Multnomah County workers union backs Francesconi over Kafoury for chair


Jim FrancesconiFormer Portland City Commissioner Jim Francesconi won AFSCME Local 88’s endorsement in his race for Multnomah County Chair Feb. 19. The endorsement came after Francesconi squared off against two-term county commissioner Deborah Kafoury at a candidates forum for Local 88 members. Local 88 represents about 3,000 Multnomah County employees, and the candidates are vying to succeed Jeff Cogen, who resigned after exposure of an extramarital affair with a County employee.

Chances are, most voters don’t know much about the government of Oregon’s most populous county, but Local 88 members do. It’s a $1.5-billion-a-year operation with a broad portfolio of responsibilities: Not only bridges, libraries, courts, jails, and elections, but public health, animal control, restaurant inspections, property tax collection, policing and road maintenance in unincorporated areas, and services for seniors, the developmentally disabled and mentally ill, domestic violence survivors, addicts and ex-offenders. Whoever is elected chair will be responsible for all that, and will be the boss of Local 88 members’ bosses.

After intensive candidate interviews, Local 88’s volunteer Political Action Committee was evenly split over whether to endorse Francesconi or Kafoury. That left the decision wide open Feb. 19 at the union’s monthly general membership meeting. Members packed into Oregon AFSCME’s Portland office to hear Francesconi and Kafoury answer their written questions. [A third candidate — restaurant manager and Dominican immigrant Aquiles Montás — also took part in the candidates forum, but didn’t get serious consideration for endorsement.]

[pullquote]During the mayor’s race, I took too much money from downtown interests. That wiped out 25 years of working in the community and created the impression that I only cared about them.” — Jim Francesconi[/pullquote]In the members-only debate afterward over who to endorse, several Local 88 members said they were impressed by Francesconi’s self-presentation as a champion for minority opportunities and for Multnomah County’s impoverished outer east side. Members described Kafoury as a known quantity with a strong understanding of the County, and said she’s always had a good relationship with Local 88. But members had a hard time identifying any specific achievement during her time in office. Reelecting her would bring “more of the same,” members said, whereas Francesconi would be more likely to shake things up.

Francesconi told the Labor Press he was deeply honored to get Local 88’s endorsement. The race for chair is his first return to politics 10 years after he suffered a humiliating defeat in a race for Portland mayor. In that 2004 campaign, Francesconi was endorsed by AFSCME Local 189 and other unions, but got 38 percent of the vote in the general election — after outspending former police chief Tom Potter more than 15-to-1. The defeat came up at the Local 88 candidates forum when the candidates were asked to identify their biggest mistake.

“During the mayor’s race, I took too much money from downtown interests,” Francesconi said. “That wiped out 25 years of working in the community and created the impression that I only cared about them.”

Francesconi spent 18 years representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases, including migrant farmworkers and public employees. At one time, now-labor-commissioner Brad Avakian was his law partner. In 1996, he outpolled former state representative Gail Shibley to win a seat on Portland City Council, and was re-elected in 2000. In 2002, Francesconi sponsored a living wage ordinance to improve wages and benefits for janitors, security guards and parking attendants employed by City contractors, after a three-year campaign by Portland Jobs With Justice.

Losing the mayor’s race, Francesconi joined the Haglund Kelley law firm and took personal injury and medical negligence cases. He also represented minority contractors and a pair of unions, Operating Engineers Local 701 and the Pacific Northwest District Council of Carpenters in crafting a “community benefits agreement” endorsed by the Portland City Council, which sets out requirements that public construction projects use union labor, minority contractors, and apprentices. The Carpenters have endorsed his bid for County chair. Local 701’s endorsement interview was rescheduled to March 9 because of snow.

Kafoury, meanwhile, is backed by dozens of current and former City, County, and state elected leaders, and four labor organizations thus far: IBEW Local 48, International Longshore & Warehouse Union, Columbia Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council and Oregon Nurses Association.


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