Paul van Orden is also running for county commissioner Jeff Cogen's soon-to-be-vacant seat. We met up in van Orden's neighborhood for a burrito at Cha Cha Cha on N.Williams last night, and in between mouthfuls, I managed to ask him a few questions about the race. “My candidacy is about having people run for office who aren’t career politicians, moving from job to job to job," he says. "It’s about leadership, and focusing on our priorities as a community.”
Van Orden last met voters during his 2006 race for sheriff against Bernie Giusto. He set a record for receiving the most write-in votes in the state's history: 11,000, and even managed to secure curmudgeonly blogger Jack Bogdanski's endorsement. He's been the city's noise control officer for the past 14 years, and says he's gained the respect of businesses, neighbors, county, city and state officials through the course of his work. Read the Mercury's interview with van Orden after the jump.
This is the second in our "meet the county candidates" posts. I'm interviewing the Reverend Chuck Currie at noon and hope to have that post up later today. In the mean time, candidates, you don't have wait for the call—if you want to schedule an interview I'd love to hear from you on my cell: 503 502 2106.
I start by asking van Orden what it is about his current work that he feels qualifies him for the post of County Chair. He gives the example of work he did at Portland International Raceway to mitigate neighborhood concerns about noise, back when Blazers owner Paul Allen came in and wanted to build an auditorium in the middle of the track.
“We had to find a long term solution,” he says. “I had to come in and gain the respect of all those entities. I’m a straight shooter, and Paul Allen was coming in and saying I want to build 20,000 seats, but noise won’t be a problem. I told the neighbors my job is to be forthright and show you what the acoustic impacts are going to be. And so I gained the respect of the community straight away. But it was also a wonderful opportunity for the community and the business interests to come together and see each other.”
Mercuy: Why are you running?
“The county is in a better position than it’s been in for 14 years to do good work. I am a giant fan of Ted Wheeler, a wonky fiscal conservative. And both he and Jeff Cogen have been instrumental in turning the county around. If you had asked me four to eight years ago, would I want to be in the catfight going on down there? I don’t know. The changes have opened the door to making the changes I want.”
What did you learn from your race for sheriff?
“I learned to use my experience in communication to engage the community and get their attention, week after week. Nobody has ever stood on the bridges with a big sign advertising their candidacy, for example. Or gone to neighborhood meetings. And my run for sheriff has changed the dynamics of that office. My campaign was about engaging the community, garnering its respect and support.”
So the AFSCME board didn’t call you in for their endorsement interview last night. Does that trouble you?
“A lot of these groups are on very tight timelines, and this race is a unique dynamic. They want to be respectful of potentially 9 candidates.”
What about SEIU’s endorsement. Are you thinking you might secure that?
“I’m actually a non-union employee at the city, but I’ve been through two very political eras working to unionize my position. The city has engaged in some union busting efforts to keep it non-union, but I think I’d be more effective as an employee, with more ability to serve the community, if I were unionized. I’m not as protected, it forces me to slow down and be very careful. One of the biggest challenges in Oregon for newcomers from the East Coast—I grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey—is that it’s a very small place and it’s very hard to break in. In politics, for example, there’s a very conservative group of people and a very conservative dynamic that makes it very difficult for new candidates to break in without spending a long time in the same dynamic.”
Do you agree that the three favorites for this seat are Karol Collymore, Chuck Currie and Gary Hansen?
“I was a little hurt by that, actually. I think I stack up. I think I’m an entirely different candidate. I think the Reverend Currie is a very interesting man, I have the utmost respect for his work on homelessness. Although I’m not sure he has as much broad experience in all levels of the community. Karol is in the classic role of politics—she’s on many boards and commissions, but I don’t see the depth of her involvement in the community. I was very honored, for example, to receive a call this morning from Pastor Albert Wayne Johnston of the Morningstar Baptist Church, telling me he supported my candidacy and wanted to help get the support of other ministers.”
And you met Pastor Johnston when his church burned down at the end of your street, correct?
“That’s right—my wife and I asked how we could help. We weren’t members, but I’d seen people who he had been working with on the streets, people who other people might have dismissed as crack heads, but whom he respected, and I respected that. I’ve arranged for some acoustic engineers to help with redesigning the space when it gets rebuilt.”
So how else have you been involved in the community?
“I’ve been on the board of Growing Gardens for the last six years, I founded the Chicken Coop Tour six years ago—that’s a national model for urban chicken raising. And if you look at what garners Portland attention, national press, it’s things like the chicken coop tour. I have this concept: Portland People Power.”
What does that mean?
“The people who drive our community aren’t just elected officials and political insiders, but people like Mike Houck [from the Urban Greenspaces Institute] who do great work to make the community better. Linda Robinson. Amanda Fritz—she’s someone who’s put all this time in to make things happen. Irwin Bergman, who fought for 8 years to force the Port of Portland to build a structure in Northeast Portland to insulate the noise of their engine repairs from those neighborhoods in the middle of the night.”
So are you going to be seeking those kinds of endorsements?
“I think a lot of endorsements are political. But if you look in my pamphlet, I couldn’t be prouder than the endorsement of Tracy Olson, the owner of Random Order coffee shop. She’s a lawyer, she made a major career change, and people like her are the backbone of the Portland economy. It’s a wonderful story. I want endorsement from working class folks.”
So whose endorsement would you most like, and why?
“I don’t think [former mayor] Bud Clark is in the business of making many endorsements these days, but he is someone I have the utmost respect for. And my campaign will be in the spirit and heart of the way Bud approached things. It will be 110% grassroots, working class. He put his bar up, he put his house up to run, and he didn’t look back, and he ended up changing so many things about this city. Early on he set the tone for bicycling. He was very shrewd.”
So what are your priorities?
“Well I think the community holds jobs as a priority. Half of my colleagues at the Bureau of Development Services have lost their jobs, for example.”
How much money are you hoping to raise?
“Between $40,000 and $50,000. I’ve already got commitments for $3,000, with some money in the bank. Obviously I have had to work to distance myself in talking to people in the business community, because I work in a field of law enforcement. But I feel confident approaching people I have worked with and demonstrating that I am a serious contender.”
How are you going to run this campaign?
“Well, we have a meeting on Friday with some political advisors, to see if I can get one of the bigger political advisors on board to help me run this campaign.”
Are you going to win?
“I think I’m going to win.”
That’s a bit cocky, isn’t it?
“No, but if you don’t approach this with that perspective, it’s not worth running. And I’ll be approaching my bosses at BDS to discuss taking some time off. There’s actually something going on there right now where they are encouraging people to take time off.”
You’re not just running for this office because you’re scared BDS might fire you?
“No. I’ve been doing this for 14 years. But it’s worth noting that the race is not necessarily to win the primary, but simply to be one of the two at the top, and then there’s plenty of time to shake things out into November.”