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Friday, March 12, 2010

Meet A County Candidate: Chuck Currie

Posted by Matt Davis on Fri, Mar 12, 2010 at 2:31 PM

The Mercury's fascinating interview with the Reverend Chuck Currie, who is also running for Jeff Cogen's County Commissioner seat, is after the jump. We're arranging interviews with as many of the other candidates as possible over the coming days.

CHUCK CURRIE: MET YOUR REPORTER AT SEATTLES BEST ACROSS THE STREET FROM CITY HALL, HAD A LARGE DRIP COFFEE
  • CHUCK CURRIE: MET YOUR REPORTER AT SEATTLE'S BEST ACROSS THE STREET FROM CITY HALL, HAD A LARGE DRIP COFFEE
Highlight from the interview:

Is this race about getting through the primary?
For me this is about talking about the issues. My dad was a TV producer for channel 6. He committed suicide in 1998. He was the youngest of three children. I had an aunt who committed suicide in 1979, and an uncle who committed suicide in 1984. They came from a very abusive home, where addiction and mental health issues were going on. They grew up as adults unable to deal with the situations life threw at them. One of the things that motivates me is my own experience. I don’t want anybody to grow up like my dad.

Is that difficult to talk about?
Yeah, but I try to tell people about that stuff, because a lot of people have to deal with these issues, and again these are issues that the county deals with.

Gulp...

Mercury:Why are you running?
“Multnomah County works with many of the issues I care about—public safety, human services, the government’s role in education. I’ve been involved with these issues for 25 years working with non-profits, state and local government. I feel like I have a good depth of experience.”

Can you give an example of a specific experience?

I was chairman of the Multnomah County community action commission, I’ve led the county’s anti-poverty commission, I’ve done work on domestic violence, homelessness, I’ve served as a consultant to commissioner Deborah KafouryCity Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury, including securing a $10million grant from HUD for homeless housing, I’ve worked on building a better system for homeless kids in our county, and so I have experience in government, but also I bring something different, my work with nonprofit agencies, some of the agencies that work with the city.

How do you stack up against the other candidates?
I think Multnomah County is quite blessed to have a good group of people running for the seat. We had a discussion at local 88 the other night and I was really impressed with the caliber of the candidates. I think what I offer is depth of experience. It’s not like I just moved to Portland and ran for office. I have connections that I think would be helpful.

Like whom?
Well, I’ve been endorsed by Steve Novick, Gretchen Kafoury, Bob Dursten, people like that. People like that who in the first couple of days of this campaign have called me up. I know all the political players at the state and congressional level, and even at the White House. I worked on the Obama campaign, I was at the White House in December. These connections will help us on all levels.

How would you go about raising revenue at the county?
Well I have two ideas. Firstly I think we need to get this cigarette tax passed, and I’ll advocate strongly for that in Salem. I’ve got lots of experience on that level…

Can you give some examples of times you’ve raised revenue?

I got the $30million state housing trust fund passed in the early 1990s, and got a similar housing trust passed by the city. I have experience going down there.

Where can the County save money?

50% of the county’s $1.2billion budget is spent on public safety, and nobody’s really been talking about that apart from Chair Wheeler. It’s important that it’s safe on our streets, but it’s also important that we spend our limited dollars wisely, and right now we’re not doing that because people are going to jail with mental health, drug and alcohol problems and coming out and re-offending. That needs to be part of the discussion about public safety budgets.

Would you consider privatizing health care at the jail?

Possibly, but I’m also very interested in getting rid of the elected sheriff’s position. And I’m ready to fight to change the charter so it’s an appointed position. Because the system is broken and there’s a lot of bureaucratic infighting that’s unnecessary.

But some might say that at a city level, Police Chief Rosie Sizer is appointed, and there’s not much accountability there either.
It’s still better to have an appointed position. Looking at the mess at city hall and the disaster that Sam Adams has been as mayor when it comes to the police bureau, we shouldn’t look at city hall and say the model isn’t working.

Do you think there’s support for this appointed sheriff on the county commission?

What I’ve heard is that people feel like it could be very difficult to do. It’s not what the charter committee has recommended. It could be politically difficult, but if you’re running for this office and you’re scared to do politically difficult things, then you should be doing something else.

So, give me an example of something politically difficult that you’re prepared to do.

I already mentioned the cigarette tax. Secondly I would work with Commissioner Deborah Kafoury and City Commissioner Nick Fish to get a housing levy passed. I’m willing to go out and try to sell that idea to the voters. I’m not looking to spend the rest of my life in politics. I’m looking to fix some real problems.

Do you think there are a lot of career politicians at the county?
Sure. I have worked with a lot of them.

