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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Meet A County Candidate: Tom Markgraf

Posted by Matt Davis on Tue, Mar 16, 2010 at 10:27 AM

Just one more county candidate to go after Tom Markgraf. And Loretta Smith seems to have dropped off the radar since responding to the Mercury's email on Sunday. Loretta: If you're out there, we'd like to interview you! Please get in touch on 503 502 2106.

Tom Markgraf is a lobbyist, political and transportation consultant with extensive experience. His priority in running for the county, to be blunt, is bridges. Fixing 'em, managing 'em, and supporting the building of them. He wants to create a tri-county bridge authority, and he has some interesting things to say about the Columbia River Crossing, for example ("build it," in a nutshell), which may well explain the support he's gotten from construction unions. His Grandad drove a streetcar in Portland, too. Read the Mercury's interview with Tom Markgraf after the jump.

MARKGRAF IN THE GARDEN AT HIS NORTH PORTLAND HOME LAST NIGHT
  • MARKGRAF IN THE GARDEN AT HIS NORTH PORTLAND HOME LAST NIGHT

Why are you running?
“I’m running because I’m really familiar with the needs of the county for human services—I’ve been involved in that my entire adult life. I’m also running because there’s a big gap in the county right now vis-à-vis transportation. The county went through a long period of no commissioners interested in transportation. Ted Wheeler, God bless him, finally took it over, and started pounding the table saying we need to deal with the Sellwood Bridge. I don’t think there are any candidates who have the same experience I do with regards to transportation. I’ve worked on all the streetcar projects, Interstate MAX, South/North MAX, and airport MAX.”

Any other issues?
“Mental health stuff. I had a very important person in my family who became schizophrenic and took his own life. I decided to devote a lot of my private life to advocating in that regard. I went on the board of Mental Health Services West, the precursor to Cascadia, and while I was on the board we developed a children’s program, and Project Respond, we built a boatload of housing including the Royal Palm hotel, and we did a bunch of police training for the Portland cops, because they didn’t know at the time how to deal with mentally ill people.”

When was this?
“All during the 1990s.”

The cops didn’t necessarily learn all the lessons on recognizing mental illness on the street.
“You don’t have the resources available now that there were then, and there have been personnel changes. “

How do you stack up against your competitors?
“I’ve got a lifetime of service, and I’ve been in the community since birth. I think that makes a big difference—you have a lot of people who don’t have a lot of experience here. I do have the experience of working with a lot of private non-profits, and I have a huge wealth of experience in transportation policy. I know every congressional member on a first name basis, I’ve been seen as a resource throughout the region on how to get funding for transit, bridges, streetcar, I was working for Earl Blumenauer when we developed the funding for streetcars, and I think that we have a long way to go here in Portland. My Great Grandfather, who actually lived three blocks down, drove streetcars here in Portland. I’m named after this guy.”

Why should your expertise in transportation be a priority for the county right now?
“Because the Sellwood Bridge project isn’t done, and it’s got a long way to go. There are no plans in place for the other bridges—I think what we need is a regional bridge authority for dealing with all the major bridges, which are getting quite old. Multnomah County owns bridges. And the Sellwood is the tip of the iceberg: Burnside, Morrison, Hawthorne. And there are East County roads that have real problems. We have some terrific people on the county right now, but we don’t have anybody unless I won who has experience in dealing with this stuff.”

Some of the other candidates have obviously got their own priorities—Chuck Currie, for example, is prioritizing homeless services.
“And I think he’s outstanding. But nobody has this expertise in transportation.”

Why are transportation issues important compared to some of the issues being suggested by other candidates?
“I think all the other candidates are terrific folks, but I think a lot of this has to do with jobs, getting the economy going, and you don’t have a good economy if the bridge isn’t working. We had to close bus traffic across the Sellwood Bridge. What’s that going to do for the economy?”

Couldn’t you bring this expertise to the County without being a commissioner?
“The question is, is there going to be an interest in transportation on the county? We had a county commissioner previously, who was assigned to deal with this, and she stopped showing up.”

Who was that?
“Maria Rojo de Steffey.”

Whose endorsement are you most proud of and why?
“Congressman Earl Blumenauer—Earl has got an incredible vision about livability, bicycles, transit, employment, keeping people safe and healthy and economically secure. I learned so much about public service from him and I think he was inspiring. Judy Shiprack’s endorsed me, she’s on the board, I’ve got a lot of union support—the joint council of teamsters, the Columbia pacific building trades, for starters.”

Where do you stand on the Columbia River Crossing?
“I live in North Portland and I witness every day the congestion and pollution that that thing causes. It’s at a dead stop most days at 2 o’clock. The bridge was designed in 1907, before there were any cars in America. It’s a big congestion point. I support light rail, I support tolls so it doesn’t become a big instrument for blowing out sprawl in Clark County. And if you look at the international committee on climate change, which is Al Gore’s group, they talk about staying in mature corridors. This is the most mature corridor on the west coast because it connects what was called Wagon Road. So you introduce tolls so that cars don’t have a free road, you introduce a serious transit component, a serious bike option, and this is going to be the biggest bike bridge in North America. And the modeling that was done by Metro shows that this isn’t going to blow out Clark County. We’re going to have a lot of people coming here and being born here, and what is happening there right now is not enough. Trucks leaving from LA time their departure to avoid the congestion. It’s the last bridge in America that lifts.”

