She was a mother of two and frustrated about the state of her city’s parks for her children to play in.
Lore Christopher looked around and saw no one doing what she thought should be done for Keizer and its families. She was involved with Keizer Little League and spent almost 10 years on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board—parks began her political career but it ends with much more.
She’ll be the one first one to say she didn’t do anything—she was one of seven ‘folks’ helping out. She may have been one of seven votes, but her style and her determination aided her in forming coalitions, if not downright unanimous votes.
Lore Christopher always had Keizer and its residents’ best interest at heart. Her votes over the years reflect that philosophy. She sought consensus when she could and barreled ahead when she could not.
A dynamo, Christopher put her energy and passion into all things Keizer which meant fostering close relations with officials from Salem and Marion County among others in the region. If one of those other governments wanted to do something not in Keizer’s favor she was the first to put her ‘stop’ hand up.
Though she called herself just a neighbor and a ‘folk,’ Lore Christopher grew into one of the most astute politicians in the Willamette Valley. She easily dispatched with ease two opponents who figured she was an easy electoral target. She had been approached many times to seek higher office. She never had aspirations for any other office.
As the Lore Christopher Era ends she can sit back and say “It’s good.”
Lore Christopher had a bit of a philosophical shift during her 14 years as Keizer’s mayor.
When Christopher took over in 2001 after two years on the Keizer City Council, she was bound and determined to shake things up and speed the wheels of government along.
“I had a real shift,” Christopher said recently as she prepares to hand over her title to veteran councilor Cathy Clark at the Jan. 5 council meeting. “I was going to kick butt and take names. But I came to respect the founding fathers and their approach. There is so much public process. You put money in the pot together and decide how to spend the money.”
For example, at the start of her reign – Christopher was Keizer’s first female mayor and served the longest tenure to date – a drawn-out process like the one resulting in Keizer Station would have been unfathomable.
“It was painful to go through the Keizer Station process for eight years,” Christopher said. “But look at how highly successful that has been. When the economy took a down turn and folded up, we didn’t. Two stores left, but they left all their locations. It comes down to the time it took to plan that all out.”
Lore Christopher, change agent? Not so much.
“When I first got involved, I thought everything takes so long,” she recalled. “I thought that wouldn’t happen with me. I’ve really come to understand it. The longer you take, the more debate, the more painful, the better the decision it is. There’s less animosity or naysayers that come to the table because they’ve had the chance to be heard. It takes a long time to get things through government. That was the way it was designed. You answer every question, then move forward. I can’t believe how many times I thought (something) would start this way and it ended this way (instead). I thought I was going to be a change agent.”
Part of that was the realization the mayor is simply one voice in a group.
“You sit in a chair. You’re not accomplishing that stuff,” Christopher said. “Everyone else is doing the heavy lifting. You are not acting alone. It takes six other councilors, it takes a myriad of volunteers. I’ve been exceedingly blessed to be surrounded by such talented people. Our little city has been able to accomplish more than larger cities due to the community spirit.”
SHE SAID IT
“You don’t have politicians up here. What you have are neighbors helping neighbors.” – Regarding the installation of new city councilors. January 7, 2005
“ We’re kind of a Honey Pot kind of community” – At city council meeting responding to testimony about building flush bathrooms at some city parks. March 5, 2012
Salem “either joins us as partners…or we divorce them.” – Regarding efforts to expand urban growth boundaries and bring more industry to Keizer. June 10, 2011
“I’m feeling decadent tonight. I’ve got bad hair and no underwear.” – Remarks at Chamber awards banquet. January 25, 2003
“I was just a mom tryng to get a swing in a park,” – Regarding an appointment to the city council in 1998.
“It’s very problematic when you have the job. I’m not just the mayor, I’m a candidate.” – Mayor’s response to police union’s criticism of public car use on National Night Out. September 20, 2002
“Keizer Station only works as long as it complements, and doesn’t compete, with River Road.” – Regarding plans for River Road revitalization. January 14, 2005
“Until now, there wasn’t any place in Keizer to buy underwear and socks. Now we have a Target going in.” – November 2005
“We’re a destination, they just don’t know it yet.” – Regarding talks about bringing more tourists to Keizer. July 29, 2011
“They felt like that took away from the position, and so when we were talking about serious issues it’s really hard to be serious when you remember that fat mayor in that wet T-shirt.” – Regarding dunk tank controversy, June 18, 2012
The outgoing mayor pointed to the Big Toy project as an example.
