Volunteering for duty in Troutdale
The seed for seeking public office and giving back in new ways to his community was planted for Randy Lauer a decade ago, during the dedication ceremony for the Centennial Arch that welcomes visitors into downtown Troutdale.
Lauer was working in the public works department for the city of Troutdale, and played a role in erecting the impressive "Gateway to the Gorge" metal arch on East Columbia River Highway. And though he was surrounded by people celebrating, Lauer was frustrated as a city employee by a lack of support from the council and mayor at the time.
"I started to get this sense about what it was like to have city leaders making decisions that were affecting me negatively," Lauer said.
He explained those holding public office weren't listening to their constituents or making decisions that would benefit all. He felt leadership was ignoring blue collar workers in Troutdale. So he began mulling a political career.
It wasn't a foreign inclination for Lauer — he always had been drawn to service and uplifting his community through volunteering.
Lauer took the plunge four years ago, winning an election to serve on City Council Position 2. This fall, he took the next step by winning another election to become the next mayor of Troutdale.
"Thank you for finding the trust and confidence in me to lead us out of the problems we face as a city," Lauer said.
Lauer replaces Mayor Casey Ryan, who decided not to seek reelection. He bested longtime Councilor David Ripma in a contest marked by mutual respect and similar visions on how to lead the community.
"It was a pleasure to run against Dave. We both showed you can run a campaign during 2020 and have a polite, courteous and positive race," Lauer said. "You don't have to be negative and fall into personal attacks."
It was a close race, with the difference between the two candidates being just over 100 votes. Ripma called to concede the race and offer words of congratulations to his colleague on the council.
"I look forward to working with Randy as mayor," Ripma said. "I hope all Troutdale citizens will stay safe, be kind and continue to make Troutdale the best city anywhere."
Now Lauer is gearing up to take office at the beginning of the new year. He will serve a four-year term as mayor of Troutdale.
"I will do my best to continue to hold (your) trust every day I am in office," Lauer said.
Growing up in East County
Before becoming mayor, Lauer dreamed of joining the military.
The 40-year-old Troutdale resident was born in Albany, where he spent a few weeks in an orphanage before being adopted by a Gresham family. He grew up in East Multnomah County and graduated as a Gopher from Gresham High. Without any interest in continuing his education, Lauer wanted to serve his country.
His father had served in Vietnam and had no desire to see his son follow that path, but Lauer was 19 years old and would not be deterred.
"I couldn't join because of an eye disease that left me with bad vision," he said.
Disappointed but not disheartened, Lauer chose a different path. He earned credits at Mt. Hood Community College and Portland Community College, studying history, philosophy and psychology — whatever subject interested him.
Lauer started working for public works department in the cities of Portland, Troutdale and then, Wood Village. He and his wife, Chausse, also opened 3-46 GRIT CrossFit in Gresham, which has been surviving the COVID-19 pandemic by pivoting to online classes.
With his family and career settled, Lauer decided to take another shot at joining the military. He got his eye problem fixed via a cornea transplant, but it was still a no-go.
"When I got denied again I saw there was an opening on the Troutdale City Council because someone was resigning a year early," Lauer said.
He applied for the position, but was not selected. Undeterred, Lauer decided to subsequently vie for the seat again in the 2016 election. He won by just four votes in an incredibly close race that was delayed from being finalized for weeks because of an automatic recount.
"I can promise you, your vote absolutely matters when it comes to your local elections," Lauer said with a laugh.
He said that first election was a long and stressful process to sit through. His most recent victory to become mayor was close as well.
"It felt a lot like 2016 again," he said. "With the first results (on Nov. 3) I was down, but the next update at 10:30 p.m. had me ahead by seven. I was like 'here we go again.'"
Lauer's plans for Troutdale's future has been informed by its most recent past.
When he was first elected, Troutdale's city council meetings were a nightmare to attend. Lauer explained that it was standing-room only in the chambers, with dozens of people angry about what was going on in their city. Things were just as bad on council, with infighting and personal attacks preventing any meaningful work being done.
That changed with Ryan serving as mayor, who is credited with bringing unity and civility during his time in charge.
"I want to keep the council working together toward a collective goal of helping all citizens," Lauer said. "Mayor Ryan did a really good job instilling that in us — not letting anyone monopolize ideas or discussions."
"Council Chambers will be a safe place for everyone to be heard," Lauer added.
He likens the job to being a community volunteer, working with the desires of residents and business owners rather than dictating what happens in Troutdale.
While campaigning for the mayoral position, the main thing Lauer heard from his constituents were concerns about losing what makes Troutdale special. They told him about fears of turning into Portland or Gresham, with the community marred by political upheaval, social unrest, homelessness, crime and more.
"I won't fall in line with what is happening to the west of us. I am focused on keeping this city focused on neighborhoods and small businesses," Lauer said. "But social justice, diversity and equity are important, and they are going to be brought up whether we have our heads in the sand or not."
He said he is ready to take on those difficult conversations, including the ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. That will require clearing red tape to allow small businesses to innovate new ways to offer their services, and provide financial backing and other assistance like placing picnic tables in Mayor's Square.
Lauer wants to keep City Hall open and transparent, and not step on the toes of city staff — avoiding the mistakes that pushed him into public service all those years ago.
"Troutdale is friendly; it's quiet; it's one giant neighborhood," he said. "This is a beautiful place for families and community.
"I'm excited to get started," Lauer added with a smile.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.