A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE snoozed in tents out of the rain at Right 2 Dream Too (R2DToo) Monday afternoon. The homeless rest area's members told jokes and played with their dogs. Passersby snagged spare pastries and pizza.
It was, in other words, a typical day—until down the sidewalk, his coat's black lapels shut tight against a frigid wind, came John Kitzhaber.
Nine months after resigning from an unprecedented fourth term as Oregon's governor, Kitzhaber wanted a tour of R2DToo.
At least one driver slowed to snap a photo. So did several people walking by. You couldn't blame them. Kitzhaber's been all but invisible since resigning in February amid an influence-peddling scandal. He emerged briefly last month to castigate the Oregonian in the pages of Salem's Statesman Journal, but otherwise has kept to himself.
But there he was, Monday, smiling in photo-op fashion beneath the Chinatown Gate.
"I'm between jobs and have some time on my hands," Kitzhaber told me. "So I wanted to come down and see how this is organized."
To call the sudden appearance a surprise wouldn't be quite right. Kitzhaber had reached out to schedule the visit through friend and R2DToo benefactor Leland "Lee" Larson. The camp even had a note on its community blackboard that the place needed to be spick-and-span on Monday.
- Former Gov. John Kitzhaber, Right 2 Dream Too co-founder Ibrahim Mubarak, and Leland “Lee” Larson pose for a selfie.
- Dirk Vanderhart
Still, it is sort of surprising, right? That with Portland wrestling with a homelessness crisis that's reached emergency levels (for more on that, see this week's feature), and with a planned relocation of R2DToo still facing questions, one of Oregon's most successful statesmen emerged from under the cloud of criminal investigation for a quick look-see?
"Wanted to spend some time with some folks who are really hurting," he insisted.
Kitzhaber, a former ER doctor who famously performed CPR on a woman who'd overdosed on a Portland street in May 2014, had long wondered about R2DToo, he said. Camp co-founder Ibrahim Mubarak was happy to schedule a walk-through.
As Kitzhaber made his way through the serpentine paths of the rest area—past sleeping tents, and to the kitchen, computer area, and garden—he was trailed by an entourage of R2DToo allies shooting video, and by Larson, who'd accompanied the former governor and brought his camera.
At every stop, there was a fresh photo—Kitzhaber mugging in front of R2DToo's large sign, Larson snapping a selfie with the former governor and Mubarak near the garden.
It felt like a Kitzhaber visit might have felt 18 months ago—before the ethics questions, when he would have just been a governor out to see a community he'd long wondered about.
That visit never came, though. Until Monday.
So again, why? Could we count on hearing about homelessness from Kitzhaber? Is he hoping to reinsert himself into the public policy discussion, or to use the photo-op to burnish his tattered image?
No, he said again and again.
"I've had a long and deep concern over poverty in this state," Kitzhaber told me as the cameras snapped.
Then he strolled off, his lapel proudly displaying an R2DToo button.