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Stegmann wants to push for East County resources, needs

Editors' note: As of Monday afternoon (after the Tribune's deadline), a second candidate filed for the Multnomah County District 4 seat. Lynn Lehrbach, a Gresham resident and president of the Joint Council of Teamsters No. 37 Retiree Association, has filed. Full story to come.

When she was little, Lori Stegmann recalls riding her bike to the Rexall Drug Store on 181st and Division to get a root beer float.

“I have really fond, happy memories of growing up in this neighborhood,” she says. “I want other children and families to have this same memory.”

Now 55, a Farmers Insurance agency owner of 22 years with her own family in Gresham, Stegmann has been tackling everything from housing and development to jobs and gang activity as a Gresham city councilor for the past five years.

She’s been so invested in East County’s issues that she wants to make a splash in a bigger pond.

Last month she became the first candidate to file for the Multnomah County commissioner’s race in May 2016. The filing deadline for the May 17 election is March 8.

Stegmann is running for the Zone 4 seat being vacated by Commissioner Diane McKeel, who has reached her term limit.

“I really want to be a champion for East County,” she says. “Sometimes you kind of get into a no man’s land on the other side of I-205 and I don’t feel like East Portland and East County have been as well represented as the city of Portland.”

In Multnomah County, Stegmann says, she’d bring her passion for the well-being of East County residents, her business skills and her get-it-done creds from serving on the Gresham City Council. She won her first election handily in 2011 and was just reelected to her second term, unopposed. If elected in Multnomah County she would resign from the council, give up her last year in office and have a replacement appointed to fill her seat.

“We just had a council listening tour on homelessness,” she says. “About 100 people were there. It was about the council listening to what the needs are — a great first step.”

At Multnomah County, housing affordability would be one of Stegmann’s priorities, as well as improving the criminal justice system and mental health resources.

She also wants more SUN Schools, which offer wrap-around services for low-income children — although Stegmann says she doesn’t like the term “at-risk” students at all. “I want to change it to ‘at-promise,’ ” she says. “I think we need to change the way we talk about things. We need to give them more education, more opportunities.”

While on the Gresham City Council, she’s worked on the redevelopment of the old Rockwood Fred Meyer.

Rather than leave it vacant, the city activated it with a temporary playground and parking lot-turned-community space used for neighborhood events such as the recent “Rock the Block” event, which Stegmann helped organize.

“We have some amazing plans — we’re entertaining developers now,” she says.

The redevelopment includes plans for a creative “maker space,” as well as spaces for the Oregon Employment Department, a Metro East Community Media production studio, and perhaps a medical training program for Mt. Hood Community College.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for next year.

Stegmann can already feel the revitalization.

“We know Portland has pushed a lot of folks east, and those folks ended up in Gresham and the resources didn’t always follow,” she says. “I want to fight for the resources and funding to help address some of the issues.”

Stegmann does not want development to drive people farther east — just the opposite.

“We don’t want to push people out of Rockwood or Gresham,” she says. “We want to provide them with education and training so they can get a family-wage job in our own backyard. People can stay here, and hopefully their kids can stay here. There’s something to be said about your hometown.”

A sense of place has always been a big deal for Stegmann, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, and adopted by an American family, raised in Gresham.

As a Korean-American she’s proud of being a minority candidate for the Multnomah County Board, seeing a lack of representation of minorities in leadership roles.

Multnomah County has more diversity than most: Current board member Loretta Smith is black; past board members Maria Rojo de Steffey and Serena Cruz (in the early 2000s) are Latina; and the late former Chairs Hank Miggins and Gladys McCoy, were black.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever had an Asian person on the county,” she says.

Stegmann is proud of her heritage, and does think it’s notable to represent diversity at the board level. “Seeing is believing,” she says. “If I can be a role model as a person of color, I want to be that role model. I care immensely about issues having to do with women and minorities.”

Stegmann says she’s raised $35,000 for her campaign so far, and knows she has a long way to go.

She’s looking forward to it.

“I’ve been given such amazing opportunities; I have a responsibility,” she says. “I was meant to do this, and to pay it forward.”

@jenmomanderson