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Race pits newcomer, city councilor: part 2

Candidates offer two competing visions for the city's future -

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Rich Allen has been endorsed by Zach Hudson, who once ran against Allen in a previous campaign. 'He's thoughtful. He's detail oriented. He's a critical thinker. He has the character and the temperment that you need in a city councilor and in a mayor,' Hudson said.If one principle unites both sides of the Troutdale mayoral race, it’s their desire to reject easy political labels and simplistic divisions.

“I am not Junki Yoshida’s candidate,” public office seeker Casey Ryan said, full stop. “I want (the Urban Renewal Area) developed because it’s a missed opportunity, but not at all costs.

Councilor Rich Allen agrees that the stretch of city-owned land between Interstate 84 and the historic downtown should be redeveloped. But he says the process can’t be rushed, and wants more disclosure from the builders.

“I can go along to get along, but in order to do so, I would have to stop representing the best interests of Troutdale,” he said.

It may be true that both leaders have more in common than their supporters and detractors claim. Battlelines are still being drawn.

The Outlook sat down with both candidates for the top job at Troutdale City Hall, as well as their most prominent supporters.

Read on for a deep dive into the Troutdale mayoral race:

Click here for part one, and here's a brief explainer on the difference between a city councilor and mayor.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Councilor Rich Allen is a veteran of the United States Air Force and a current member of the Troutdale Historical Society.Rich Allen

Elected to the Council in 2010, and with years of service on two other city committees, Rich Allen has followed the traditional path to the mayor’s seat: prior governing experience.

This year, voters will decide whether those years of participation are a boon or a hindrance.

His opponent, banker and business leader Casey Ryan, says many residents are embarrassed by entrenched strife on the Council, and the councilors’ public spats with each other.

Allen’s supporters say those grudges aren’t going away anytime soon, and many involve councilors who aren’t up for re-election this year.

“Rich Allen is not the one who is arguing and fighting,” said Zach Hudson, a high school teacher who hopes to unseat Councilor John Wilson in a separate race. “When (Allen) disagrees with people, he disagrees on facts, and he doesn’t make that disagreement personal.”

Allen called the allegations the he provoked discord a “political ploy.”

“The political realities won’t change just because Casey’s there,” he argued. “Casey Ryan is basically a fresh face being put forward by the same people we’re already dealing with.”

For Allen, the lightning-rod topic this season is the proposal by Eastwind Development to redevelop the land around the city’s old sewage treatment plant.

The 52-year-old microchip engineer says he wants to improve the surrounding process — not necessarily the outcome — for the Urban Renewal Area.

In February, he voted against signing a binding letter of intent between the city and the Yoshida Group-backed developer, arguing that he couldn’t approve a million-dollar deal without seeing more details.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Casey Ryan“Let’s say you wanted to buy a house, but you had never seen the house, and you don’t know how much they want for it,” Allen said. “You wouldn’t do it! If you’re using public money, you have got to be responsible with it.”

The letter was signed without Allen’s support, and Troutdale must now build a road through the middle of the Columbia Gorge Outlets mall. If that doesn’t happen, the city could be required to buy the 13 adjacent acres owned by Eastwind.

In May, the city loaned its Urban Renewal Agency $5 million. The city believes the URA land will bring in much more tax revenue after the new project is built, and that it can repay the loan that way.

In face-to-face interviews, Allen is as comfortable discussing tax increment funding as traffic improvements on Northeast 238th Drive. That sense of knowledge and know-how is echoed in his endorsements.

“The best thing about Rich is he asks for input from others before making a decision,” Councilor Glenn White said. “He does his research and he talks to everyone.”

“He’s very, very intelligent,” said Len Otto, himself the son of a mayor. “I’ve never seen him be anything but courteous and caring in his interactions with other people.”

Three other candidates in Troutdale have endorsed Allen for mayor, including White, Hudson and recently-appointed Councilor Corey Brooks. The four men are not exactly running a tandem race, though their campaign yard signs do tend to associate with one another.

“We most definitely are independent thinkers,” Brooks said. “All I have ever heard is that (Allen) wants a fair deal. That’s all. We all want urban renewal to work.”