March 9th, 2005 Chris Lydgate | Special Section Stories
 

1987

     
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Michael Stoops was a media-savvy homeless advocate with a knack for publicity.

The Broken Halo

By 1987, homelessness had become a major political issue, thanks in part to the efforts of a charismatic grassroots activist named Michael Stoops, founder and chairman of the Burnside Community Council, which operated Baloney Joe's-Portland's best-known homeless shelter.

A grizzled social worker from a Quaker background, Stoops was the perfect antidote to the materialism of the Reagan era: He drew no salary, favored thrift-store clothes and lived in a skid-road hotel with two broken TVs-one for picture and one for sound. Behind the rumpled demeanor, however, Stoops was a media-savvy advocate with a knack for publicity: He gave reporters a taste of street life through an innovative "urban plunge" program and organized an annual tongue-in-cheek parody of the Rose Festival to crown the King and Queen of the Hobos.

But on Nov. 19, WW published what was destined to be its biggest story of the decade: a report that Michael Stoops routinely had sex with teenage boys who came to Baloney Joe's seeking shelter.

The news hit the city like a barreling freight. Stoops hotly denied the charges, and droves of supporters rushed to his defense, bombarding WW with angry calls and letters, complaining, in effect, that the allegations were too ugly to be true.

But the city's collective wall of denial crumbled after the BCC commissioned Portland lawyer Don Marmaduke to investigate the accusations. Several months later, after a brief effort to keep the investigation under wraps, the agency finally released the Marmaduke report, which confirmed WW's story. Stoops resigned the same week.

The story's aftermath continued for years. Stoops moved to Washington, D.C., where he continues to work on homeless issues. The BCC collapsed, and the Salvation Army took over Baloney Joe's and renamed it the Recovery Inn.

Today the shelter stands empty and forlorn on the east end of the Burnside Bridge, its windows boarded up, its walls stained with urine-just another hard-luck story in a town too busy to care.

Death of an Engineer

From the safe distance of our armchairs, the proxy war in Nicaragua always had a touch of the surreal-a nightmarish jumble of masked faces, swollen bellies and Cold War rhetoric. For Portlanders, however, the conflict became real on a single day in April 1987, with the death of native son Ben Linder, gunned down on a remote hillside by Contra rebels backed by the U.S. government.

Linder was the quintessential Portland progressive. He grew up in Northwest Portland, where dinner-table talk included debates on socialism. Brilliant but shy, he graduated from Adams High School and majored in engineering at the University of Washington. He was a vegetarian, a unicyclist, a professional clown and a resourceful mechanic: He once made an espresso machine out of a bunch of old pipes, using a sock for a filter.

Dismayed by American efforts to topple the communist Sandinista regime by arming the right-wing Contras, Linder moved to Nicaragua in 1983 and dedicated his engineering skills to rebuilding the nation's shattered infrastructure. Moments before the Contra patrol shot him in the head, he had been pouring cement for a test dam to bring electricity to the little town of San José de Bocay. He was just 27 years old.

Linder's death made headlines around the world. Not only was he the first American casualty of the war in Nicaragua, he was killed by guerrillas financed by the Reagan administration, in defiance of a congressional resolution.

In Portland, the tragedy crystallized the paradox of American foreign policy in Central America. "This brought it home," says activist Janet Dietz. "It was someone we knew who had tried to do good deeds, and they shot him. People were outraged."

Progressives took Linder's death as a call to action: Mourners filled Schrunk Plaza the day the news broke, and a national conference later drew thousands of activists from across the nation. Barbara Kingsolver dedicated her novel Animal Dreams to the fallen engineer. Eventually more than a hundred Portlanders joined Ben Linder Construction Brigades and traveled to Nicaragua to help build a hospital and a health clinic.

As the contorted layers of the Iran-Contra scandal were peeled away, it became clear that Linder-and, in a sense, Nicaragua itself-had fallen victim to the last, paranoid twitchings of the Cold War hawks, who still believed that an impoverished regime in a tiny Latin American country represented a mortal threat to world peace.


* Another one bites the dust: Over breakfast at the Fat City diner, Mayor Bud Clark clashes with his third police chief, Jim Davis, about a city audit that finds no justification for Davis' proposal to hire 120 new police officers. The chief stands tough, telling Clark, "Read my lips." The mayor's response: "Read my lips-you're fired."

* Seeking to extend their franchise on the lucrative crack-cocaine trade, L.A. gangs such as the Crips and the Bloods arrive in Portland. First gang-related killing: Jerry "Peanut" Sandles, 16, shoots Gilbert "Bobo" Myles, 17, on the campus of Grant High School. The origins of their feud lie in the color of Myles' hat.

* Ex-Police Chief Penny Harrington files a sex-discrimination lawsuit against the city. Meanwhile, the bureau cuts off her disability payments, forcing Harrington and her husband to live in a trailer.

* Hippies gravitate toward Waterfront Park at dawn on Aug. 17 to partake in the harmonic convergence, a metaphysical event which occurs roughly once every 23,000 years. "This planet is going to change very much," says one attendee. "It's getting very intense here on Earth. It's driving some people nuts."

* The Portland City Council bans firing city employees because they are gay or lesbian. Conservative activists Joe Lutz and Drew Davis spearhead a petition drive to repeal the ban. Lutz begins organizing an obscure conservative Christian political group known as the Oregon Citizens Alliance.

* A record 24,746 fans pack Civic Stadium to see scary monster David Bowie. WW rock critic Marty Hughley calls the performance "a purgatory of pretentious fluff."

* A crossbow hunter stumbles on the decomposed bodies of seven women in the Molalla forest. All show signs of torture, rape and mutilation. Clackamas mechanic Dayton Leroy Rogers is convicted in the killings. He is sentenced to death, but his case will be tied up in court for years to come.

* After $18 million and three design groups, the curtain is raised on the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. Reaction to the architectural pastiche is mixed. Unfortunately, there's no money left over to operate the thing.

* Timothy Baumel, a disaffected 14-year-old Northeast Portlander, is shot dead by Portland police after going berserk and firing on them with a .22-caliber rifle.

* WW's first mention of karaoke. "How would you like to hear a suave Japanese Andy Williams complete with sunglasses sing a very melodic 'Moon River' without the faintest notion what the song is about?"


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