Neil Goldschmidt didn't invent Portland. He did something far more inspired: He convinced an entire generation that we could help make this a better place.
The example he set as mayor in the 1970s was so powerful--and so right--that it continues today to animate my work at this newspaper and my feelings about this city. As governor in the late '80s, Neil also gave my wife the start of her judicial career.
Today, most of this newspaper's readers know of Goldschmidt as Oregon's former governor and, perhaps, as a consultant to the rich and powerful. I'm one of the few people on our current staff to have lived as an adult in Portland when he was mayor.
Yet, even with all the time that has passed since then, hardly a day goes by when I don't meet some person or place touched for the better by his time as our mayor. Almost as often, though, I encounter people who have no clue that Portland ever had a great mayor--and certainly no idea of what he made him so extraordinary.
A former Legal Aid lawyer, Neil set about creating a more open city that gave people greater choices in their lives.
He ended the City Council's "informal" sessions at the Congress Hotel and, in so doing, brought greater credibility and public involvement to the work of the council.
He fought tirelessly against crazy schemes--like the Mount Hood and Thurman-Upshur-Vaughn freeways and the plan to build a PDX runway into the Columbia--that would have scarred our city and its rivers forever.
He got downtown a much-needed facelift and improved our transportation systems. He gave new meaning to neighborhoods. He pushed all manner of economic-development plans--from Wacker Siltronic to Nordstrom.
He brought genuine citizen oversight into the budgeting process. All the while, he was an incredible shining light who energized thousands of us in important causes.
My own most powerful memory from those days is of a hot, sweltering summer night when the mayor and his chief of police, Bruce Baker, wanted to put an end to the "dragging the gut" ritual that used to occur as young drivers cruised Southwest Broadway when school let out. A near-riot ensued. So, in shirtsleeves, Neil and members of his staff walked south on Broadway in the face of flying bricks and beer bottles.
It was a surreal spectacle, to be sure, but Neil's actions that evening were the furthest thing from a cheap political stunt. It was an attempt to make a simple statement: As mayor, he was taking responsibility for the Police Bureau's actions, and he was willing to risk bodily harm to let people know who was in charge--and how much he cared.
A couple of days ago, when I began working on this column, I felt I should explain how and why Willamette Week came to be the agent of Neil Goldschmidt's departure from public life. Judging from conversations I've had on this subject over the past couple of days, I've concluded that's not necessary. Once they suspend their understandable sense of disbelief, Portlanders intuitively get that this story needed to be told.
None of what we've printed provides me the pleasure a publisher might otherwise take in having his paper land a journalistic scoop. Rather, to learn that for almost 30 years a remarkable person has been prevented from exercising his talents more fully on our behalf--and that his actions have brought so much pain and confusion to the life of his victim--simply breaks my heart.