So, why not go and tinker with measure 50, if you want to do something politically difficult to raise revenue?
That may be something to look at down the line. On the whole, our entire system of revenue is messed up.

So how much is this housing levy going to be for?
It’s too early to say.

What do you think of Commissioner Fish’s decision to go for a parks levy first?
It wouldn’t have been where I started.

Do you think that’s because Commissioner Fish is a career politician?

There’s no way I could offer an assessment of Nick’s motivations because I don’t know him that well.

Sorry. I was just offering my assessment in the form of a question, really. Now. How are you going to raise money in this race?
Through the people I know in the community. When I started as the director of Goose Hollow Family Shelter in 1997 we had 200 volunteers. By the time I left in 2003 we had 800 volunteers, and community contributions had doubled. I’ve raised money for TPI, Outside In, and of course the Parkrose Community United Church of Christ—for whom I’ve raised about $150,000 a year.

So you pass the hat around, how does that work?

Talking to people, going and meeting one-on-one, and that’s how I intend to raise money. I’m hoping I can raise in the region of $50,000 for this race. This is an opportunity to develop a grassroots, door-to-door campaign. I’m going to use the next 43 days to talk o as many people as I can one-on-one, trying to communicate with the voters. I think a lot of people know me for my work on homeless issues, but not who I am. I’ve tried not to sit down and do too many profile interviews, I’ve wanted the issues to be the focus.

So who are you?

I’m a dad. I have 5-year old twins. I’m a husband. I’m a minister who has dedicated his entire adult life to making the community a better place. And nothing has reinforced that more than having kids—I want them to go to good schools. These beautiful kids need to have good schools. They need to be safe. I’m a dog lover.

Really? What kind of dog do you have?

I have a blue heeler called Hazel, she’s named after a South Carolina hurricane.

Is this race about getting through the primary?

For me this is about talking about the issues. My dad was a TV producer for channel 6. He committed suicide in 1998. He was the youngest of three children. I had an aunt who committed suicide in 1979, and an uncle who committed suicide in 1984. They came from a very abusive home, where addiction and mental health issues were going on. They grew up as adults unable to deal with the situations life threw at them. One of the things that motivates me is my own experience. I don’t want anybody to grow up like my dad.

Is that difficult to talk about?

Yeah, but I try to tell people about that stuff, because a lot of people have to deal with these issues, and again these are issues that the county deals with.

If you could get anybody’s endorsement, whose would it be?

I’d love it if Bud Clark would throw his support behind me. I’ve known him for a long time, and the kind of citizen campaign he ran is the kind I’d like to emulate. I’d also be happy after the primary to get the support of people like Earl Blumenauer and Tom Potter—those who’ve already endorsed former staff members. Loyalty is a good thing in politics.

So: Talk to me about Sam Adams.
Sam Adams is currently the mayor of the city of Portland. I don’t want his endorsement.

He has a reputation as being vindictive. It seems that being as outspoken as you are about him might harm your effectiveness.
That’s a good question. I’ve worked with Sam over the years. Vera Katz and I didn’t get along at all—she was the kind of person who if we got in an elevator together, she wouldn’t talk to me. But Sam I could always talk to. I said from the outset, Sam should resign. He decided not to, and I opposed the recall. It deflects us from the issues. I hope he’d be professional enough to work with both critics and supporters.

Do you think he is professional enough to do that?

I’ve not seen a lot of evidence that Sam’s been vindictive in this process. I’ll tell you this: I’ve talked with him on the phone. I’ve talked with him about the James Chasse lawsuit, I was one of the clergy who led his memorial service. I’ve talked with him about the current situation with the police bureau and its lack of accountability. I have his personal cell phone number and I don’t have trouble getting him on the phone.

This is going to be a tough race.
Yeah, it is. But it really is kind of a dream race. There’s no Dick Cheneys in this race. Just a bunch of people who are passionate about the community and want it to work better. We were at the Local 88 meeting the other night, talking about hunger in East County, and there were 9 people all trying to outdo each other on how they’d be advocates on how to get hungry children fed. I think that’s great. But I still want to win.

Can you get union support?

I’ve always been a strong union advocate. I’ve worked on the employee free choice act, and the UCC has been a partner with the unions for more than 100 years. So my professional background mixes well.

The local 88 chose not to endorse though?

I thought it was brilliant. They had a choice either to make an endorsement or take more time. And they decided to take more time. I also walked in absolutely convinced that they would endorse Gary [Hansen, former County Commissioner], because they’d done so in the past, and in fact they didn’t do that. I think that shows that they aren’t just going to let Gary walk back into his old job. They’re looking for new vision.

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