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Debate highlights differences as May campaign cranks up

The two major candidates for Multnomah County chair — Jim Francesconi and Deborah Kafoury — are debating the best way to fund maintenance of the six county-owned Willamette River bridges.

At a Wednesday, Feb. 26, debate, Francesconi, a lawyer and former Portland city commissioner, proposed creating a regional bridge authority with other governments to maintain the bridges. He said it could involve Metro and Portland, with both jurisdictions chipping into bridge maintenance funds.

“I’ve discussed it with Metro and Portland officials, and they’re both interested,” he said.

Kafoury, a former legislator and Multnomah County commissioner, disagreed.

“Money is the issue and we don’t need to create a new bureaucracy to find it,” she said.

Kafoury said one new source will eventually be tolls for crossing all bridges over the river. Although Kafoury quickly clarified that she was not making a specific proposal, Francesconi voiced his disapproval.

“I’d be careful about that,” Francesconi said, noting the county had already created a new motor vehicle registration fee to pay for the Sellwood Bridge replacement project.

Multnomah County ma intains and operates the Burnside, Broadway, Hawthorne, Morrison, Sauvie Island and Sellwood bridges. The county’s responsibility for those bridges has been a topic of concern for years, because the bridges serve the region, but Multnomah County foots the bill.

Transportation issues dominated the Wednesday debate sponsored by the Women Transportation Seminar. Despite that, Francesconi and Kafoury also spent a lot of time talking about the county’s major area of responsibility — social service programs. Francesconi and Kafoury both said county programs are essential for the homeless, those in poverty, the mentally ill and victims of domestic violence.

An aggressive campaign

Wednesday’s debate came in the midst of a May election campaign that’s already well underway. Francesconi and Kafoury have been busy raising money, soliciting endorsements and making campaign appearances.

Although Kafoury was required by county rules to resign from her county commissioner District 1 seat to run for chair, she has all the campaign advantages of incumbency. To date, she has raised the most money and attracted the most endorsements.

Kafoury has collected more than $184,000 so far. Major contributions include: $5,000 from Sellwood Bridge contactors Slayden/Sundt; $5,000 from philanthropist Bob Quillan; $2,000 from the Local 48 Electricians PAC; $1,000 from the Coca-Cola Co.; $1,500 from PGE; and $1,000 from the David Evans and Associates consulting firm.

Kafoury also has received hundreds of endorsements from labor unions, environmental organizations and such well-known political figures as Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and Oregon’s 1st Congressional District Rep. Suzanne Bonimici.

Francesconi, however, has mounted a surprisingly viable campaign, even though he hasn’t held local office since he left the City Council in 2004. He has raised more than $132,000 so far, with major contributions including: $1,500 from investor Peter Stott; $1,000 from industrialist Henry Swigert; $500 from the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters; $1,000 from Chinese community leader Steven Louie; $1,000 from developer Jim Winkler; $1,500 from health care executive Robert Gootee; and $1,000 from investment adviser Anthony Arnerich.

Francesconi does not have any big name endorsements, but he has picked up the backing of AFSCME Local 88, the largest union representing county employees.

Francesconi also has been running the more aggressive campaign, proposing to expand county operations with more economic development and job training programs. During Wednesday’s debate, he repeatedly said the county could and should do more to close the growing income disparity gap. Kafoury tended to characterize the county’s mission as more of a last-ditch safety net for those in need.

Francesconi and Kafoury will appear twice on the May 20 primary election ballot. One race is to fill the unexpired final months of former Chair Jeff Cogen’s term, which stretches until the end of the year. The other is for the next four-year term that begins in January 2015. Three other candidates have filed in each of those races, but they are not considered serious challengers.

Any candidate who receives more than 50 percent of the vote will win the election outright in the primary. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters face off in the November general election.

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