“We are absolutely going to build the Big Toy,” Christopher said. “When has Keizer not built something we said we would? We always execute.”
Another example came when Christopher was asked what – if anything – in Keizer should bear her name as a reminder of her contributions.
“I have no idea,” she said. “I don’t mean to sound flip when I say this, but that’s not really important to me. I don’t need to have the Christopher something. When I drive down Chemawa Road and see the community center, I know we built it. When I go to Keizer Station, I can buy socks and underwear. Every summer when I’m down (at Keizer Rapids Park), I’m so proud of that. That’s all mine and that’s all yours. We all did it together.”
Christopher said the team concept she sees at the city level has seeped into all aspects of her life.
“I guess what I’ve learned is politics is a team sport,” she said. “You don’t do anything individually. For example, when we built our cabin in Bend, I had my seven others. I’m just so used to making a decision in committee. I value the opinion of those people I trust. It can even be your opponent.”
Speaking of opponent, only twice in her seven campaigns for mayor did Christopher face an opponent. That included her last campaign in 2012 when she faced councilor David McKane, with whom Christopher had memorably clashed in 2011. While not mentioning McKane by name, Christopher did seem to reference him when asked if she had any regrets from her time as mayor.
“I sometimes speak out too quickly,” Christopher said. “I’ve heard from time to time I was brusque with someone, or hurt someone’s feelings. I felt terrible. I don’t want to do that. In interpersonal relationships with the city council, there were times when things got more heated than they should have. I didn’t need to be the person to add fuel to the fire.”
Along those lines, Christopher’s advice for Clark and other councilors is to get along with others, even in the midst of disagreements.
“Be accessible and be kind,” Christopher said. “We can disagree and not be disagreeable. I don’t have to punch you or be mean to you. We’ve had folks be angry, who said you don’t listen. Well, maybe we didn’t agree, but we did listen. Because these are issues that hit close to home, folks are very emotionally invested. Our job is not to get into that but to keep looking into the future. Don’t alienate those folks. I can have a conversation with any of those people who have spoken.”
Christopher herself was one of those folks not long after moving to Keizer in 1988, driven to speak up about the needs for improved parks in Keizer.
“It truly was I was a young family with young kids,” said Christopher, who has worked in human resources for years and is currently a human resources director for the state. “My daughter was 6 or 7 and I had a son who was 2. Keizer did not have a lot of amenities for parks. I lived in those parks and I knew others were as well. I got involved in the Parks Board. I wanted swing sets and big toys in our parks. They were expensive.
“I would speak in front of the city council, all men, all older,” she added. “They didn’t know where the parks were. They didn’t understand how critical those parks were to families. I thought there needs to be the perspective of young families on the city council. It was really hard to get funding (for parks).”
Christopher visited every park last summer with 3-year-old grandson Eliot, in order to note the changes to parks over the years. She acknowledged it is a “dicey kettle of fish” to serve on council while having young children at home.
“When you’re in the midst of raising young children, it’s very difficult,” she said. “When you have middle school or high school kids, it’s manageable.”
After a decade on the Parks Board, Christopher was appointed to the Keizer City Council in August 1998 by a random drawing. She took over as mayor in January 2001.
In 2000, Christopher figured she would stay on as a councilor. She credits then-Mayor Bob Newton with pushing her to become Keizer’s first female mayor.
“I had already filed to run for city council,” Christopher said. “I’m sincere when I say I wouldn’t have voted for me, because I only had two years of experience. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I have never worked with another councilor who loved Keizer the way (Newton) did. He truly loved Keizer. He took joy in small things like the Keizer Community Band and in big things like the skate park.”
Christopher said Newton informed her no one one on council at the time was running for mayor.
“There was no one, so even my two years of experience was better than no experience,” she said. “He did wear me down. I was not prepared to be mayor. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. More, I felt he had done such a great job as mayor. I didn’t want someone following him that would mess things up.”
