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Portland’s Weiner: A Sex Scandal Grows in Oregon (Updated)

Details of county chief’s sordid affair with subordinate emerge.

10:08 AM, Jul 25, 2013 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
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Portland is nothing if not tolerant. The picturesque city in the Pacific Northwest has, in recent years, endured one mayor who admitted to a gay affair with an underage intern, a different mayor who claimed residency in Washington state (where there is no income tax) yet voted in Oregon, not to mention downtown streets choked with aggressive transients. (Oh, and the weather's not great either.) But a new scandal must be trying the patience of even the most forgiving denizens of Portlandia.

jeff cogen

Multnomah County (home of Portland) chair Jeff Cogen, a Democrat, admitted a little more than a week ago to a two-year long affair with a subordinate, Sonia Manhas. Upon admitting the affair, Cogen, who is married, proceeded to take five days of paid vacation (or, "paid adultery leave," if you're feeling cheeky), before returning to work earlier this week. While Cogen did not supervise Manhas directly, he oversaw the county when she received a significant promotion and raise. And while Cogen now claims that he had no influence on her promotion, Manhas did list him as a reference when applying for the new position.

What's more, nearly 700 pages of emails between Cogen and Manhas, released early last week, reveal that—when not flirting on the county dime—they actively discussed work matters. They appear to have gone around the normal chain of command; Manhas's direct supervisor was bypassed on a number of issues. As Portland's Willamette Week has reported, "Records released by the county last week included dozens of instances in which they discussed a range of policies; worked jointly on talking points and strategy; and, in some cases, arranged to cut Manhas’ boss . . . out of the communications loop."

Cogen, meanwhile, has been caught in a string of dishonesties since copping to the affair. He was also forced to admit earlier this week that he used county money to upgrade a hotel room for a tryst with Manhas. (Though taxpayers can take heart: When asked two days ago whether he and Manhas ever had sex on county time, he said, "I don't think so.") Last night, he also revealed that he has another extramarital affair—though this occurred before he was county chair.

Manhas, for her part, announced her resignation yesterday, though she says that she stepped down only because the county was trying to force her out. Cogen, whose position is elected, has so far refused to step down. He's also been reluctant to talk to the press; repeated phone calls and emails from THE WEEKLY STANDARD have gone unanswered. But Manhas shouldn't be too upset. According to a letter from the Multnomah County Attorney's office, even though she announced her resignation just yesterday, Manhas will technically be on paid sick leave from July 23 to August 30. (It's good to be a government worker in Portland.) The letter, which was reportedly negotiated between Manhas and the county before she submitted her resignation, stipulates that she will need to produce a doctor's note, though. (One wonders: are broken hearts covered on the Multnomah County health insurance plan?)

Later today, the commissioners of Multnomah County are expected to vote on a non-binding resolution, which will demand Cogen's resignation. Manhas has also said that Cogen should resign. Should he steadfastly refuse to go, even in the face of what amounts to a no-confidence vote from his staff, it will represent a remarkable double-standard. Why should a female subordinate be forced out of a job, while a male superior keeps his? That's a sexist double-standard that the progressive population of Portland will find hard to stomach. Maybe the city's taxpayer funded Department of Equity and Human Rights can investigate. 

Update: Earlier today, the Multnomah Board of County Commissioners, which Cogen chairs, considered the aforementioned resolution calling for his resignation. The resolution, which required unanimous consent to be adopted, failed on a 4-1 vote. Who cast the opposing vote? Jeff Cogen. 

Benjamin Silver contributed reporting to this piece.

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