After leading the city: Catching up with Tom Potter, in Woodstock
They could be described as a dynamic duo: Former Portland Mayor Tom Potter, who grew up in the Southeast Portland Brooklyn Neighborhood and went to Cleveland High School – and his wife Karin Hansen, a graduate of Grant High, and the U. of O. and PSU.
They have had their home in Woodstock for over two decades. From that base, after retiring nine years ago, they've been doing a lot of traveling, and working with diverse communities.
At an early August potluck picnic in their home and backyard, a diverse group of friends – former city employees, and community activists – among whom were Somalis, Hispanics, African Americans, many Cambodians, and other Asians – became acquainted with one another, and reveled in conversation taking place amidst a multicultural selection of good food.
In a new fall interview with THE BEE, Potter and Hansen explained how they have come to know so many Cambodians in particular.
"We were in the Clackamas Town Center parking lot after the 2004 November election at Christmas time, headed for a bookstore," remembers Potter. "Suddenly someone yelled, 'Aren't you Tom Potter? I didn't vote for you. But if you have nothing planned for New Year's Eve, you're invited to our Cambodian celebration'."
"We were scheduled to go to a Native American Pow Wow on New Year's Eve, but we managed to go to both. It was a Khmer Heritage event," explains Potter, "and we had a marvelous time." The person who had invited him, Kilong Ung, coincidentally also turned out to be a Cleveland graduate, as well as a Reed College graduate and author of a riveting memoir, "Golden Leaf, A Khmer Rouge Genocide Survivor."
Potter and Hansen have become good friends with Ung. Potter steered him in the right direction to help him realize his dream of becoming a Royal Rosarian, and later a Rotarian. Now Potter and Hansen go to the Cambodian New Year's celebration every year.
Ung likes to give back to the Portland community that educated him and has given him so much. He introduces people to Cambodian culture, and has set up the Golden Leaf Education Foundation that builds schools in Cambodian villages, and enables Americans to visit.
"The Golden Leaf Foundation sets up regular trips to meet people in Cambodia, and I was able to go three years ago," recounts Hansen. "We now spend quality time here with the Cambodian American Community of Oregon (CACO)."
"That trip [to Cambodia] was a humanitarian tourist experience for the ground-breaking of a new school. I was struck by the Cambodians' resilience, their heart and love, joyfulness, and goodness. They are not angry," observes Hansen.
For time on their own, the couple loves to travel the state and nation in their Airstream camper. "We just celebrated our 600th night in it!" says Potter. (Hansen keeps a journal.) He adds that they have a good time deciding, "Where do we want to stay this time?"
At home in Woodstock, when not traveling in their Airstream or visiting family in France and Germany, Potter and Hansen continue a "mentorship" role of helping to open political doors for people of color.
"Since Tom's [mayoral] term ended, we have found our values are in bringing people together," says Hansen. One of their activities is meeting with people who may need to learn the ropes for entering politics, or who need advice and help with networking.
Throughout his years of Portland Police work, Potter made a point of listening to the community. (He started his beat in the 1960's in Southeast Portland's Brooklyn neighborhood, when it had a gang problem.) That experience led him to start the Community Policing program while he was Chief of Police, and to emphasize diverse community connections while Mayor – all of which prepared him for volunteer work in diverse communities.
The couple is involved with NARA (Native American Rehabilitation Association), Unite Oregon (which helps strengthen immigrant communities), IRCO (Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization), and CACO, among other groups.
Summing up, Potter says "We think Portland is a better place when diversity is reflected in public policy." This dynamic duo vows to continue doing their part.