Karol Collymore, a 32-year-old transplant from New Mexico has worked as a staff member for Multnomah County Commissioner Jeff Cogen, who was recently elevated to interim county chair after Ted Wheeler was appointed state treasurer after Ben Westlund passed away.
Collymore, who last year almost won appointments to vacant seats in the Legislature, has thrown her hat into the crowded ring to replace her boss. Her remarks have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Why are you running?
I’m running because I’m really excited about translating my values into positive community action. I think I’ve already done that with my work in Jeff Cogen’s office. So I’m really looking forward to pushing that work forward and continuing some things we’ve already under way, and some things I’d like to do.
One of the things is obesity and obesity prevention. One of the first things we did with that is the calories labels on menus at chain restaurants. Because of that work which was part of a grant that the Health Department got. And that work is focused on north and northeast Portland. The second item is the disparity between jails as mental health facilities and actual mental health facilities and trying to bridge that gap. Because there’s a piece missing. There’s the piece where we’re arresting people who’ve committed some crime and we arrest people who are mentally ill, and we’re are not able to put them in a hospital, so they sit there and are released. So it’s finding that missing link to prevent people from dying in jail which happens, and getting people proper treatment.
The first part of that missing piece is allowing our nurses and social workers to have the right to admit people to hospitals. I think that’s probably the first step. So for me that’s the number one start to let professionals who are recognizing schizophrenia to say this person needs to be in the hospital.
Some people say your roots in this community aren’t deep enough. How do you respond?
I think there are a lot of ways for people to dismiss my work. I hate sometimes when people say she hasn’t paid her dues or she hasn’t earned her time. I think occasionally that’s code for she’s a woman who hasn’t been married and hasn’t had a child. I think my work speaks for itself. I know my neighborhood. I knew that St. Johns needed a farmers market. I did the work to pull the neighborhood together to make sure they had one. And it opened. And it opens again on June 5th. I know my neighborhood needed a library between the North Portland Branch and the St. Johns branch, and I worked for three years with neighborhood chairs and people in the community to figure out where they wanted their library, how they wanted it to look like, and how they wanted it to run. And that library opened March 8 I think that is clear evidence that I know my community. I think if that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t have the support I do to run for this seat.
I also think it’s the case I haven’t been alive as some of the people who live here. I’ve done the work and happily so. I’ve been involved in great organizations like NARAL. and Basic Rights Oregon. and Hands on Portland.That’s how I answer that.
Can the county government do anything to mitigate gentrification of north and northeast Portland?
I think that we sort of got an after start on that by trying to get the county a seat at the Portland Development Commission table when they start to talk about urban renewal and what gets done with those dollars. I think that’s a lot of the problem. We start giving money to places to encourage them to move in, but do nothing for the people who are already there. I think that’s a start. I had an interesting experience last night. I was out on Alberta and I was at the by-and-by and I was like whoa there is nothing of the community that was here when I was here seven years ago. That said, it’s good to revitalize communities, but you know there has to be a better way to get people engaged. I think things like the Alberta Art Walk, which started out as a multicultural art walk. We really need to refocus that and encourage the city of Portland to look at that and say, look this started out as a diverse community wanting to be part of Portland. How do we let that stay? I don’t think it’s an issue of people of color are poor and white people have money and so they get to stay and you get to go. I don’t think it’s about that. I think there are also people of color who also have money who want to be able to stay in the neighborhood. It’s not just about pricing people out; it’s about making people feel they’re still wanted, and I think the art walk has been an example of it. And businesses that we want to keep around. I think it’s so sad that Hannah Beas is gone off MLK. Why did that happen and what can we do to protect businesses that have always been there.
What are your thoughts on the PDC’s North/Northeast Economic Development Initiative?
I’d like to see it focus on businesses and organizations that have tired really hard to keep the neighborhood up and wanted. For example this organization, the Delta, this sorority of women, have tried to build the String Key Delta House on Albina, and they’ve been trying to work on it since 1999 trying to get traction trying to get funds trying to do the right thing. And after 10 years, they’re not even in debt. They want to build this beautiful community center and they’re just looking for some life from PDC. So that’s one way I’d like to go.
You don’t own a car, how come?
I don’t need it, right? For me, and I know it’s not the case for everybody, for my own sustainability foot print, I don’t need a car. I can walk most places I can take TriMet most places. I am a strong believer in Zip Car, if I really need to get somewhere far. I don’t need to add that extra foot print.
What figures in Oregon politics do you admire?
So many. I won’t say Jeff Cogen, even though I do. I like women like [Oregon Secretary of State]Kate Brown who sort of closes her ears to the detractors and blazes her path and goes forth, as an open person. She didn’t need to tell anyone she’s bi-sexual, she’s married to a man. But she chose to be her authentic self and let folks take her and leave her. And they’ve taken her they’ve taken her really far and that’s wonderful. For me too, I want to live my life with my most authentic self. If that means I dance around to Michael Jackson that means that’s what I do, if that means I don’t drive a car. That’s important. Your beliefs or who you are.
There’s so many great women who are in politics. [Democratic State Rep.]Tina Kotek, the same deal, she is who she is in front of you or in front of anywhere else. Her real investment is in the people and not anything else. I love that about her. I love that about [Oregon House Majority Leader] Mary Nolen. I like that about Barbara Roberts.
Is there anything that Jeff Cogen could have done better?
I mean, I think there’s things that all of us could have done better. I think we did the best work we could. I would put his list of accomplishments in three and a half years up to anybody’s. We grew 14,000 pounds of food for the Oregon Food Bank, we opened a library. We’re two months away from opening the Gateway center for domestic violence services. Cell phone recycling. There’s so many things they don’t fit in my brain at once. The St. Johns farmers’ market, a garden in front of the juvenile justice center so kids on probation can learn a skill. Not only that but the internal politics of making the county no longer the butt of jokes.