Erik Sten's Last Day

ErikstenAfter twelve years on the Portland City Council, it's Erik Sten's last day at City Hall.

From the Oregonian:

One by one, they grabbed microphones at Portland City Hall, advocates for senior citizens and homeless people, students and fellow politicians.

They all wanted to say nice things about the City Council's elder statesman and youngest member; a small guy with big vision; a controversial, contradictory figure who has spent almost his entire adult life shaping city government.

City Commissioner Erik Sten sat through his last Portland City Council meeting Wednesday, a precursor to his official goodbye Friday afternoon. He's stepping down less than two years into his fourth term because he says he's ready to do something else.

His departure is the first step in a dramatic remaking of the five-member City Council. Four of the five City Council seats are up for grabs in this year's elections, at least three are guaranteed new occupants.

But Sten's departure means more than just a new face in his corner suite. Over the past 12 years, he's forced city leaders to talk -- and do more than talk -- about issues of homelessness and housing. He's led the city into revolutionary and sometimes quixotic fights against big business and overseen city government's costliest mistake. By speaking out and backing political candidates, he steadily helped push the City Council leftward.

Sten has earned high praise over the years:

"Erik has really been the conscience of the City Council," said JoAnn Bowman, a former state legislator and executive director of the nonprofit organizing group Oregon Action. "For a long time, he was consistently on the losing end of 4-1 votes on social issues, civil rights issues and issues of economic justice. He was ahead of the curve, and he brought the rest of the council along with him."

Sten, 40, came to City Hall in 1990 almost straight out of Stanford, a baby-faced, long-haired Irvington kid with a preternatural ability to craft deals for his boss, Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury. He inherited her commitment to building affordable housing and ending homelessness. In 1996, at 28, he became the youngest person elected to the City Council since Neil Goldschmidt.

"He'll be remembered as a visionary," said Greg Goodman, the parking lot magnate and business leader who usually supported Sten politically even when they sometimes disagreed on specific policy. "He'll be remembered as a guy who, even when you didn't like where he stood on an issue, you had to admire the way he stuck his neck out for what he believed in. He wasn't afraid to take a risk."

His legislative plate has been comparatively empty of big ideas since his effort to buy Portland General Electric died three years ago.

On his way out the door, however, Sten has pushed through two big projects that, if they work, could serve as his legacy:

Last month, City Council members agreed to build a day center for homeless men and women -- a place where they can get help finding housing and other services during daylight hours when shelters are closed -- in Old Town/Chinatown. And on Wednesday, in one of his final acts, he celebrated the awarding of $850,000 in grants to groups that will help families with young children find affordable housing and thus keep Portland Public Schools financially sound.

Read the rest. Good luck, Erik.


  • joeldanwalls (unverified)

    And on Wednesday, in one of his final acts, he celebrated the awarding of $850,000 in grants to groups that will help families with young children find affordable housing and thus keep Portland Public Schools financially sound.

    Huh what? HOW will that keep PPS "financially sound"? A handful of families with kids staying in PPS schools--when they might have moved to burbs--is not going to amount to much, folks. The demographics of the PPS catchment area are not looking too great for the long-term health of the school district, with families leaving and the childless moving in. Sten's move is nice publicity and that's about all.

    But I agree, let's congratulate Sten. I hear he's going to be starting a company to advise municipal water utilities about billing systems.

  • Steve (unverified)

    Why mourn Erik? He hand-picked Middaugh and gave him a 2-month headstart over the competition befoer he told anyone else he is retiring. Now the guy is asking for $300K to beat the competiton.

    Say hello to Erik v0.1

  • (Show?)


    If you do not want to vote for Jim. Please remember there is another choice out there....ME:)

    Fred Stewart

  • David M. (unverified)

    In this local election, I want to see Portland city hall become fiscally responsible; I think ALL tax/fee increases should be put to a vote of the people.

    One the biggest things that convinces me Portland & our surrounding local communities are throwing away money are those instances when I see local municipal vehicles parked, with the driver inside, and the motor running. This indicates to me that Portland city gov't has plenty of money to waste on gasoline. It's especially bothersome in that we are supposed to be an environmentally friendly city.

  • Ed Garren (unverified)

    Regarding Erik's "legacy" and the recent revelations about Jim Middaugh having advance information, a few thoughts are worth noting.

    I don't think Jim is lying, or "cagey", but did it ever occur to anyone (including Jim) that he may be a pawn in a much bigger chess game, that he is not even aware of?

    Even Jim admitted to me that he was surprised by the groundswell of support that quickly surfaced for his campaign. I guess he didn't consider that it might have come from sources that extended beyond his own circle.

    We also know that Erik "made a few phone calls". Did any of the other "Voter Owned" candidates have a City Commissioner make "a few phone calls" on their behalf?

    As for "conspiracy theories", I would offer that as someone who spent most of my 58 years in places like Florida and California, where political double dealing is the norm, I might just be ahead of the curve.

    The real issue here is not just about Jim, or Erik, or whoever else may be moving pieces on this chess board. The real issue is that the integrity of "Voter Owned Elections" has been seriously compromised by some people in city hall who had months to set up the game before inviting in the other players.

    A few people have said to me, "This isn't the Portland I grew up in (or remember)." To that I have offered that once Portland popped up on the national real estate scene, everything changed because the stakes are much higher. After decades in Florida and California, I can assure you that the things some people will go through to make money off of prime real estate are really God awful.

    Don't take my word for it, rent and watch the John Sayles movie, "Sunshine State" and take a glimpse into the world that I grew up in. Then maybe you will understand why all of these recent revelations look so familiar to me.

    Regards, Ed Garren

  • Rachel (unverified)

    [Insulting comment removed. -editor.]

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)

    He didn't leave soon enough. Why this little jerk retained a legion of so-called progressive fans is beyond me and certainly proves that progressives (so-called) can "look the other way" as well as anyone else can.

    To name one thing that annoyed me a great deal about this twit, he took your tax dollars in a back room deal for the Civic Stadium renovation so that millionaire Harry Glickman could earn $75,000 a year playing computer solitaire for his son's PGE Park firm (as reported in the Willamette Week).

    Bob Tiernan

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