On the town

So it's auld lang syne for Erik Sten. After 12 years on the City Council, he's packing it in this week.

When Sten, who turned 40 in October, announced his decision earlier this year, it sounded like he was just tired of it all. The closest he could come to explaining himself was that he was just 'not exhilarated by being a public figure' anymore.

In fact, as he went on to reveal in the course of the interview with Willamette Week, he'd been talking with headhunters about getting a new gig since the previous July.

In other words, six months into his current term, he already was planning to quit.


And while no one should begrudge another the right to have a midlife crisis in full public view, this does raise the question of why he chose to run in the first place.

Or perhaps more to the point, why, under these circumstances, he felt it was proper for him to accept $173,623 in public money to do so.

As Sten, who happens to be the father of the city's so-called 'Voter-Owned Elections,' has acknowledged, he didn't really want to run again in the first place. However, when the Portland Business Alliance put up a candidate to run against him, he wasn't about to back down.

So for the sake of personal pride, he was willing to take the public money and, quite literally, run.

At least Emilie Boyles, the City Council candidate who got caught scamming the Voter-Owned Elections system last time out, acknowledges that she owes the city $102,000.

Not that she's probably ever going to pay it, of course. As always in these matters, it's the thought that counts.


One thing for sure, though, as Sten leaves office, he leaves behind a Voter-Owned Elections system - remember when they tried to call it 'Clean Money?' - in laughable disarray.

A wealthy businessman running for mayor qualifies for $161,171 in election subsidies - then loses it after it's revealed that his campaign manager commissioned a $27,000 poll.

Another Voter-Owned Elections candidate has to petition the city elections office for permission to use some of his $145,000 in public money to fill potholes in the city's streets.

Although come to think of it, that's actually not such a bad idea. If someone ever fixes them, it might as well be with public money.

But if we've learned anything since Sten pushed his Voter-Owned Elections through the City Council three years ago, it's that for all the grand talk about 'leveling the playing field' for poor and minority candidates, it's really an incumbent protection bill.

Or if the incumbent, as in Sten's case, happens to be resigning in midterm, it's a devilishly clever way of putting his chief of staff, Jim Middaugh, in line for the job.

Whether by chance or careful calculation, Sten timed his resignation so that only someone already well-connected like Middaugh had a chance of qualifying for public money.

Then, conniving to the end, he slipped a measure past the City Council that would have given Middaugh an additional $200,000 windfall.

Fortunately, he was caught a week later and the City Council now has a chance to fix it.

Credit where credit's due, though - he almost pulled it off.

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..

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