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  • 21 Nov 2014

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County candidates dig into local roots

Experience, business acumen at heart of race to replace Kafoury


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jules Bailey chats with Katherine McDuffie and Allen Dobbins prior to the start of a debate with his Multnomah County Commission District 1 opponent, Brian Wilson, at the Terwilliger Plaza Retirement Community Saturday morning.Unless you’ve already made up your mind, the Multnomah County Commission District 1 race offers a difficult choice. Both Jules Bailey and Brian Wilson are well qualified and can point to records of public accomplishments. And both are running viable campaigns to replace Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, who resigned to run for county chair.

Perhaps as much as anything, the race is a choice between two different kinds of public servants — a semi-professional politician and a longtime civic volunteer.

Bailey, 35, would appear to be the favorite on paper. A three-term Democratic state representative from House District 49, he has the most campaign experience, has raised the most money, and has received the most endorsements, including such Democratic political heavyweights as Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and former Gov. Barbara Roberts.

But Wilson, 46, is not a political novice, having served on multiple county-related boards and chaired the successful campaign to create the Multnomah County Library District. He has also raised a respectable amount of money and received endorsements from such recognizable political figures as Portland City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade and former Multnomah County District Commissioner Maria Rojo de Steffey.

And Bailey’s three successful campaigns might not mean much in the race. Only half of his east Portland legislative district is in District 1. Most of the district lies west of the Willamette River, where no one has voted for him before.

Bailey and Wilson share many similarities. They were both born and raised in Portland, left to pursue higher educations, then returned. The both have backgrounds in finance. And they express similar views on county issues, including a commitment to maintaining county programs that serve the most vulnerable citizens while looking to spend money efficiently.

Both also identify many of the same priorities, including improving services for the homeless, preparing the county health system for the federal Affordable Care Act — called Obamacare — changes, and finding money for infrastructure projects, such as maintaining the county-owned bridges.

In fact, Bailey and Wilson even look and sound alike. Both are thoughtful, articulate men with short dark hair and quick smiles.

One difference concerns economic development. Bailey says the county should do more to create jobs. Wilson notes the county’s primary responsibility is providing social services.

Another difference is personal. Bailey is married to a pediatrician at Randall Children’s Hospital. Wilson is openly gay.

Wilson also admits to being arrested for DUII in 2007. The case was resolved through a court-approved diversion program.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Multnomah County Commission District 1 candidate Brian Wilson chats with Harley Sachs and Sue Beardwood prior to the start of a debate at the Terwilliger Plaza Retirement Community on Saturday.

Serious policy role

Bailey says his interest in politics grew out of his upbringing. His parents divorced when he was young and his stepmother has a medical condition that requires treatment and prevents her from working, which put a financial strain on his father, who worked for the state. Then, at age 15, Bailey fractured his back and required years of therapy to recovery.

“I realized that it was only because we had good insurance through my father’s job that we were able to survive,” he says.

Bailey grew up in the same Sunnyside neighborhood of Southeast Portland he represents. He graduated from Lincoln High School and attended Lewis and Clark College, where he graduated in 2001 after majoring in Environmental Studies and International Affairs. His interest in politics led him to work for then-Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, where he realized he needed to continue pursuing his education to ever have a serious policy-setting role.

So Bailey left Oregon to do his graduate studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, where in 2007 he received his master of public affairs and urban and regional planning degree, with a certification in environmental policy. Bailey worked in economics overseas before returning to Portland, where he hoped to be able to make more of an impact. He first worked for two economic consulting firms — ECONorthwest and Intuit — before opening his own firm in 2009, Pareto Global, named after an Italian economist who died in 1923. Bailey says he still runs the firm between legislative sessions.

Bailey announced for District 42 in 2008 after state Rep. Diane Rosenbaum ran for state Senate. He defeated three other candidates in the primary and has not been seriously challenged since then in the heavily Democratic district.

Bailey has been recognized at the Legislature for his intelligence, economic background, and willingness to consider all sides of an issue. Although the Oregon League of Conservation Voters named him “Innovator of the Year” in 2009 for promoting the renewables industry, he voted in favor of the Columbia River Crossing project opposed by environmentalists in 2013. During the 2014 Legislature, he served chairman of the House Energy and Environment Committee, co-vice chairman on the Revenue Committee and the Joint Committee on Tax Credits, and as a member of the Natural Resources subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

Bailey has been thinking about running for a more local office for some time, saying that the Legislature works on policy issues at the 30,000-foot level. His opportunity came sooner than expected when Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen resigned because of a sex scandal in early September 2013. Bailey assumed Kafoury would run for the seat and have to resign from the commission in the middle of her term because of the County Charter. When she did, Bailey was the first to announce for the race.

Show up with a tie

Wilson says he became interested in county issues while working at his family’s former business headquarters. The Kalberer Hotel Supply Co. founded by his grandfather, August Kalberer, was once based in the Old Town/Chinatown building that now houses the Portland Development Commission at 222 N.W. Fifth Ave.

“You couldn’t walk to work without meeting and talking to the people who were living on the streets and in shelters. I got interested in the programs that help them, which are largely funded by the county,” says Wilson.

Like Bailey, Wilson grew up in Portland, attending schools in Portland, Tigard and graduating from Jesuit High School before leaving to get his liberal arts bachelor’s degree from Whitman College in Walla Walla in 1989 and his tax and finance master’s of business administration from Fordham University in New York City in 1995. He returned to work in the family business when it got involved in real estate, redeveloping some of properties acquired by his grandfather.

Then, in 1996, Wilson attended the first meeting of a city task force studying the financial threshold for requiring owners of older builders to meet current earthquake standards. There he learned a valuable lesson.

“If you show up wearing a tie, they’re going to ask you to do something,” Wilson says.

After that Wilson was asked to service on number task forces and boards, many with a county focus. They included chairing the Multnomah County Charter Review Commission in 2009 and serving on the community task force on the Sellwood Bridge. Wilson says those assignments taught him the value of getting people with different needs to work together toward a common goal.

“The Sellwood Bridge Task Force was made up of people representing different interests, from pedestrians to bicyclists to the freight community to area residents. At first it seemed that if someone go what they wanted, everyone else lost. But we were able to figure out a way to get everyone to agree so the replacement bridge plan could move forward,” says Wilson.

A short time later, Wilson was asked to lead the committee that passed the Multnomah County Library District measure at the November 2012 election. Although he had been growing increasingly interested in running for the commission, that experience helped him understand how campaigns work and convinced him he could win one. He was considering running for Kafoury’s seat when the charter would have term-limited her out at the end of 2015. Instead, he jumped in when she resigned two years earlier to run for chair.

“The job matches my interests and the skills I can bring to it, so it was the right decision,” says Wilson.

Raising campaign cash

Because Bailey and Wilson are the only candidates in the race, it will likely be decided in the May 20 primary election. Unless there are a lot of write-in votes, one of them will receive more than 50 percent of the votes and avoid a runoff election in November.

With only around five weeks before the election, Bailey has received the most endorsements and raised the most money. Supporters include labor union and business organization, which helped push his available cash to more than $170,000. Some of that money came from a large fundraiser held in early August, before he decided to run for the county commission.

Bailey’s use of Democratic endorsement may also pay off. Although the commission is non-partisan, the largest block of its voters are Democrats — 70,479 out of 128,024.

In contrast, Wilson is not supported by any established political action committees, but has still raised around $60,000 in cash. Approximately half of that has come from himself and his family, so far. Although trailing in fundraising, Wilson is confident he will receive enough contributions to run a winning campaign.

Both candidates are conducting door-to-door campaigns, which could be important in a district where neither has run before.