The four elected commissioners who work alongside Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen ended their public silence on his affair late this afternoon, at the same time as a formal look into his conduct officially began and questions about his political future continued to swirl.
In a short statement, Deborah Kafoury, Loretta Smith, Judy Shiprack, and Diane McKeel strongly urged a "sufficient inquiry" into whether Cogen ever breached county rules while also signaling they saw the issue mostly as a "personal" one—something for Cogen to battle through with his family.
As the four independently elected county commissioners, we are certainly disappointed by Chair Cogen’s conduct. We consider much of the situation to be a personal matter for him to deal with on his own. However, there are significant questions to be answered with respect to the county’s business and to ensure that the standards of Multnomah County are upheld. We expect a sufficient inquiry by the County Attorney to provide answers for the people of Multnomah County. We remain committed to maintaining the county's vital services to our citizens and upholding the professional standards that the residents of Multnomah County have come to expect and deserve.
The county attorney's office, of course, has started its investigation. Earlier today, the Oregonian reported no evidence had been turned up as of yet showing Cogen improperly used his office to help promote the woman he was sleeping with, Sonia Manhas, the county's health policy adviser. Gary Oxman, the county's retired public health officer, also came out today pretty quickly to say he also saw no evidence Cogen directly influenced Manhas' ascent through the ranks.
Cogen said that even though he's the top of the county's food chain, he's not technically Manhas' direct supervisor. That's a key distinction. Even a consensual relationship between a subordinate and a direct supervisor defies county rules and could be grounds for resignation.
More than one observer, speaking anonymously, invoked a peculiar word when mentioning Cogen's rationale: "Clintonian."
He might skate by on any policy violations. We'll see. Nothing else embarrassing had better be lurking. No misuse of money or resources and nothing creepy. But Cogen's good-guy, menschy image was such a major part of his political appeal and charm. Any affair, even something outside the workplace, risked damaging that a little. Now? With the revelation he slept with someone he still oversees, if indirectly? His future could be in trouble—even if what we're currently looking at is his best-case scenario.
Cogen had a good shot at running for mayor and winning last year. He's up for re-election next year, but had been talked about as a potential rival for Charlie Hales in 2016. He also could have tried to succeed Governor John Kitzhaber, in the event Kitzhaber decided to pass on a second second term [sic]. It's hard enough to run for higher office, or any office, without family turmoil to settle though. Add baggage from voters who see any sex infraction, even the ones that aren't their business, as a sign of moral turpitude, and well... it becomes clear why his supporters are sad.
"He still seems to be a standup person, taking responsibility for his actions," says Paul Gronke, a Reed College political science professor. "That may ultimately be what Portlanders see. But he shouldn't be thinking about higher office yet. He's got to think about the rest of his term and rerunning for this office."
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!