After Sten’s recent resignation, many still wonder why

After last week’s flurry about Erik Sten’s departure from the Portland City Council, one question has remained unanswered by Portland’s media sources: Why can he leave midterm?

After last week’s flurry about Erik Sten’s departure from the Portland City Council, one question has remained unanswered by Portland’s media sources: Why can he leave midterm?

“What I don’t understand is why did he run for re-election if he didn’t think he was going to serve the whole time,” a Willamette Weekreader, Christina, posted on

Likewise, readers of the Portland Tribune say they want to know why Sten has decided to leave almost three years before his term ended.

“WHY is Sten resigning? Call me crazy, but I’ll bet I’m not the only one who’d like to know that,” wrote Joe.

“Like Joe, I wonder WHY, and WHY NOW? What is behind his decision to not live up to the commitment he signed on for when he sought this position?” added reader “BC.”

Sten told the Vanguard Thursday that he never intended to leave the City Commissioner’s seat only a year after he was elected in 2006. “I didn’t go into the last election thinking I was going to leave,” he said.

But he said he does think it is a big decision to leave an elected office midterm. “I think one should not run for office lightly,” he said.

Then why would he leave an elected spot after only a little more than a year?

He said it has to do with him feeling as if he needs different work–work outside of the public sector–and that the city council needs new blood.

“The idea of someone giving up an elected office because they are tired is much less of a problem” than someone staying in the office too long, Sten said.

That’s a rationale that Richard Clucas, professor of political science at Portland State, said could make people better understand Sten’s resignation.

“One might argue that if that is what he’s doing, we don’t want him in there,” Clucas speculated. “If he’s just sticking around to stick around, he shouldn’t be in there.”

“It’s unfortunate that he didn’t make this decision two years ago,” Clucas said about the importance for elected officials to have foresight before they run for office.

In 2006, a large part of the reason that Sten ran was because of the opposition he faced in Ginny Burdick, a Democratic state senator for Tigard and Southwest Portland. Sten says that he felt Burdick would have undone things he worked for during his previous two terms as a council member and wouldn’t have been the right choice.

“If I had decided not to go for re-election, a lot of things I had done would go by the wayside,” he said.

Sten said he had planned to remain committed and finish his term as a council member, but that he had a sort of epiphany, realizing that he thought it was time to move on. He said he thinks his resignation does have a large impact, but that it is important to have someone in office who is really excited to be on the council-like he was when he started in 1996.

It is important, Sten said, to look at what each elected official has done in office when they depart. He said he feels that after working in public office for 10 years, he has accomplished what he set out to do for the city council.

“I don’t think we’ve succeeded, but we’ve done some good work,” Sten said about changing Portland into an environmental hub of the world and turning it into a world-class city.

Now, Sten says he is tired, particularly of public life. The only answer that Sten has given to any of the more than 30 interviews about his departure is that he is not as excited about public work as he once was.

Phil Stanford of the Tribune reported a rumor that a few weeks before Sten resigned from office, a Portlander berated Sten in front of his wife and child. Sten said that although he has always been happy to talk with the public, it can be difficult.

“Every time you leave, you have to go talk to people,” he said.

Sten has been credited as the soul behind the city’s efforts to curb homelessness and as the mind behind the influx of Portland’s affordable housing. News sources and citizens alike have touted him as an accomplished public official and the least patriarchal council member.

He said that he values the time he has spent and accomplishments he has attained while in public office, but he now plans to work in the private sector, most likely in green technology or housing. He said the response to his resignation has been mostly positive, especially from potential employers.

“Presently, I’ve had a lot of job calls,” he said.

Despite his early resignation on April 4, the seat will not be vacant for long. There will be a special election during the May 20 primary to fill Sten’s seat, which the city council voted 4-0 for on Wednesday.