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December 15th, 2004 NIGEL JAQUISS | News Stories
 

WHO KNEW

Long before Neil Goldschmidt's secret became public, many influential Oregonians knew something about it.

     
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WHAT WOULD YOU DO if you learned that the most influential person in the state had committed statutory rape?

Would it matter if he were your friend, your boss or someone you revered?

In May, WW published the story of former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt's sexual abuse of a teenager when he was Portland's mayor in the 1970s (see "The 30-Year Secret," WW, May 12, 2004).

The revelation that for three years Goldschmidt had sex with the daughter of a neighbor and former employee, beginning when the victim was 14, shocked the state.

Nearly as stunning as Goldschmidt's crime was that he'd kept it quiet for three decades, even while a member of President Jimmy Carter's Cabinet, a senior executive at Nike, the governor of Oregon and, finally, the state's consummate power broker for the past 14 years.

It turns out, however, that Goldschmidt's secret wasn't so secret after all.

During the past seven months, WW has established that dozens of Oregonians--many of whom today work at the highest levels of business, government and the media--knew something about Goldschmidt's secret.

Some were friends, some were employees, some were even newspaper editors. To one degree or another, all of them had some knowledge of an almost unthinkable stain on the reputation of a man whose mayoral legacy includes MAX, Pioneer Courthouse Square, Tom McCall Waterfront Park and the death of the ill-advised Mount Hood Freeway.

When faced with the unthinkable, what did people do? Some say they didn't believe what they heard; others took actions that led nowhere; still others simply did nothing.

None of those named in this story admit they knew about the sexual abuse while it was happening. And, certainly, no single person is responsible for keeping Goldschmidt's secret.

But the three decades of collective silence is a testimony to the sway Goldschmidt, 64, has had over this city. As a leader, he dwarfed those who followed.

Placed almost unfairly high on a pedestal by the media and his supporters, Goldschmidt was so intertwined with Portland's identity that acknowledging, let alone confronting, his crime would be an indictment of more than just him. His success belonged to everyone--and so, in a perverse way, would his failure.

As a consequence, the impulse among those who knew something was often rationalization.

"You could argue that I had an ethical responsibility to do something," says Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto, one of those who knew Goldschmidt's secret. "But other people had better information than I had and never acted."

Nobody from Goldschmidt's mayoral tenure (1972-1979), when the sexual abuse occurred, has admitted he or she knew about it at the time, though it's difficult to believe that for three years a big-city mayor regularly snuck away to the Hilton, to a downtown apartment and to the teenage girl's home without anyone noticing.

There is no shortage of people, however, who say they learned about Goldschmidt's behavior after the fact.

The victim herself, whom WW has called "Susan" to protect her identity, told many people about Goldschmidt, particularly after he finally spurned her.

According to court records and interviews, Goldschmidt began having sex with Susan when she was 14, in 1975, and stopped not long before he left Portland in 1979 to work for Carter, a fellow Democrat.

Soon afterward, his victim's life began a spiral into deep dysfunction that would include a dozen arrests, a brutal rape in Seattle, and a stretch in federal prison.

Susan, now 43, was not always such a tragic figure. A straight-A student and class president in elementary school who had enrolled at Portland's elite St. Mary's Academy, Susan eventually dropped out of high school in her sophomore year.

Although friends say she remained intelligent and beautiful, she struggled throughout her 20s with substance abuse. At downtown spots such as the Dakota and Pink's, both now defunct, and the Virginia Cafe, she hung out with a wide range of people, including dope dealers, barflies, musicians, lawyers and developers. She told many of them her story.

Al Solheim, a real-estate investor who has been called "The Father of the Pearl District," acknowledges that he knew Susan and that she told him in the mid-'80s about her abuse at Goldschmidt's hands. "This was a situation that was very difficult for her," Solheim recalls. "She was distressed."

Solheim believed Susan but was not sure what to do. "I was shocked," he says. "I thought about it for a couple of days. [Goldschmidt] was one of the great political figures of our time, and I knew if it became public it would be devastating."

Rather than approaching Goldschmidt, Solheim contacted a mutual friend, Bob Burtchaell, who had experience as a counselor and was also a private investigator. Burtchaell played basketball with Solheim and Goldschmidt when Goldschmidt was mayor. As WW has reported previously, Burtchaell became the middleman between the governor and Susan, getting her out of jams and mediating between the two of them or diverting her when she demanded to meet Goldschmidt.

Solheim has no regrets about his actions. "I feel OK about what I did," he says. "I don't think I should have run to the press."

Susan would tell her story to a number of other men who frequented the same spots she did, including Dave Peters, then a deputy Multnomah County district attorney, and criminal-defense lawyers Mark Morrell and Mark Smolak.

