| Neil Goldschmidt |
IMAGE: MICHALE OLFERT
Friday, May 7, 2004
Yesterday, just hours after Willamette Week posted a story detailing its two-month investigation into a sexual relationship between former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt and a 14-year-old girl during the 1970s, Goldschmidt issued a statement to The Oregonian in which he described the relationship as an "affair." The Oregonian also used the phrase repeatedly in its morning edition, including in its headline.
But court documents obtained earlier this year by WW paint a very different picture of the relationship. These documents consistently describe Goldschmidt’s behavior as "sexual abuse" and "molestation" that caused detrimental effects long afterwards.
Since Goldschmidt’s confession and the appearance of The Oregonian’s morning headline, psychologists and representatives of advocacy groups have questioned the use of the word "affair" to describe the abuse, which in Oregon is considered rape.
"You can’t say something that is illegal is an ‘affair,’" says University of Oregon child psychologist Elizabeth Stormshak. "I can’t think of a way that it would be anything other than molestation."
Stormshak claims that the power relationship between a man in his thirties and a 14-year-old girl would make the possibility of informed consent minimal. There’s a reason we have decided on a so-called "age of consent," she says.
"We like to think that the time when kids are able to consent comes naturally at age 18," Stormshak says. "You don’t need a psychologist to tell you that this is illegal." — Taylor Clark
Thursday, May 6, 2004
Former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt’s decision to step down from the state’s board of higher education and the Oregon Electric Utility Co. earlier today stunned political observers and friends alike.
In a statement issued early this afternoon, Goldschmidt attributed his sudden move to a heart condition.
Goldschmidt did not return repeated calls made to his office this week. Willamette Week understands the timing of the resignation is connected to this newspaper’s two-month probe into reports that between 1975 and 1978, while Goldschmidt was mayor of Portland, he had sexual relations with a girl who was 14 years old at the time the relations began.
WW has interviewed more than a dozen people (some spoke on the record; others signed statements but requested anonymity) who said they were told about the relationship.
In Oregon, if an adult has sex with someone under the age of 16, it is considered rape. (According to law-enforcement officials, however, the statute of limitations for prosecution has long since passed.)
Powerful public figures are often the subject of whispering campaigns, rumors and outright lies. But, during the course of WW’s investigation, clear evidence emerged of the alleged sexual relationship, as well as a three-decade-long effort to cover it up.
In addition to the statements of the people interviewed, WW has found two separate court records that refer to the relationship, though neither names Goldschmidt. Those documents, along with the interviews, suggest that later in life the woman was deeply troubled by their earlier relationship and, for the past nine years, has been receiving monthly payments from Goldschmidt.
In 1975, Neil Goldschmidt was 35 and three years into his first term as Portland’s mayor.
Saying he was mayor, however, is like saying Mozart wrote music. Goldschmidt transformed a parochial backwater into a city of international renown. Pioneer Square, Tom McCall Park and the bus mall-all are products of Goldschmidt’s tenure. He cajoled Nordstrom into building downtown and scrapped a freeway through Southeast Portland to Mount Hood, using the money to build light rail instead. "Goldschmidt made the region a national model," says Oregon State University political-science professor Bill Lunch.
Goldschmidt was known for attracting smart, dedicated staffers. One of his aides happened to live six doors from the mayor’s home in the Sabin neighborhood. The aide had a daughter. For the purposes of this story, her name is Susan.
Friends say Susan was beautiful, bright and charismatic and had a warm, embracing laugh. She was 14.
According to three sources interviewed by WW, Susan claimed that one evening in 1975, after a dinner party at Susan’s parents’ home, Goldschmidt began a sexual relationship with the teenager.
At the time, Goldschmidt was married and had two children, ages 6 and 3, for whom Susan babysat. The relationship would last for three years, according to the story she later told friends and lawyers.
No one witnessed these sexual encounters, but over the years Susan and her mother told numerous people about the relationship, and more than a dozen of them retold the story to WW.
These sources knew Susan in different ways at different times. They were friends, boyfriends, work colleagues, roommates and even relatively casual acquaintances. The story they recount is remarkably consistent.
"I believed the story then, and I believe it today," says a former boyfriend who dated Susan in the early ‘80s and says she often talked openly about the relationship with Goldschmidt.
"She was indiscreet," adds a female friend who knew Susan for more than 10 years. "When she’d had a few drinks, she’d bring up Goldschmidt," says a woman who waitressed with Susan in the mid-’80s.
Among a circle of friends who hung out at downtown bars such as the Virginia Cafe and the Dakota, the relationship was hardly a secret.
"[Susan] talked about Neil Goldschmidt all the time. She’d get drunk and say when she was 14 years old she’d screwed him in hotel rooms," says Sheilah Wilson, who roomed with Susan in the mid ‘80s. "The story had been around for years and everybody knew about it."
Friends say Susan had a keen intellect, but she rarely worked and, despite intelligence, looks and charm, spent much of the ‘80s in a downward spiral. "She had more ability and less confidence than anybody I have ever known," says a friend from that time.
