"Tenacious." "Dedicated." "A bulldog." Those were the words floating around city hall last week, as people passed out tissues and remembered their dearly departed colleague, City Commissioner Erik Sten.
"I met him when he was first a staffer in [Commissioner] Gretchen [Kafoury]'s office, and his hair was down to his shoulders and he looked like he was 12," recounts Bob Durston, who later served as Sten's chief of staff. "The one thing that always amazed me was there was never any fight that was too big to undertake; from taking on Enron to announcing a citywide goal of eliminating homelessness. Erik is a unique politician, in that his heart is as big as his brain."
Mayor Tom Potter declared April 2 an official Day of Remem... er, Appreciation for Commissioner Erik Sten: "Erik Sten leaves a legacy that will not easily be forgotten by his colleagues on city council, city staff, and members of the community," the mayor said, citing his work on issues like housing, homelessness, the environment, voter-owned elections, and "more equitably distribut[ing] the city's financial resources." The mayor's proclamation "serves as a reminder of some—but not all—of [Sten's] great work on behalf of the city."
(Before you throw yourself off a bridge in grief, Sten's not actually all that dead. But Friday, April 4, is the day he'll turn in his official badge, the one that lets him enter Portland City Hall on the secure SW 5th side. Sten resigned midterm, after over 11 years on city council and a few before that working for Kafoury; he's headed for a year-long fellowship with community development nonprofit Living Cities. We mourn the passing of his city hall career, while his colleagues will raise a glass to the man himself on Friday night.)
Meanwhile, in honor of his friend and colleague, Commissioner Randy Leonard plans to "be the point person" for any of Sten's unfinished business. "That's a testament to him. I wouldn't do that for just anybody," says Leonard.
The two both grew up in the same inner Northeast Portland neighborhood, Leonard explained, where "you had to use your mouth to survive. I recognized the trait. He and I both shared this with each other."
Sam Adams' fondest Sten memory? "He and I ended up at a conference of some sort in Austin, Texas. We went out after the day's conference was over, on 6th Street," Adams says. "He's going to hate that I said this... but the entire evening all the gay guys were hitting on him, and all the women were hitting on me. We were all laughing." On a more serious note, Adams says the thing he'll miss most about Sten is "his zeal for trying new ways. A lot of people talk about new ideas, he's actually willing to set forth and try them out."
With Sten, as Durston says, "not only is anything possible, but it's always possible tomorrow."