Smolak dated Susan and also encouraged her to seek legal help. "She told me about her involvement with Neil Goldschmidt and asked me for advice," says Smolak, who met Susan when she was 28. "As a friend and an attorney, I felt that I was too close personally to pursue any sort of legal remedy myself." (Susan eventually retained lawyers Jeff Foote and Jana Toran, who won a $350,000 out-of-court settlement from Goldschmidt in 1994 in return for Susan's silence.)

Morrell and Peters declined to comment for this story.

For more than 15 years, the media, including this newspaper, has danced around the conduct of Sheriff Bernie Giusto, who was an Oregon state trooper and Goldschmidt's bodyguard and driver from 1987 to 1989, the first two years he was governor.

Giusto was always more ambitious than the average cop. A graduate of Willamette University with a degree in political science, he won the first of three terms on the Gresham City Council in 1989 while serving as Goldschmidt's bodyguard.

Around that time, according to numerous Goldschmidt staffers and state officials, Giusto also began an affair with the governor's then-wife, Margie Goldschmidt.

While Giusto's dalliance with the wife of the man he was protecting is the stuff of soap operas, the greater significance is that Giusto knew about Goldschmidt and "Susan."

Last month, Giusto appeared before the Senate Rules Committee for a confirmation hearing on his reappointment to the board of TriMet, the regional transportation authority.

Under questioning from state Sen. Vicki Walker (D-Eugene), Giusto acknowledged that he had learned the story about Goldschmidt and the young girl but did not say exactly when or how.

Giusto didn't report the information to his superiors, he testified, because he believed the statute of limitations had expired. (Law-enforcement officials say he was correct.)

Giusto argued he had no duty to pursue further information because there was no evidence that Goldschmidt represented a danger to other children. "In my two years with him, I never saw anything that led me to believe that there were other victims," Giusto said.

In a follow-up interview, Giusto maintained that had he alerted superiors, he might have smeared Goldschmidt unjustly. "It would have been unethical for me to have opened an investigation," Giusto explained. "My only obligation was to make sure there were no other victims around--it was not to quit or confront him."

While Giusto says he didn't pass information about Goldschmidt on to law-enforcement colleagues or others acting in any official capacity, he wasn't completely discreet. He told at least two other people in Goldschmidt's administration.

One is Debby Kennedy, a former Nike executive who was then serving as the state's director of tourism and now heads "Brand Oregon" for Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

Kennedy says that early in 1990, Giusto told her the governor had had a "messy situation" with a young girl years earlier. Kennedy says she told nobody and did nothing.

"I just can't tell you how many rumors there were about him then," Kennedy says. "So many were ridiculous, and this struck me as just another. I mentally flushed it down the toilet and don't recall ever talking about it to anyone else."

But another person Giusto confided in did talk. As The Oregonian first reported in June, Fred Leonhardt, Goldschmidt's gubernatorial speechwriter, says Giusto told him in the summer or fall of 1989. As the man who wrote Goldschmidt's famous "Children's Agenda" speech and who often traveled with the governor to children's events, Leonhardt found Giusto's news particularly disturbing, although he wasn't sure he believed it.

Leonhardt passed the story on to a number of people, including Goldschmidt's gubernatorial press secretary, Gregg Kantor.

Kantor was a true Goldschmidt believer. When Goldschmidt announced his candidacy for governor in 1986, Kantor quit his job at the Bonneville Power Administration and sold his house so he could afford to volunteer for the campaign.

So when Leonhardt told him Goldschmidt might be a child rapist, Kantor was more than a little skeptical.

"I just didn't believe it at the time. I didn't take it seriously," says Kantor, who is now senior vice president of the state's largest gas utility, NW Natural.

Kantor says he was deeply disappointed by Goldschmidt's admission this past May that the story was true, but he declines to say how he feels about Goldschmidt today or if he wishes he had confronted his boss when he first heard.

In addition to Kantor, Leonhardt says he also told another former Goldschmidt press aide, Lee Weinstein. Leonhardt says he told Weinstein the story, including the victim's name, at a meeting around 1992, well after Goldschmidt left office. "Lee's eyes got big," Leonhardt recalls, adding that Weinstein told him that he had heard the story before--from the victim herself, whom he had, coincidentally, dated in high school.

Weinstein, now director of communications for Nike USA, did not return phone calls and declined to answer written questions.

While a number of gubernatorial staff members heard detailed information about Goldschmidt's secret either while he was in office or shortly afterwards, the two staffers closest to Goldschmidt say they never heard a word. Tom Imeson, who was Goldschmidt's chief of staff and went on to become his business partner, says he never heard about the sexual abuse until just before the story broke in May.

