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Cogen aide ready to step in to manage Multnomah County

Marissa Madrigal promised Friday to serve as a “caretaker” leader of Multnomah County who tries to assure continuity and stability during a time of political turmoil.

Madrigal is slated to become the interim county chair on Monday, when the resignation of County Chair Jeff Cogen becomes official.

Cogen, who announced his resignation Friday, had previously named Madrigal, his chief of staff, as his successor should he leave office for any reason, a customary practice under the county charter.

“I’m determined to show that the political transition doesn’t impact the day-to-day functions here,” said Madrigal, 35.

She will serve out the remainder of Cogen’s four-year term, until the end of next year. Meanwhile, would-be candidates for the post can file to run for the office starting Thursday, Sept. 12.

“I’m not running for the seat,” Madrigal pledged. “I view my role as a caretaker.”

As Cogen’s top lieutenant, Madrigal was involved in every major project handled by his office.

“I helped put together budgets. I helped make decisions on everything that has crossed his desk,” she said.

Madrigal said she’ll try to continue the initiatives Cogen and his staff launched, and she’ll retain his entire staff. Emerald Bogue Walker, Cogen’s policy analyst and former campaign director, will be promoted to chief of staff, Madrigal said.

Cogen has been battered by criticism from the public, the media and his peers on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners since July, when he divulged an affair with former county health manager Sonia Manhas. Manhas subsequently was forced to resign. The four other county commissioners also called on Cogen to resign, saying his scandal had caused a major disruption in county business.

Cogen initially said he wanted to await the results of a state Department of Justice investigation, which is probing whether he committed any criminal violations. But he reversed course and on Friday morning told his staff that he would be leaving his seat. Cogen did not return a call Friday, and Madrigal said he won’t be talking to reporters.

Madrigal had recently announced she was leaving Cogen’s staff to take a high-level human resources job in the county, but said Friday that she hadn’t yet arranged when to start the new post. “I had just accepted it and we hadn’t nailed down the details of my transition yet.”

She declined to say why she wanted to leave Cogen’s staff.

Though she realized it was “a possibility” that Cogen might resign, she said that wasn’t part of her thinking when she arranged for the new position. She said events were moving rather quickly after Cogen’s announcement Friday.

Madrigal is married and has two children, aged 3 and 10. She has a B.A. in zoology from the University of Washington. She grew up in Los Angeles but moved to Ridgefield, Wash. while in high school. She is proud of the fact that she graduated from UW at age 20.

“I started taking fulltime college courses when I was 16,” she said.

She won’t be the first non-political staff person to move into the county chair’s post in recent years.

When Cogen’s predecessor Ted Wheeler was appointed state treasurer upon the death of Ben Westlund, Wheeler aide Jana McClellan stepped into the post in March 2009.

When Gladys McCoy died while in office, her lieutenant Hank Miggins took the post in April 1993.