Along those lines, Christopher feels the city is in good hands with Clark taking over.
“I’m not formal,” Christopher said of how she runs meetings. “Cathy is much better than I am. She will have a more structured meeting. We’ve never had a more prepared new mayor than Cathy. She’s been at it for eight years on council. She has done some heavy lifting. She’s got a lot of accomplishments. She knows the job. I feel fabulous about it. It should make the people of Keizer confident moving forward. This is someone who has been there for eight years. We’re not going to hell in a handbasket.”
Christopher will still be active in the city, particularly in regards to art. She is currently on the Keizer Arts Commission (expected to be renamed soon), but don’t expect her to be hanging out at council mee tings on Mondays after Clark takes over.
“You won’t see a lot of me the first year,” Christopher said. “People are used to me. It would not be fair to Cathy Clark that I show up. People will have a tendency to talk to me. I don’t want that for her. I want her to make her own mark. I did put in my volunteer application for the art association. Anything Cathy asks me to do, I will support her.”
Having said that, Christopher noted if there is an issue she feels compelled to speak about, don’t rule out the thought of her testifying during public comment. And as one might expect, Christopher sees some big issues coming up, mainly centered about the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) expansion.
“My vision was always to support the medical businesses we have,” Christopher said. “We have Silverton Health and Kaiser Permanente. That’s phase one. We have room for 20,000 more feet. If we could bring that 200 acres in, that will all support businesses. It will be a home run. The UGB is the (biggest future issue). We have to do so much work down the road. With the Kaiser Permanente opening, if we’re able to get that into the UGB, it will take years to develop. We’re looking at six to 10 years. Look at how long Keizer Station took to develop. The sooner we can bring it in, the better.”
In a recent Keizertimes poll, 50 percent of respondents gave Christopher an ‘A’ grade for her performance as mayor, though the high marks may have been aided by son Evan’s social networking campaign for such marks. How would Christopher grade herself?
“I’ve been really fortunate,” she said. “A lot of good things have happened the last 14 years, but not because of me. I’ve been holding onto the coattails. I’m a solid B. There are some things I could have done better.”
THEY SAID IT
“Her leadership, consensus team building, enthusiasm and passion for the people of Keizer that has led to her success in creating many of Keizer’s greatest assets such as Keizer Station, the Civic Center, River Road beautification and bringing art to Keizer.” — Richard Walsh, Keizer City Councilor, 2000-11
“By all measures Lore Christopher has done us proud. The dreams, hopes and aspirations of the Incorporation Committee were not only met but significantly enhanced during Lore’s time as mayor. I give her a grade of A+ for a job well done.” — Chet Patterson, Keizer City Councilor, 1983-86
“Lore was a good mayor, not always a good listener, juggled a lot of balls, dropped a few, kicked them aside and kept on juggling. I would say she was an effective mayor.” — Marc H. Adams, former Keizer Police Chief (1997-2013)
“Lore’s legacy seems to focus on Keizer Station, but she also was an effective regional player advocating for Keizer’s interests.” — John Morgan, former community development director 1990-98
“Lore Christopher has stood out among the giants (of Keizer’s mayors). Christopher’s era will be marked by the major development of our city parks system and by the near completion of Keizer Station. Her legacy will most likely be her stimulation and support of the arts.” — Dr. Jerry McGee, Keizer City Councilor, 1991-2003
“Her vision for creating economic opportunity in Keizer — the biggest venture being Keizer Station.” — Janet Carlson, Marion County Commissioner
“The Christopher Era could be summed up as managed tenaciousness for keeping Keizer livable and lovable.” — Christine Dieker, Executive Director, Keizer Chamber of Commerce
“Lore Christopher was mayor during a very active time in the city’s history. We had the development of Keizer Station, the building of the Civic Center, the development of Keizer Rapids Park, and the great recession. She led the city with great character and strength and was consistent in her love of the community. I would describe her era as ‘the time of many great things’.” — Chris Eppley, Keizer City Manager
“(Lore Christopher’s) legacy centers on economic development—River Road Renaissance and Keizer Station, increase in number and acreage of parks, and the establishment of public arts.” — Cathy Clark, Keizer Mayor-Elect