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County race gets bit more personal

Former Dean fans Cogen, Frederick spar for commission seat
by: denise FARWELL, Multnomah County Commission candidate Lew Frederick speaks with Marjorie and Jon Hirsch at their home in Irvington. A longtime resident of the neighborhood, Frederick says, “I think people misread the deep connections I have in the community.”

They may be the only opposing political candidates ever who've shared a bumper sticker.

Such is the political spectrum in Multnomah County - and especially in North and Northeast Portland - that the two candidates in the Nov. 7 runoff for a Multnomah County Board of Commissioners seat both were strong supporters of former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.

And that Dean bumper sticker on the back of candidate Jeff Cogen's 1998 Subaru Legacy wagon? It was given to him, in less tempestuous days, by fellow Dean supporter Lew Frederick. That would be Cogen's county commission runoff opponent.

Frederick remembers giving Cogen the bumper sticker at one of the events that groups of local Dean supporters held during Dean's 2004 presidential run. Cogen says it's entirely possible.

'That's when Lew and I got to know each other,' he says of the Dean events.

Cogen's and Frederick's enthusiasm for Dean says plenty about their political similarities.

But it does nothing to define the real differences the two have shown - in political positions and styles - in what's become a competitive, sometimes contentious race for the county board's second district seat.

Says Cogen: 'What distinguishes me from my opponent is I've actually got things done.'

Says Frederick: 'Jeff is a nice guy, but he doesn't resonate well with an awful lot of folks in the community. He doesn't have the same kind of approach I have with the community.'

Cogen's been a staffer

Neither Cogen nor Frederick could be characterized as a political outsider. But they've reached their insider status in Portland in decidedly different ways.

Like a range of recently successful Portland politicians - including city Commissioners Erik Sten and Sam Adams, and term-limited Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz, whose North and Northeast Portland seat Cogen and Frederick are competing to fill - Cogen has spent a significant chunk of his career working for Portland politicians.

He served as the communications director for former Multnomah County Chairwoman Bev Stein and, until early this year, was city Commissioner Dan Saltzman's chief of staff.

But the 44-year-old Cogen stresses that he's had plenty of experience in the private sector, first as a lawyer, then as one of the founders and an owner of the Portland Pretzel Co. in the early 1990s.

'Every place we ever lived, they had soft pretzels on the street corner,' Cogen says, referring to what he and his wife considered a missing element in Portland when they arrived from San Francisco in 1992. 'What kind of city doesn't have soft pretzels?' (Portland Pretzel Co. went out of business two years after Cogen and his wife and two business partners sold it in 1998.)

Frederick's a familiar face

Frederick, meanwhile, has gained Portland name recognition and face familiarity without ever being or working for a politician.

Frederick, 54, was a television news reporter for KGW (8) for 17 years from the mid-1970s, then worked as the communications head for Portland Public Schools for much of the 1990s. He took a leave of absence from the school district last year to pursue a doctorate in urban studies and speech communications at Portland State University.

'I think Lew has household-name familiarity,' says Jo Ann Bowman, a former Portland state representative and current associate director at the nonprofit social-justice group Oregon Action. 'Anytime Portland Public Schools was in the news, Lew was on TV. People have a comfort level with Lew.'

That may have contributed to results in the May primary race for the seat that surprised some: Frederick won 29 percent of the vote, easily placing second among the four candidates, behind Cogen's 34 percent. The results came in a race where Cogen outspent Frederick more than 4-to-1 - $165,000 to $37,000.

'It was clearly a surprise to a few people,' says Frederick, who has lived with his family in the same house in Irvington since 1977.

Frederick nods toward the precinct maps on the wall of his Northeast Portland campaign office that detail the boundaries of the county's second district. 'I think people misread the deep connections I have in the community,' he says.

Those connections tell him that many in the second district 'feel disenfranchised from the county,' Frederick says. 'It's a general belief that they are not part of the government structure. And the government structure doesn't care what they have to say. … These folks don't feel as though there's anyone at the county they really relate to.'

Capabilities, color mentioned

Partly, Frederick is talking about race, in a district where much of Portland's black population lives.

His campaign brochures include photos of him as a child with his parents and his great-grandfather - a former slave. And he'll point out that there are only six black elected officials in all of Oregon, and none since 1992 on either the Portland City Council or the Multnomah County Commission.

'But the broader impact is I am a Portlander, and people really relate to me well,' Frederick says. 'For some folks, (race) is a defining issue. For other folks, it doesn't matter.'

Democratic state Rep. Gary Hansen, who finished third in the May primary for the seat and who endorsed Frederick afterward, says he believes Frederick has a better feel for the district.

'Both are qualified to serve, but I think Lew's roots in Portland are just a little deeper,' Hansen says. 'I think he understands the district a little bit better than Jeff does.'

Cogen, meanwhile, points out that he has 'very significant support in the African-American community.' Bowman has endorsed him, as has Willie Brown, the director of the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, and others.

'They're doing it despite the fact that there's a lot of pressure in the African-American community to support an African-American candidate,' Cogen says. 'I've actually made a lot of positive things happen in this community for the African-American community. And for a lot of people, it's not going to come down to what color skin does the candidate have, but who has done more?'

Bowman says local governments need more representatives from a range of minority groups. 'We've got a lot of people who are not reflected in our elected leadership, and any opportunity to increase diversity is a positive,' she says. 'But for me, I don't make my decisions based on race. It's really about: Do I know the individual? Do I think they're qualified? Do I think they would do a good job?'

They disagree on Wapato

Xander Patterson, the fourth candidate in the May primary, has endorsed Cogen - even though he agrees with Frederick on many issues.

'I endorsed Jeff because I thought he was much clearer and more substantive on the issues,' Patterson says.

Cogen's and Frederick's campaigns stress many of the same issues - including the need for the county to do more to help fill gaps for people with no health insurance, and the need for the county to continue and expand its Schools Uniting Neighborhoods program.

They also disagree on some issues - including whether the county needs to open the new but unused Wapato jail. Cogen says yes; Frederick says county funds would be better spent elsewhere.

They also differ in how strongly they criticize the frequent infighting among county commissioners that has paralyzed the board in recent years.

'I feel that Multnomah County government has really lost its credibility in this community,' Cogen says. 'And I think that's a really big problem.'

Frederick, meanwhile, says he believes the new county commission will work better together, but adds: 'I think there are an awful lot of (county employees) out there who are doing incredible jobs.'