Ruth Ann Dodson, the woman who for more than two decades served as Goldschmidt's confidante and gatekeeper, also says she knew nothing, although she acknowledges taking a number of phone calls from Susan when Goldschmidt was governor.

Leonhardt wasn't done talking. As The Oregonian reported in June of this year, Leonhardt says he told Ted Kulongoski about Goldschmidt's secret repeatedly during the early 1990s, including when Kulongoski was state attorney general.

Gov. Kulongoski denied Leonhardt's claim, which was potentially damaging both because of Kulongoski's long association with Goldschmidt and because the governor appointed Goldschmidt to the State Board of Higher Education last year, long after Leonhardt says Kulongoski knew of Goldschmidt's secret.

Last week, Leonhardt offered further information that could be embarrassing to the Kulongoski administration, telling WW that in early 2001 he briefed Steve Schneider, now Kulongoski's senior political advisor, about Goldschmidt's secret.

Leonhardt says he told Schneider at John Barleycorns brewpub in Tigard when they met to discuss Kulongoski's impending candidacy. Schneider was "shocked," Leonhardt says, and reacted with "intense curiosity."

If Leonhardt is telling the truth, either Schneider withheld the information from his boss or Kulongoski tapped Goldschmidt to fix the state's ailing university system knowing he had a giant skeleton in his closet.

Schneider recalls meeting Leonhardt but says the discussion did not include Goldschmidt's secret. "He did not have a conversation with me about this," Schneider maintains.

Given what is now known, it's easy to see why Goldschmidt didn't seek a second term for governor. After he'd kept his secret for more than a decade, events began to unravel. In late 1988, he arranged for Susan--who was trying to contact him regularly and speaking with increasing indiscretion about him--to get job in Seattle. In that city, she suffered a brutal rape and told authorities about her earlier sexual abuse at the hands of a "trusted family friend," who was 21 years her senior--creating the first public document in which she referred to Goldschmidt's crime.

On Feb. 7, 1990, Goldschmidt stunned Oregonians and political pundits across the country when he announced he would not seek a second term as governor.

The man whom The Washington Post had singled out just two years earlier as the "best of the breed" of governors was abandoning a brilliant political career just shy of his 50th birthday.

Goldschmidt cited his pending divorce as the reason for quitting. At least one prominent Democratic activist, Win McCormack, knew better.

Currently the publisher of the literary quarterly Tin House, McCormack has a lengthy journalistic background. In the '60s, he co-founded the San Francisco magazine Mother Jones, which built its reputation on investigative journalism. After moving to Portland in 1976, McCormack published the well-respected Oregon Magazine (which closed in 1988), as well as Oregon Business magazine, where he remains a board member.

In addition, McCormack has long been a large contributor to statewide and national campaigns. In October, for example, he gave what the Oregon Follow the Money Project says is the biggest single political contribution in the state's history: $1 million to America Coming Together, a Democratic get-out-the-vote operation.

McCormack told WW he learned of Goldschmidt's secret not long after the governor's surprise announcement in 1990. "The brother of a friend of mine was dating [Susan] when Goldschmidt said he wasn't going to run again," recalls McCormack. "He said, 'Let me tell you the real reason he isn't running.'"

With his journalistic experience, McCormack knew what a huge story he had been handed. Still, he chose to do nothing. "I didn't feel like it was my business, and even though I don't like Neil, I didn't want to destroy him," McCormack says.

McCormack says he never shared the secret, even though Goldschmidt's surprise decision remained perhaps the greatest mystery in Oregon politics over the past 15 years.

Last winter, several months before the story about Goldschmidt became public, McCormack attended a party at the home of real-estate investor and Democratic Party activist Terry Bean.

McCormack found himself in a conversation with a number of people, including former Gov. Barbara Roberts.

The conversation turned to Goldschmidt, as has so often been the case across the state for the past 30 years. Why, Bean wondered, had he never run for a second term as governor?

McCormack said he knew but would not tell. According to McCormack and another person present, Roberts, who succeeded Goldschmidt, piped up, "It involves a very young girl."

Roberts denies making any such statement and says she never heard anything about Goldschmidt and an underage girl until the story broke in May.

The people named in this story represent only a few of those who knew something about Neil Goldschmidt's crime over the past 30 years.

Dozens of people, including Susan's friends, Goldschmidt insiders, lawyers and countless others, knew something--and based on hundreds of conversations over the past seven months, it is the rare person who never shared the secret with at least one other.

So how could so many people have known about something so explosive for so long without that information becoming public?

As Bernie Giusto has said about his own actions, there was no legal requirement for anybody to tell the authorities, let alone the media. Of all the people named in this story, apparently the only two people who ever approached Goldschmidt about Susan were Bob Burtchaell and Margie Goldschmidt, both of whom defend him to this day.

