Simonis wants new voice among city council members

By Mara Stine
The Gresham Outlook, Sep 26, 2008
Original story here

One candidate is a city government veteran with years of experience under his belt.

The other is a political newcomer who wants to represent a Gresham constituency not reflected on the council.

Jenni Simonis, pronounced, "Simon is," said it's the perfect time for voters to elect a new fresh-thinking councilor to the city's only contested open council seat, now held by Councilor David Widmark. Because the two other councilors up for re-election are running unopposed, six councilors with extensive experience would remain to mentor her if she wins Widmark's seat, formally known as Position 1.

The current council "doesn't represent the entire city," she said. "I've heard again and again we don't have any representation for the northern half of the city."

Four councilors live in Gresham's high-end Persimmon area, with a fifth living in an adjacent neighborhood. Only one lives on Gresham's north side, and even that councilor's home is on the north-south edge, Simonis said.

Simonis lives in Northeast Gresham near Mt. Hood Community College.

Forty percent of Gresham residents rent, as does Simonis, but all the city councilors are homeowners, she said.

More middle-class working families are moving to Gresham, but only councilor - Mayor Shane Bemis - has young children.

"I understand what they go through every day," she said of Gresham's growing young-family demographic. There aren't enough family-wage jobs in town, which forces residents to commute. Which means more money spent on gas or time spent on buses traversing the city as part of a mass transit system that needs better connectivity, she said.

Electing her would, "just allow a greater voice of the community on the council," she said.

As for issues facing the council, Simonis said the most important ones are public safety, transportation and livability issues.

Although the council has various positions, they do not represent a particular geographical part of the city. Instead, each seat is at large - or represents the entire city.

For example, although Widmark lives in Gresham's older Northwest Neighborhood, as a city councilor he recently found himself in the home of a Mt. Hood Neighborhood resident who complained about construction noise as early as 7 a.m. at the new sports park.

"And in about 20 minutes we had the problem solved," Widmark said. "I guess you'd call me a fixer."

Although Widmark is a homeowner, he also has a rental property and knows the issues facing renters. In fact, he spearheaded the city's landmark ordinance regulating payday lenders because they took advantage of the city's poorer residents.

Widmark's had a yo-yo like history as a councilor, coming and going as career, family and health issues interfered with council duties. But his health has improved, he's retired, no longer is caring for elderly relatives and in a sense, wants to be re-elected so he can finish what he and the rest of the council has started.

"It's that commitment that I have to my community, I care about my community," Widmark said. "I know the issues. And this council works really well together ... The team would like to stay together."

The current council has been praised as professional, productive and hard-working. Recent accomplishments include getting construction of the sports park, which languished for 18 years, off the ground; starting construction of a Center for the Arts plaza; creating a new design commission; an eco-friendly de-construction of the old Fred Meyer site in Rockwood; streamlining the citizen involvement process; and placing a public safety levy before voters on the November ballot.

Such actions reflect Widmark's top council priorities - economic development, public safety and redeveloping West Gresham/Rockwood.

Another project near and dear to Widmark's heart - a skate park in Main City Park - is set for next spring. He'd like to still be on the council to see the project to fruition and hopes voters recognize his experience, leadership and vision for the community by re-electing him, he said.


Jenni Simonis

Age: 30

City of residence: Gresham for eight years

Occupation: Stay-at-home mother, part-time Web site designer

Prior government experience, community involvement: President of the Northeast Gresham Neighborhood Association and as such serves on Gresham's Neighborhood Coalition, precinct committee person since 2000, served on workgroup advising city on a new rental property inspection program, volunteers at Hall Elementary School, campaigned locally against Wal-Mart and for various bonds, levies, ballot measures and initiatives, coordinated voter registration on two local college campuses, worked for a Texas congressman helping constituents with issues such as dealing with federal agencies.

Family: Husband of 11 years, Andy, 6-year-old daughter Abby

Hobbies, interests: Photography, reading, gardening

Endorsements: Mult-nomah County Democratic Party.

Web site:


David Widmark

Age: 60

City of residence: Gresham since 1972

Occupation: retired this summer as general manager of Cramer Fish Sciences, a fisheries consulting firm based in Gresham and spent 36 years working for the U.S. Forest Service.

Prior government experience, community involvement: Selected by council in August 2007 to replace Councilor Karylinn Echols when she resigned; selected by the council in 2005 to replace Councilor Dave Shields after he resigned, but back problems prevented him from run for the elected council position in 2006; served as a councilor from 1996 to 1998; a planning commissioner from 1988 to 1996; and as a member of the city's finance committee; board of directors for Portland's Albertina Kerr Center, which provides services to children, adults and families with emotional or mental health challenges and developmental disabilities.

Family: Wife of 37 years Sherrill Friesen-Widmark, two grown daughters, 30-month-old grandson

Hobbies, interests: Woodworking, gardening, traveling by recreational vehicle

Endorsements: Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis and the other five Gresham city councilors, the East Metro Association of Realtors, Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Former Mayor Gussie McRobert, Metro Councilor Rod Park

Web site:


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