Whod leave a place this friendly?

On the Town

It's easy enough to understand why no reasonably normal person would want to spend any more time than necessary at City Hall.

The place is such a snake pit of backbiting and intrigue that even veterans of the state legislative scene are taken aback by what they see there.

When Vera Katz was mayor, for example, she often showed her displeasure with fellow council members by failing to acknowledge them when they passed each other in the hall.

And if that's the way our elected officials act, you can only imagine what goes on among the teeming staffers, most of them just out of graduate school, who see their jobs as a window of opportunity on the road to fame and glory.

Let's put it this way: If someone, perhaps from another planet, found him or herself suddenly and unexpectedly employed there, I think we could all excuse that person for going to lunch one day and just not coming back.

It is perhaps another matter, however, when that person is a 17-year City Hall veteran - five as a staffer and 12 as an elected member of the council itself - who decides to call it quits with three years still to go in his term of office.

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Now, I don't know why Erik Sten, whom I personally like, decided to pull the plug at this particular time. Quite possibly, he isn't exactly sure himself.

As he's already told the media, he felt it was 'time for me to make a change.' Another news account describes him as 'tired' and 'weary of public life' - and well he might be.

Insiders say the tipping point came a few weeks ago, when Sten found himself being berated in front of his wife and young son in a public place.

Although Sten won't go into details on the episode, you can see how it might have brought a whole lot of things into focus for him.

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One thing for sure, though - Sten's exit from public life, with three years left to go on his contract, has thrown City Hall's basket of political goodies up in the air.

With Tom Potter retiring as mayor, Sam Adams vacating his seat to run for the mayor job, and Randy Leonard up for re-election, that makes for four open seats on the council in the May primary.

Already announced as candidates for Sten's vacant seat are labor lawyer Nick Fish and City Hall aide Brendan Finn. Finn works for Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who is close to local political kingmaker Mark Wiener.

In all likelihood, Wiener will pull the strings in Finn's campaign - just as he did two years ago for Katz's longtime assistant Adams, when Adams beat Fish in a runoff by posing as a political outsider and often wearing a bicycle helmet whenever he appeared in public.

Whether the same approach will work for Finn - or whether the Wiener Machine will come up with an entirely new strategy against Fish this time - remains to be seen.

As for Sten, he says he really hasn't figured out what he's going to do next. But not to worry. He's a bright guy and something will come up.

Besides, as they say (although usually under far different circumstances), he's gone to a far better place.

Contact Phil Stanford by phone, 503-546-5166, or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..