The uncomfortable truth is that confronting Goldschmidt or making public disclosure served nobody's interest, except perhaps Susan's. And who was she, compared with Neil Goldschmidt, the man who put Portland on the map?

Would you risk your career and the reputation of the state's most influential man to publicize a decades-old crime?

Even the victim's mother, arguing against the publication of WW's original story, based part of her objection on Goldschmidt's achievements.

"He is man of integrity and has done many, many good things. I don't see what is served by publishing," she said in an interview earlier this year. "I think of statesmen who really served their states and then were disgraced in their old age, and I think to what end? To what end?"

Practically Inexplicable

No story about "who knew" would be complete without a discussion of the role of The Oregonian-the Northwest's largest daily newspaper and the state's most powerful shaper of public opinion.

Local readers and media critics at publications including The Washington Post and the Columbia Journalism Review have hammered The Oregonian since May about its handling of the Goldschmidt story.They said the paper was too soft on Goldschmidt, allowing him to call what legally constituted statutory rape "an affair" while overstating its own role in uncovering the secret.

But it is The Oregonian's conduct before the story was broken that deserves more scrutiny.

WW has learned that the paper's first solid information about Goldschmidt's secret came 18 years ago, in 1986. At that time, Jack Ohman, the paper's nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist, heard a tip from a friend.

Ohman took the information to his boss, then-editorial page editor Robert Landauer, who still writes a twice-weekly column for the paper. (At daily papers, the newsgathering and editorial-page staffs work independently.)

In an interview last week, Landauer recalled that after speaking to Ohman, he interviewed Ohman's source, whom he would not identify, and found him to be credible.

Landauer says he immediately called a meeting with then-Editor William Hilliard and Managing Editor Peter Thompson, both since retired. "I said, Here's what's been told to me,' Landauer recalls. "'I'm looking at these allegations. They are serious and ought to be pursued in some manner, but this story requires more than the editorial department can do.'"

Today, both Hilliard say and Thompson say they have no memory of the meeting. In any case, the paper never printed a word relating to Ohman's tip.

Landauer says his conscience is clear. "I turned it over to news," he says. "I have no second thoughts about my behavior."

Ohman did not respond to phone calls or questions presented in writing.

In The Oregonian's own postmortem of its coverage of the Goldschmidt story, there has been no mention of the Ohman-Landauer episode. In May of this year, the paper's public editor, Michael Arrieta-Walden, wrote that back in December 2003, the daily got what he characterized as "a tip from an anonymous source" about Goldschmidt but failed to follow up.

That's not quite accurate. WW has learned that the "anonymous tip" was actually a comprehensive account of Goldschmidt's crime from a knowledgeable insider.

On Nov. 13, 2003, Gov. Kulongoski appointed Goldschmidt to the State Board of Higher Education.

A couple of weeks after the appointment, former Goldschmidt speechwriter Fred Leonhardt contacted Jeff Mapes, The Oregonian's senior political writer, whom he'd known for years.

Over lunch, Leonhardt says, he gave Mapes the victim's name, a chronology and the names of others who could confirm the story. (Leonhardt told WW he had promised himself that if Goldschmidt ever sought office again, or was appointed to a position of public responsibility, he would go to the media.)

Mapes, who declined to comment for this story, reportedly told his editors about Leonhardt's bombshell.

But there's no evidence that anybody in The Oregonian's 430-person newsroom pursued the story until the first week of May, when word leaked that WW was about to expose Goldschmidt. -NJ


The investor and art collector Jordan Schnitzer, who is the son of Harold and Arlene Schnitzer, says he took "Susan" out on at least one date in the mid-'80s. Schnitzer says he has no recollection of the woman telling him anything about Goldschmidt.

At NW Natural, Gregg Kantor reports to CEO Mark Dodson, who is married to Goldschmidt's longtime aide Ruth Anne Dodson.

Tom Imeson, who was Goldschmidt's gubernatorial chief of staff and until May his business partner, owns a house with Mark and Ruth Ann Dodson in Sonoma County, Calif.

In the 1994 legal settlement, Susan's legal team included Jeff Foote and Jana Toran. Norm Sepenuk and Ted Runstein represented Goldschmidt in negotiations mediated by lawyer Bill Barton.

On Jan. 23, 2004, more than a month after Leonhardt told The Oregonian about Goldschmidt, the paper's editorial page blasted Senate Rules Committee members for "sharply questioning Goldschmidt's integrity and ethics" in his confirmation hearing for the state higher-education board, calling the hearing "an embarrassing, awful night for public service in Oregon."

 
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