Of the Keizertimes

Former mayor Dennis Koho is seeking a political comeback, this time as a city councilor.

Koho announced this week his plans to seek an open seat on the Keizer City Council. He owns a law firm on River Road, having graduated Willamette Law School after leaving elected politics.

Koho sees his candidacy as a link to days gone by – citing the way Keizer’s old city hall was repainted as an example. The city bought the paint, and volunteers did the rest.

“Under the new system, when we needed something done more significantly on the city hall, we spent a whole lot of money,” Koho said. “In the old era, if we had been in the position of having to build a city hall, we probably would have done it for a quarter of the cost.”

Koho found himself crossways with a majority of councilors on the development of Keizer Station’s Area C. He opposed placement of a big-box grocer on the site at Lockhaven Drive and Chemawa Road.

“The simple thing that would have avoided most of the problems is not to take that one big (building) pad and move it out of Area A,” which is the currently-developed portion of Keizer Station, Koho said. “Then we wouldn’t be having the argument about Walmart (being) right up next to a residential community.”

2012 is shaping up to be an interesting year politically in Keizer, which typically sees few contested council elections. He was part of two, defeating Mike Hart and Newton in 1992 and Jim Keller in 1994.

“We all got out, knocked on doors and talked to people, and it was good for the city,” Koho said.

First elected to the council in 1990, he was elected mayor in 1992 and served three terms before choosing not to seek re-election in 1998, when he was succeeded by the late Bob Newton. That year Koho unsuccessfully sought a Marion County Commission seat, running as a Democrat against Patti Milne.

In addition to his stint in Keizer, Koho has served on the Salem Area Mass Transit Board and for a time was its president. Koho counts among his successes using urban renewal funds to place power lines along River Road and Cherry Avenue underground, improving the look of the city’s main arterials.

“If you look back from the late 1980s with the large signs and the overhead wires – (now) it’s phenomenal,” he said.

He also includes achieving stable financing for the city, including when the permanent tax base was passed in 1996. Before that, the city had sought a series of operating levies. He also touts increasing public involvement and volunteerism and the arrival of the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.

“None of these are things I did myself – we had a pretty good team,” he said.

If Koho had the chance to relive his electoral glory days during the 1990s, he said he would have sought more consensus. The saying was that a mayor or councilor only needed to count to four – the number of votes needed to gain passage on Keizer’s council.

Koho supported Keizer Fire District in the recent Clear Lake election, but draws a distinction: He said he would have chosen a less confrontational manner and perhaps delayed the issue, but feels Keizer Fire will inevitably serve the whole city at some point. He opposed the public safety communications fee backed by both the city council and the fire district’s board, saying he wasn’t convinced the money was truly needed.

He has yet to file for the position, but said he would most likely run for Position 1, currently held by David McKane, who is mulling a mayoral run. In any case, McKane said last week, he’s not seeking re-election to the council.

So far, Koho is the only council candidate to formally declare candidacy. Mark Caillier and Brandon Smith are both up for re-election but have yet to announce their plans.