Thursday, January 10, 2008

Erik Sten: floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee

From the new issue of Street Roots coming out tomorrow...

Erik Sten was dubbed the “Street fighter” back in 2003 by Street Roots for his constant effort to work in favor of the poor. Erik has proven to be more than a city commissioner, or a major influence at City Hall. He’s an individual that has helped craft what Portland is today. And we, along with many others in the city, will miss him tremendously when he retires from the council on April 1.

Newspaper editorial boards around the city are holding up his achievements to obtain — or in many cases simply retain — affordable housing and spearhead local efforts to end homelessness, but Erik is more than just a figurehead for a social movement.

Erik Sten is one of the few individuals in Portland politics that knows many people experiencing homelessness by name. He’s a craftsman for creating an even playing field for grassroots organizations and campaigns made up of the very individuals he represents. His efforts to enhance the lives of individuals from all walks of life, cultures and interests is something that we shouldn’t take for granted. Inside a broken bureaucracy, Erik has found ways to create change and to empower people to believe in the common good.

In fact, less than a week after his announcement to leave City Hall, he found himself standing in front of a jammed Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood meeting – chock full of service providers, housing and homeless activists, city staffers, uneasy neighborhood activists, frustrated business owners, and anxious developers — all there to hear what the commissioner had to say on the now controversial homeless day-access center.

In classic form, Erik spoke to every interest in the room in a way that was attentive, forthcoming and inspiring. Instead of being baited into a debate spurred on by sensationalized media coverage designed to pit one side against the other, the commissioner simply disarmed the tension and broke things down in a way that every interest in the room could understand and respect.

On many occasions, local and national interest groups have taken shots at Erik’s intended to undermine his progressive approach of creating change through innovative strategies, collaboration and respect.

But Erik has always stood tall. His compassion and wisdom, along with his patient demeanor and excellent public speaking skills, have allowed for a political career that floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee — like a true street fighter.

And in all of Erik’s praise, from the streets to the ball, we cannot go without mentioning the individuals on Erik’s staff that have shown patience, perseverance and skill to make Portland the best city on the West Coast, bar none – individuals such as Margaret Bax, Marshall Runkel, Rich Rodgers, Bob Durston, Jim Middaugh, Cindy Gaulke, Jamaal Folsom, Angie Harris, and many more. Some of whom have been more than kind to the media and in many ways have helped bring Street Roots into a different class of newspapers in Portland.

Still, with only three months left in Erik’s tenure, we have lots of work to do. Let’s get to it.

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