March 9th, 2005 Philip Dawdy, Grant Menzies | Special Section Stories
 

1981

     
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Demonstrators protest the infamous "Possum Incident."

Playing Possum

BY PHILIP DAWDY

You're two young police officers working the Northeast Precinct. Between radio calls, duty can get pretty dull. So what do you do? Toss four dead opossums in front of the Burger Barn, a black-owned restaurant in Northeast Portland.

With this stupid prank, officers Craig Ward and Jim Galloway unwittingly touched off one of the most contentious disputes between the police force, the city and the public in years.

Sure, the Burger Barn was a known hangout for shady citizens. But four maggoty critters on an African-American business's front stoop evoked ugly Ku Klux Klan imagery: Portland's black and liberal activist communities marched through downtown and swamped the Police Bureau with protests.

Politics dictated that Charles Jordan, the city commissioner in charge of the Police Bureau, fire the two officers, sparking an angry counter-demonstration as hundreds of cops marched on City Hall. Although an arbitrator later reinstated the two officers with 30-day unpaid suspensions, their careers in the bureau were stunted. Meanwhile, the Burger Barn filed a $3.4 million civil-rights suit against the city but eventually settled for $64,000.

"It was the biggest mistake of my life," Craig Ward, now a sheriff's deputy in Union County, told WW years later. "I put the city through hell and brought discredit to the bureau. But it wasn't done out of meanness or racial motivation. It's my fault, and I try to make amends for it every day."

The Maestro

BY GRANT MENZIES

Some artists are just more voracious than others. Impatient with their discipline, they infuse it with brilliant borrowings from other media. Architect Thomas Hardy built novels like Romanesque cathedrals; Claude Debussy composed in harmonic watercolors; Claude Monet painted orchestrations in oils. Then we have James DePreist-poet, humanitarian and music director of the Oregon Symphony for nearly 25 years-who brought to the podium not just superb musicianship but a poet's ear for tone and a philosopher's sense of meaning. In the process, DePreist put Portland's century-old orchestra on the map.

Known as Jimmy to his friends, DePreist was born in Philadelphia in 1936, three years before his famous aunt, the black contralto Marian Anderson, was blocked from the stage of Washington, D.C.'s Constitution Hall by its owners, the Daughters of the American Revolution, because of the color of her skin. She ultimately won that battle when Eleanor Roosevelt gave her the Lincoln Memorial for a historic Easter Sunday recital attended by 75,000 people.

DePreist once claimed that his aunt's magnificent voice-all dark molten gold flecked with flame-had as much influence on his signature sound as the ensemble he grew up with, the glowing Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy. But there is also an echo of his aunt's story in DePreist's oft-stated aim: to make the Oregon Symphony "an orchestra of the people."

In his 23 seasons of leading a small regional orchestra to international recognition, DePreist achieved his goal. Through his big, friendly sound (so like his big, friendly self) and adroit interpretations, DePreist made classical music attractive through sheer seduction. During his tenure, the symphony got its own hall. Through higher salaries and more recordings, the talent arrayed before DePreist's baton grew exponentially-as did his audience. His struggle with polio only served to amplify his legend.

And thus it was that in 2003 the orchestra was handed to new OS Music Director Carlos Kalmar on a silver platter, thanks to this gentle, witty, unassuming man, who in one of his poems confesses to "being less/ than myth would/ make me wish/ were true." Forget the myth, Jimmy-your reality was all we could wish for.


* Sunriver Farms of Oregon declares bankruptcy in January, making it the largest farm failure in the history of the state.

* WW names Tony DeMicoli's new nightclub, Luis' La Bamba, Best Club of the Year, thanks to daring new acts such as Romeo Void, Sun Ra, and Echo and the Bunnymen.

* To drum up publicity for his team and spark interest in Major League Baseball, Portland Beavers owner Dave Hersh signs aging Boston Red Sox pitching ace Luis Tiant to a player's contract worth up to $178,000 a year.

* Local bar band Seafood Mama, originally a swing band formed in 1978, trades up for the name Quarterflash and releases an eponymous LP on Geffen Records.

* Investigators probe state Democratic State Sen. Dick Groener after he's spotted driving a Cadillac owned by lobbyist Bob Harris, who also happens to be an ex-con convicted of burglary and fraud. Turns out state Rep. Earl Blumenauer also accepted favors from Harris, including the use of vacation properties in Hawaii.

* WW reports on the burgeoning technology sector: "The world will soon be divided in two: those who know something about computers and those who don't."

* The Washington Public Power Supply System, which is building five nuclear power plants in the Evergreen State, is plagued by billion-dollar cost overruns, construction boondoggles, doctored quality-control reports, and drug use by engineers and craftsmen. Mired in debt, WPPSS (pronounced whoops by its detractors) abandons plants 4 and 5 and never finishes plant 3.

* WW describes KKSN as the most adventurous radio station in town, perhaps prematurely: A few months later, the station's gutsy playlist dumps Captain Beefheart and the Stray Cats for Streisand and Manilow.

* Cop killer Robert Christopher is released from prison after spectrum analysis reveals that the Portland officer he gunned down at the Outsiders Motorcycle Club headquarters was carrying illegal drugs to plant at the club. Prosecutors later identify a total of 58 drug cases that were tainted by officer misconduct. Investigators find that officers routinely lied to obtain search warrants, stole drugs and cash from suspects, and misspent city funds.

* A WW reviewer explores the new video-rental business, disastrously: "I was almost driven to a frenzy of video-tape destruction and a trip to the small claims court."

* Beloved rock club Urban Noize closes. The Long Goodbye becomes a leather bar.

* Rolling Stones garage band the Malchicks disband. Their charismatic, cocksure leader, Billy Rancher, forms New Wave rock outfit the Unreal Gods, which quickly becomes an enduring hometown favorite. WW proclaims it Portland's tightest, most danceable band.


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