There’s been a lot of controversy around the bridge. What’s gone wrong?
“From what I’ve studied, every bridge that’s built between two states becomes a nightmare because you’ve got double the politics, and everybody’s got to come to a consensus. The Golden Gate Bridge was looked at as a colossal boondoggle until opening day. But everybody agreed on the 39-member public committee to go for the project. You’ve got to respect the process. And you know what, there should be controversy on a big bridge like this. There should be people talking.”

A lot of people are saying we shouldn’t build it and that we should go back to square one and start again.
“And what would the answer be then? Because you convene 39 citizens again and drag them through the process again. Where were they during that process? Because a lot of people weren’t paying attention.”

Whose endorsement would you most like, and why?
“Lady Gaga. Because I think she’s so amusing.”

Anyone else? It seems like you just don’t want to say anyone you’re not going to get.
“I want to say that a person who’s been an elected official that I most respect is Don Clark, and I do have his endorsement. Don created one of the best local governments when he was head of the county. Bobby Kennedy was talking to him about appointing him head of the FBI—getting his endorsement meant a lot to me. I was a student of former congresswoman Barbara Jordan, she was my thesis advisor and mentor, and she was involved in the impeachment of Nixon. I would love to have had her endorsement, but unfortunately she has passed on.”

Is this race all about getting through the primary?
“I think all of us had about five or six hours to decide whether or not to run, we then had less than 24 hours to submit a voters’ pamphlet page, so yeah, we all have to let people know who we are. I’ve been in the community my entire life and a lot of people know me. I’ve worked with the community, and so people are calling me and asking, have you put me down as an endorser. I think I’ll get 51 percent of the vote and won’t have to go to the general election. I hope. I wish.”

Do you disagree then that the three favorites for this seat are Karol Collymore, Chuck Currie and Gary Hansen?
“Oh, yeah, absolutely I disagree.”

Want to say anything else about that?
“No.”

Are there any other priorities that you haven’t mentioned?
“I’ve done a lot of work with law enforcement, and I’ve actually done work on a contract with the Multnomah County sheriff’s office. The county’s sheriff’s department are stellar. They’ve always been recognized as one of the leading law enforcement agencies in the United States and their role is diminishing. We now have, I think, 14 square miles of unincorporated county which they patrol and managing their services is going to be critical. You’ve got cities that are growing. You’ve got Sauvie’s Island—is it an appropriate for sheriff’s to be driving from 122nd avenue up there?”

What’s the best solution there?
“I think it’s about contracting that out and then deploying our deputies to other areas in the region. Drug interdiction, we have a 20% higher warrant rate than Washington, because they don’t have the ability to send a sheriff out to drag the person in.”

Do you think we need an elected or appointed sheriff?
“I think for my whole life this discussion has been on the table. It’s politically a difficult idea because people like the idea of an elected sheriff, but that came about as a result of an electoral error in the 1940s. I think it’s extraordinarily powerful having the chief of an organization accountable to an elected body. Is it ever going to happen? I doubt it, not in the near future, because people love voting for them. But this came up when I was a kid, it’s been going on my entire life. It happened with Don Clark, it happened Fred Pierce, Lee Brown, and those were sheriffs who recommended going to an appointed system. I don’t think many of the other people running for this seat know about this, because they don’t have the history here.”

How much money are you hoping to raise?
“Before the primary, I think between $20,000 and $30,000.”

How much is pledged so far?
“I’m not sure. About $10,000.”

How are you going to run this campaign?
“I think it’s going to be a grassroots gonzo campaign. I think it’s a lot of friends talking to friends.”

Are you going to shave your head, gonzo style?
“No but I may do body paint, because when I went to the Olympics and watched the curling, I was so impressed with the Canadians and their body paint displays. And I decided that curling is an awesome sport. I actually watched the Canadians beat Great Britain.”

What do you think of Chair Wheeler's idea to take control of jail management from the Sheriff's office?
“I think it’s a really good idea, because right now it’s bifurcated, it causes all sorts of screwed up priorities, and there’s no unity. Imagine if Rosie Sizer flipped off city council and said I’m going to do what I want, try and stop me. That’s wrong.”

What do you think of Wapato?
“What a remarkable facility that is that’s going empty. Can you imagine to say, we’re going to build this beautiful facility and keep it closed—was that the foresight of a proctologist? That was inexcusable.”

So what are we going to do about it?
“I’m going to have to look at that one. You could pass a justice levy, I suppose, but right now I think a priority is going to have to be dealing with the economy and getting jobs first.”

How would you bring in more revenue at the county?
“I think, with transportation, there are a variety of options that you can look at and they include fees on your drivers’ license and registration that are legally available to the county right now. The county also can pass its own gas tax, right now. But I think what we need to do is pass some sort of regional bridge authority that deals with all the bridges on a tri-county basis, and I think that is probably the best, most equitable approach. When it comes to funding things like healthcare and human services, a lot of that’s going to depend on the state legislature and the turnaround economy, and that’s going to depend on jobs. At least with funding infrastructure you’re going to create positive, family wage jobs."

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