In 1988, Susan left Portland for a new start. Soon after the move, she was abducted outside of a clinic at knifepoint and brutally raped. A suspect was soon arrested for the crime. His attorney interviewed Susan, according to court records, and discovered that she had been the victim of "prior sexual assault."
The source for this information was a counseling record in which Susan had talked about the sexual relationship she had from age 14 to 17.
The court record shows that the accused rapist’s lawyer wanted to introduce Susan’s counseling records into evidence.
Ultimately, the judge in the case refused to allow most of the counseling records into evidence. The rapist was eventually convicted. But some of the information was discussed in court, including clues about the man who sexually abused Susan. "The abuser was a family friend twenty-one years older than [Susan]," the prosecuting attorney told the court. He was "a family friend for many years; was the age of [Susan]’s father; certainly no stranger, according to [Susan]’s mother."
Neil Goldschmidt is 20 years, 10 months and 26 days older than Susan.
In another passage from the court record, the man who abused Susan is a described as someone whom she had "known and trusted."
Immediately after the 1988 rape, Susan began counseling and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Over the years, friends say, Susan periodically called Goldschmidt, sometimes in anger, sometimes in desperation.
However, it was not until nearly 20 years after Goldschmidt allegedly first had sex with her that Susan took formal action.
A number of sources say part of the reason she finally stepped forward was the coverage of the sexual-harassment claims against Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood and the willingness of his accusers to tell their stories.
David Slader, a Portland lawyer who has brought sex-abuse cases against the Catholic Church, says that oftentimes it often takes women who have been abused as minors two or three decades to come to terms with their abuse. "In cases where girls have been abused, they often don’t come forward until their 30s or 40s," Slader says.
In October 1994, Portland lawyer Doreen Margolin filed an application to be named Susan’s conservator in Washington County Circuit Court. (A conservator is similar to a guardian.) Susan’s parents were living in Rome then, and according to the application, Susan was "unable to manage her property effectively without assistance."
At the time, Susan possessed no property of value. She had been unemployed for six years and received only a disability stipend, which didn’t come close to covering her expenses. Her financial situation was about to change. "The appointment of a conservator is necessary because [Susan] is filing a personal injury lawsuit in relation to her claim for injuries sustained from 1975-1978," Margolin wrote.
According to the court file, two other lawyers were involved in the claim Susan intended to file: Jeffrey Foote, a prominent personal-injury lawyer, and Jana Toran, now TriMet’s legal director. Sources say Portland lawyer Ted Runstein represented Goldschmidt.
By 1994, the injury for which Susan was making a claim was nearly 20 years old. But despite the two decades that had passed, Susan’s threatened lawsuit brought remarkably fast resolution.
Margolin made her first filing with the court on Oct. 25, 1994. By Dec. 5, her billing records show, she and Foote already had a settlement offer in front of them-one that was good enough to ensure that Susan’s personal-injury lawsuit was never filed.
In preparation for filing, Foote, however, did take statements from people who knew Susan, including Wilson, to support the threatened lawsuit.
Because the suit was never filed, the name of the person allegedly responsible for Susan’s injury was never stated in the Washington County records. But her boyfriend at the time told WW that Susan often talked about how she was going to get enough money from Goldschmidt to start a bed-and-breakfast on the coast.
Margolin filed an inventory with the court showing that Susan received a settlement of approximately $250,000. After attorneys’ fees, she received $30,000 in cash and an annuity, which pays her $1,500 per month for 10 years, beginning in March 1995.
The money came with one large string attached: Payment of the annuity was "contingent on confidentiality agreement," according to court records. That agreement binds Susan, her family and all of the others involved in the settlement. "I heard she got some money and agreed to shut up," a former boyfriend says.
Despite the gag order, friends who saw Susan that summer at the westside apartment complex where she lived say that she told them she’d gotten a quarter-million-dollar settlement from Goldschmidt. "She told us that she wasn’t supposed to talk about it, but she talked anyway," says a woman who knew Susan for 15 years.
Neither Margolin, Foote, Toran nor Runstein would comment. When pressed, Foote would only say, "I would suggest you forget about the whole thing."
Today, Susan lives in Nevada. She’s married and has a couple of Dalmatians she adores.
Portland Tribune columnist Phil Stanford, who was the first to advance this story beyond unconfirmed rumor, says he talked to Susan in February 2004. Stanford says she told him she was receiving money in connection with a settlement but couldn’t talk about it.
In early April, however, when visited by WW reporters, Susan said the sexual relationship with Goldschmidt did not happen. She was abused, she says, but by somebody else. "It was not Neil Goldschmidt," she says. "I have the highest regard for Neil Goldschmidt. He never did a thing to hurt me."
Susan’s mother, when contacted overseas by WW, also denied that Goldschmidt was the family friend who abused her daughter, but she would not say who it was.
For the past month, Goldschmidt knew WW was investigating the story of his relationship with Susan. Earlier this week, he did not respond to multiple phone requests for an interview. On Wednesday, WW sent him a letter summarizing the story the paper had prepared and asked for comment.
On Thursday, he announced his resignations.