Candidate Circus! From left (top row): Jim Hill, Ted Wheeler, Rick Metsger, Chris Telfer, Margaret Carter (bottom row): Jeff Cogen, Karol Collymore, Chuck Currie, Gary Hansen, Paul van Orden

GOVERNOR Ted Kulongoski's surprise pick of Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler to replace State Treasurer Ben Westlund—who died, sadly, of lung cancer on Sunday March 7—opened up a frantic race to file for Wheeler's seat by 5 pm on Tuesday, March 9, which happened to be the filing deadline for the May elections.

County Commissioner Jeff Cogen withdrew from his reelection bid to enter the race as soon as he heard.

"I woke up this morning thinking I might wind up running unopposed for county commissioner," he told the Mercury on Tuesday afternoon. "And now I'm in a very tough and challenging race for county chair. Sometimes you've got to take risks if you want to make things happen."

"I care deeply about Multnomah County and I've been working there for three years. I'm up to speed on the challenges that the county faces. I feel like I've been part of the effort to turn things around," says Cogen.

Former US Democratic Senate candidate Steve Novick announced his intention to file for the race—having worked in the past for former County Chair Diane Linn.

"Jeff is great," he told us. "I simply think I'd be greater. Partly because the county is so interwoven with the state and federal governments, I think it would be valuable to have someone with good relationships at that level. A lot of people know Jeff and like Jeff, but I think that I have a somewhat higher profile."

But wait! Novick changed his mind hours later, calling journalists to tell them he had decided to withdraw his candidacy for the seat.

"This will do wonders for my decisiveness, but I have come to the conclusion that this is Jeff Cogen's time and this is his job," he said. "Yesterday my phone was ringing off the hook from people who wanted me to run for treasurer, and today it's ringing off the hook saying, 'I might have to support you if you run against Jeff, but I'd rather not have to make that choice.'"

Retired State Senator Margaret Carter has also entered the race for chair, while Cogen aide Karol Collymore, former County Commissioner Gary Hansen, and Reverend Chuck Currie have thrown their hats into the ring to replace Cogen as commissioner by press time.

The Mercury endorsed Collymore's rival, Lew Frederick, when she ran for North Portland state legislator last year ["Lew Frederick for North Portland State Legislator," Blogtown, Oct 21, 2009], but said Collymore should wait until Cogen left, "and run for his vacant county commissioner seat."

Look out for our formal endorsement interviews for both seats soon.