Sure, I had been in the legislature for 9 years when I first decided to run for the council, but my base of support was, by and large, labor unions and the individuals within those unions. I quickly learned that union support, while important, was not going to be good enough. I had to start making phone calls to people….ugh……downtown!
So I swallowed my pride and accepted a list of names and organizations my campaign had compiled of the “important” men and women I should talk to in order to make a viable run for the council. I also started working on my own, longer list of “who’s who” in Portland. One of the names I came up with, of course, was Neil Goldschmidt.
When I was done, I began cold-calling the people on my list and making appointments. I was not asking for contributions to my campaign. Rather, I was attempting to explain who I was, why I was running and why I believed what I had to offer the city council would be good for Portland.
Having grown up in Portland, coming of age in the 60’s, the name Neil Goldschmidt was somewhat intimidating to me. He was a city commissioner while I was still at Grant High School, the mayor when I attended Portland State, the Secretary of Transportation for Jimmy Carter when I got hired by the Portland Fire Bureau and Governor when I was the President of the Portland Firefighters Association.
I arrived for my appointment with Neil, however, deep in the groove of my own campaign for city council. Having never had a personal conversation with Neil before, I will admit to being more nervous than my typical “meet and greet”.
I remember him coming out to the reception area where I was waiting with a smile on his face. Wearing casual clothes, he shook my hand warmly and asked me to come into his office with him. After the initial pleasantries, I began telling Neil about myself, my background, and the problems I saw in the existing city government. I used Columbia Sportswear as a case-in-point example of the city’s bad attitude toward attracting and keeping good family wage jobs in Portland.
As I got into the city’s incompetent handling of Columbia Sportswear, Neil did something nobody else had done in these conversations up to that point. He interrupted me with a question.
“What would you have done differently if you had been on the council, Randy?”
I had strong feelings on the subject.
“First, I would have recognized how important Columbia Sportswear was to the city,” I began. “I would have interjected myself into the permitting process – a process driven by second and third tier bureaucrats – in order to resolve the fairly minor issues holding up Columbia Sportswear’s desire for a building permit.”
Those were virtually the last words I spoke in that meeting. Neil catapulted up from his chair, chopping the air with both hands.
“That’s exactly right,” he nearly shouted at me. “That’s what is missing in this city today. People are not willing to get into the trenches to make something happen.”
I listened for the next 10 minutes as Neil gave me examples of how he had done what I was proposing to do and how that always made the difference between success and failure. He was late for a lunch appointment and asked me if I could walk with him while we talked. “Of course,” were the only words he left time for me to get out of my mouth. As we walked, he continued telling me that what I was talking about was the key to turning Portland around.
After we shook hands and parted ways, I was energized. Not only had my meeting gone well with Neil Goldschmidt, he did something I never expected. He inspired me. Before I had met with Neil, I really didn’t know if what I was saying to people was resonating or not. Plus, I was beginning to feel the grind of the campaign catching up to me.
That day, I knew I had found my voice. One of the most successful public officials I was aware of had given me not just encouragement, but validation.
After my election, I remember hearing Neil on OPB as he gave an interview regarding his recent nomination by Governor Kulongoski to the State Board of Higher Education. Having been in the legislature, I knew that was a board that needed a swift kick to get it in gear.
Neil talked about being a working class kid growing up in Eugene and having the opportunity to go to the University of Oregon. He said what I have said about my own college education many times. If conditions then had been what they are today, he probably could not have been able to go to college. We must, Neil said, make tuition more affordable and invest more in this state’s colleges. If we don’t, Oregon will lose its up and coming kids to other states that put their money where their mouth is.
As I was listening, I thought back on my meeting with Neil. I knew that the voice coming through the radio was laser focused on what he was talking about. "Thank you", I said to myself. "He is exactly what that Board needs."
I first heard of Neil Goldschmidt’s rape of a 14-year-old girl from a phone call I received from Phil Stanford. Phil wanted to know if I had ever heard the story before. “God no,” I told him. I was actually meeting with Peter Bragdon, Governor Kulongoski’s chief of staff, at the time. When I hung up I told him what Phil Stanford had asked me. I will never forget the look on Peter’s face. His mouth dropped open and his face turned ashen.
Like most people, I felt betrayed by Neil when I learned the details of his criminal behavior. That the young woman Neil raped lost the innocence of her youth is bad enough. From the press accounts I have read, it would appear that her victimization at 14 inalterably changed her life, some would say even ruined it.
Neil’s actions are a sad example of a human truth I learned long ago. Good people are sometimes capable of doing very bad things just as bad people are also capable of doing good things.
The tragedy of this whole sordid case is not only that Neil ruined the life of a 14-year-old girl, he made it so that I feel guilty even writing the things I have here about his good side, the wonderful attributes that made him Portland’s shining star in the 60’s and the 70’s. By his actions he has destined himself to the worst sentence a man like Neil Goldschmidt could ever envision, avoidance….at all costs.
But that’s a tea Neil brewed himself, and if he were left to steep in it alone, I would probably not be writing this story. Unfortunately, there are some who would love nothing more than to drown another man – Ted Kulongoski – in Neil’s dark brew.
I have known Ted Kulongoski personally since I was an intern in the 1975 Oregon Legislature. He is, as I wrote here, one of the most decent people I have ever known. Ted is driven to do the right thing. I do not believe he would ever compromise his principles, beliefs or his office to subvert the public good. He is simply not made that way.
Ted Kulongoski says he did not know of the allegations that apparently had been around for years about Neil’s rape of the 14 year old girl. I believe him. If he had known, I don’t believe he would have befriended Neil or asked him to serve on the State Board of Higher Education.
I am committed to doing whatever Ted Kulongoski asks me to do to help him win re-election next year. I know the good the things he saw in Neil were the same things I experienced. I now know that Neil had a dark side I had no clue about. Neither did Ted.
I expect the republicans to go after Ted to try to hang Neil’s crime around his neck. I’m not biting. And I’m hoping my “blue” friends, and all fair-minded Oregonians, won’t either.