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Renaissance man runs for mayor

by: , John Surrett

For John Surrett, being mayor of Lake Oswego might just be the next thing.

After all, the 63-year-old Surrett has tried most everything else.

A former energy executive retired from PacifiCorp and General Electric, Surrett ran a French restaurant for 11 years on weekends and also developed his own line of salad dressings. He has restored historic homes, developed properties and now runs a landscape design firm.

'I'm a Renaissance guy,' he said. 'Multifaceted. I have a very strong analytical, technical side and then I have a very strong creative side. They work very well together.'

It is this high-energy style Surrett believes makes him a good mayoral candidate for Lake Oswego.

He filed for the race at city hall on July 29 and is now fundraising for the campaign. Surrett faces former Lake Oswego City Councilman Jack Hoffman, a land-use attorney, in the election to replace outgoing Mayor Judie Hammerstad. Other candidates have until Aug. 26 to file.

Hammerstad, who has served two consecutive terms as mayor, cannot seek re-election due to term limits. She will end her tenure as Lake Oswego's mayor at the end of 2008. When she does, her successor will face critical challenges.

Among those tests are providing oversight to construction of the city's one-of-a-kind floating sewer pipe in Oswego Lake and resolving the fate of the much-debated West End Building.

Lake Oswego's next mayor must also lead a group of relatively new city councilors in a community that is divided over its future.

Some residents favor a policy course that promotes ongoing redevelopment, which has spurred the economic upswing of the city's downtown and increased wealth for property owners during Hammerstad's tenure. Others would hit the brakes on public investment projects, instead shaping a more conservative political atmosphere that keeps Lake Oswego affordable and dependable, slowing change.

For the last year, at least, Surrett has been a figurehead for conservative-minded voters.

He is the former spokesperson of Ask Lake Oswegans, a political group that formed after the city's purchase of the West End Building in April 2006. In November 2007, Surrett was at the forefront of an effort to force the sale of the building with a ballot measure that also called for voter approval for similar purchases.

Though the measure failed, the group's message resonated with many. And while the Ask Lake Oswegans have disbanded since, the buzz surrounding Surrett as their leader is propelling his mayoral campaign forward.

While Surrett said his mayoral run is not affiliated with Ask Lake Oswegans, he is still tied to the group's established network of volunteers and promises an aggressive campaign.

Some Lake Oswegans already treat Surrett as the city's minority mayor. He said he still receives phone calls and e-mails from residents concerned about policy issues. And his own interest in playing watchdog for the current Lake Oswego City Council gives him a two-year attendance record at public meetings that matches that of elected officials.

So who is John Surrett?

Maybe a little bit of everything.

Though Surrett garnered the bulk of his professional and government experience as a former energy executive, he is also a successful chef and restauranteur, landscape designer, home remodeler and builder.

Perhaps the news clips say it best. Asked about his background, Surrett produces a folder of articles from The Oregonian, Statesman Journal in Salem and News-Register in McMinnville, all chronicling facets of his life.

Though Surrett is a University of Oregon graduate and studied international business in Germany, he also audited cooking classes at the famous Cordon Bleu school in France and got additional culinary training in California while doing foreign assignments for General Electric's nuclear energy department.

Between 1981 and 1992, he served as chef of La Maison Surrette, a French restaurant in McMinnville that the couple ran on weekends. The Surretts later developed a line of salad dressings under the La Maison Surrette name, which they sold commercially for 10 years.

Surrett also has a construction background. A 32-year resident of Lake Oswego, his old English cottage over Oswego Lake was designed by Richard Sundeleaf. After he restored it, he tried his hand at renovating more than a dozen other homes and buildings, including the former boardinghouse in McMinnville where he later ran his restaurant.

He now heads a landscape design firm. His personal garden is on Metro's annual Gardens of Natural Delights tour, which garnered the latest Oregonian headlines.

It is this diverse entrepreneurial experience, combined with Surrett's life as a former energy executive, that he believes has the most bearing on his political aspirations.

Through jobs with PacifiCorp and General Electric, Surrett spent more than 30 years leading environmental compliance programs that affect power generation and transmission. As the former international contracts administrator for General Electric, he negotiating millions in contracts for power plant components and fuel.

He also represented PacifiCorp on government bodies including TriMet's Handicap Accessibility Committee and Metro's Land Use and Solid Waste Policy Advisory Committee. He was the first male president of the League of Women Voters and also served on a number of local committees.

'I really think its my heavy construction professional background that's going to serve me very well as Lake Oswego's next mayor,' he said. 'I believe there needs to be more oversight by the council with regards to $100 million plus projects.'

As mayor, Surrett said he wants cost-effective provisions for required community services like infrastructure and would aim to provide high quality public health and safety while keeping Lake Oswego affordable.

He would also put greater emphasis on the city's neighborhood planning program, shape state and regional policy mandates to the local community, involve public input in Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency and consider business development programs for Lake Grove.

Surrett said he would establish periodic review of city-owned assets, financial health, natural resources and relationships with residents.

He also would work to keep city hall, the library and the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center downtown but would look for branch library opportunities in Lake Grove.

Though he wants to take a hard look at the process that resolves the future of the West End Building, the former WEB opponent said he is willing to keep the property if public support for its ownership is there.

'I try to work within the art of compromise,' said Surrett.