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Commissioner is poised to take over as leader of the county government at a crucial time.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Multnomah County Commissioner and candidate for county chair Jessica Vega Pederson chats with other attendees at the Democratic Party of Oregon's election night party on Election Day.Jessica Vega Pederson will become the next Multnomah County chair, winning the election against Sharon Meieran, her colleague on the county's board of commissioners.

Vega Pederson has 54% of the vote compared to 45% for Meieran, according to unofficial election results as of 12:45 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11.

"I am ready to get to work for the people of Multnomah County and to continue to lead collaboratively on our biggest priorities," Vega Pederson said in a statement Friday. "We should expect our leaders to focus on accountability and transparency, but to also lead with vision, compassion and effectiveness. I see this win as a mandate to do just that."

Initial vote tallies on Election Day showed a close race, with the first results reported by the county's elections division showing only a 4 percentage-point difference between the candidates. Vega Pederson's lead grew as elections officials counted additional ballots in the hours and days after Election Day. There are still ballots left to count, but that number is shrinking with 63% of active registered voters' ballots being counted by Friday morning.

Vega Pederson has been a county commissioner since 2017, and before that, she served two terms in the Oregon House of Representatives. She will replace outgoing county chair Deborah Kafoury, who has served in the role since 2014 and is term-limited.

The county chair functions like the chief executive officer. While the chair serves in a lawmaking capacity and sets the agenda for the five-member board of commissioners, the position also has an extensive list of executive roles, including final authority over all personnel decisions and primary control over the county's budget, which funds the sheriff's office, district attorney's office, health department, libraries and the Portland-county Joint Office of Homeless Services.

Vega Pederson will step into the role as Multnomah County residents are eager for progress on several issues facing the county, including one that has been top of mind for many voters: homelessness.

During her campaign, Vega Pederson's tone toward homelessness was less about sounding an alarm during a crisis — an approach that marked Meieran's campaign — and more about conveying the need for government to collaboratively employ tools at its disposal to end people's homelessness. The approach contrasted with Meieran's willingness to criticize the joint office as being deeply ineffective.

Both candidates outlined strategies for homelessness that revolved around increasing people's options for alternative shelters, affordable housing and behavioral health services.

Vega Pederson's ability to productively partner with the leaders of Portland's government, which funds a substantial portion of the county-run joint office, remains to be seen.

This year, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler took several actions to prevent unsanctioned camping, saying local governments have not made enough progress on the issue. When Wheeler unveiled a plan to, among other goals, ban unsanctioned camping and require homeless people to move to new sanctioned campsites, Vega Pederson said she shares Wheeler's urgent desire to address homelessness. She added that she commits to "partnering with the city toward the goal of ending unsanctioned camping and ensuring everyone has a safe place to sleep."

The plan, which was approved by the Portland City Council last week, will require financial support from the county to be fully implemented.

Meieran, who also has served on the county board since 2017, will still be part of the county's work to address homelessness and other issues for at least the next two years of her current term.


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