tremendous boost for the quality of life in the City of Portland. I’ve never seen a legislator who was more prepared. I know she will serve Portland well. I will really miss her.”
Multnomah County commissioners will get to choose another Democrat to fill Dingfelder's seat. Willamette Week has reported that one of the state representatives whose districts falls under Senate District 23, Alissa Keny-Guyer, is willing to cede to her more senior colleague, Michael Dembrow, should he decide he wants the job.
UPDATE, 3:32 pm: Hales tells the Mercury he's not sure whether his office approached Dingfelder or vice-versa. His chief of staff, Gail Shibley, has been running point on new hires.
Hales cautioned his new staffer shouldn't be considered a one-to-one replacement for Siegel or Artharee, saying he'd work to match her strengths with the issues on her plate ("It's a great problem to have.") Those responsibilities haven't been hammered out, the mayor said, but one may very well be the proposed annexation of West Hayden Island.
"Certainly she has great strengths in environmental and land use issues," Hales said of Dingfelder.
He said the departure of two senior staff members in a matter of months is "just circumstantial," with Siegel getting a "great job offer" and Artharee encountering health problems and the deaths of multiple loved ones.
"How he wants to use his time is different than it was a year ago," Hales said of Artharee.