When he heard Astoria City Councilor Zetty Nemlowill had officially decided not to run for re-election, Roger Rocka hurried to turn in his paperwork.
Rocka, the former director of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, will face hairdresser David Drafall in November for the Ward 1 seat covering the west side.
Though Rocka has been involved in many aspects of the city’s development since moving here more than 20 years ago, this will be his first time running for public office.
City Councilor Cindy Price’s announcement this month that she was going to withdraw from the mayor’s race also influenced Rocka’s decision.
“Between the two of them, it was just not wanting to lose that voice on the council,” Rocka said. “I just wanted to make sure some of the values they have that I share continue to be expressed on the council.”
He describes these values as “making sure that Astoria is what the people who live in Astoria want it be and we don’t get pulled sideways by outside interests, by people other than the people who live here.”
His other priorities if elected include finding housing solutions, working to help the homeless and alleviating summer traffic issues.
“We’ve had too much of a good thing at this point,” he said of tourism.
Rocka also wants to ensure a level playing field when it comes to businesses like Airbnb-style vacation rentals operated out of people’s homes. He is pushing for all such businesses to have licenses through the city and be run “by the books.”
Rocka, 78, is on the Tillicum Foundation Board of Directors for Coast Community Radio. He grew up in Chicago, spent time in California and moved to Astoria in 1994, where he worked for the chamber for a decade. He has a background in broadcast news, but also owns a dinner theater business in Fresno, California, that he started in 1978.
During his time with the chamber, Rocka was part of efforts to create the Astoria Riverwalk and organized one of the first big riverfront cleanup events. He was also part of a group that made it their mission to create a safer and more inviting downtown.
Rocka is married to Jan Mitchell, who serves on the Planning Commission. Together, they were vocal in their criticism of two liquefied natural gas projects proposed in Clatsop County in the early 2000s. They were part of a group founded at that time, Columbia River Estuary Action Team, or CREATe, that dedicated itself to protecting the Columbia River.
“In my heart of hearts, I believe in equality,” he said. He wants to do what he can to create a city that exemplifies that belief. “I think the council can set an example for that.”