FOR ABOUT SIX HOURS last week, Jeff Cogen had a serious challenger in his race for Multnomah County chair. Steve Novick, former US senatorial candidate in the 2008 Democratic primary, said, "Jeff would be great," but that he would be "greater." Then he dropped out. Former State Senator Margaret Carter also briefly flirted with a run, but she's over 70 at this point, and soon thought better of it.
Novick told me, as he was dropping out last week, that he'd placed a few phone calls and decided this was "Jeff's race." I'd love to have had an ear in on those calls, because compared to the thrilling race for Cogen's vacant seat, it seems to me that coronations are bad for democracy. And I say that as a big fan of Cogen.
He doesn't think this is going to be a coronation, of course. But you find me a political consultant who'll tell you it's a good idea to say, "I'm a shoe-in." They don't exist.
Cogen will go so far as to say that his election is an opportunity to "affirm the values" of the county, which is cool, I guess, in the same way that the Dream Team's trip to the Olympics in 1992 was an opportunity for Michael Jordan to "affirm the values" of American basketball.
As a result, we're not going to have a thorough debate about what to do with the county's unopened $50 million jail at Wapato—which Cogen's predecessor Ted Wheeler promised to open when he was first elected. Oops.
"I'm not going to promise to open it," says Cogen. Aaaand I rest my case.
"I'm going to promise to deal with it," he continues. "The difference is, that since Ted was elected three years ago, the county has cut its budget by $50 million. And one of the things that's surprising over the last three years is our jail population is down."
Cogen says he wants to "reopen conversations" with the state and neighboring counties about possibly buying or leasing the jail.
"There are neighboring jurisdictions—Clackamas and Clark County, whose current facilities aren't appropriate for their needs, and both are planning to build new jails in the near future," he says. "So the question is, does it make sense for them to build a new jail when we have one sitting right here? At the very least we need to have that conversation again, and I'm committed to having that conversation."
We'll just have to cross our fingers that the conversation leads somewhere.