It's hardly been a secret that Jim Francesconi—the former city commissioner who raised big bucks in a losing mayoral run against Tom Potter nearly a decade ago—has been plotting, for the past few years, a political comeback meant to wash the taste of that defeat from his mouth.

  • Francesconi
After all, he came within a whisker of running against Charlie Hales for Portland mayor last year. And then, last month, when Jeff Cogen stepped down as head of Multnomah County, Francesconi was quick to tell the Oregonian and others he was "seriously considering" a run.

Tomorrow, however, he'll make his intentions official—and formally file as a candidate for Multnomah County chair.

"The stakes are high and we need to think and act bigger—and I know how to shake up a bureaucracy to make it work better for people," he said in a statement (pdf) sent to reporters Sunday afternoon. "That’s why I am taking the first steps of organizing my campaign for County Chair."

The announcement makes Francesconi the first and only big-name candidate to throw in against the politico widely seen as having the inside track to succeeding Cogen: County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury.

Kafoury, friends with consultants like Mark Wiener and with deep support in social justice circles, has said she definitely plans to run for the chair's job. But she's been doing an awkward dance around county rules that require her to give up her current job once she formally files, talking like a candidate, but not yet doing all the things a successful candidate must.

Francesconi's announcement reflects the calculus of a self-styled outsider running against an insider. (It's an interesting reversal from the 2004 race, when he was seen as the insider—something he rued in a 2011 interview with the O's Anna Griffin.) He says the county is "stuck in neutral," despite its stable budget, and is talking about criminal justice reform and using Medicaid dollars, through federal healthcare reform, to shore up mental health services cut in past budget years.

He's also been working on raising his visibility. Both Kafoury and Francesconi, interestingly, were among the recognizable faces at the first annual Street Roots Family Breakfast on Thursday. (He was at my table and warned me, actually, that he'd be making some news this coming week.) Kafoury has made homelessness and social services spending one of her signature issues during her time on the county board.

Francesconi is an attorney at Haglund Kelley Jones and Wilder. He also serves on the State Board of Education and has been a community activist. As a two-term city commissioner, he ran Portland's parks and fire bureaus. He raised $1 million against Potter—in what had been the city's most expensive race, until last year's mayoral fight—only to still lose badly in both the primary and general elections that year.