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Wheeler leaves void at county

Our Opinion

Oregon Treasurer Ben Westlund's death on Sunday set off a whirlwind of political activity that was just beginning to settle late Tuesday.

Along the way, Multnomah County lost its highly competent chairman, Ted Wheeler, who Gov. Ted Kulongoski appointed to replace Westlund. And then the scramble began for those who desire to fill Wheeler's seat.

Because the deadline for filing for political office also happened to be Tuesday, people who wanted to run for either state treasurer or Multnomah County chair had little time to dive in. Nonetheless, by 5 p.m., a full field had formed for both offices - as well as for the seat held by Multnomah County Commissioner Jeff Cogen, who decided to run for the chair position instead of seeking re-election to his district.

There will be ample time to evaluate the candidates for all these offices later, but we can say without hesitation that Oregon's gain - with Wheeler's appointment to statewide office - will be Multnomah County's loss.

In just three years, Wheeler established a new level of respect and professionalism on the county board of commissioners and quickly reversed the dysfunction of the previous Mean Girl era.

Wheeler led the county ably by identifying problems and seeking solutions, such as balancing the county budget without bloodshed and orchestrating a funding solution to replace the antiquated Sellwood Bridge. Still, Wheeler would be the first to admit that he leaves unfinished business, including: resolving the county's ongoing fiscal future; reaching resolution with the city of Portland on urban renewal; opening the never-occupied Wapato jail; and finding funds to serve a growing number of vulnerable citizens.

Those issues remain not because they were ignored in Wheeler's tenure, but because solutions to complicated problems take time.

Looking ahead, Multnomah County needs leadership as able, as determined and as innovative in problem solving as Wheeler quickly proved to be.