The veteran political consultant, lobbyist and KGW commentator Len Bergstein died at his Portland home last night. He was 76.
Bergstein, originally from New York, moved to Oregon in 1972 and his career in politics only ended with his final breath.
He worked for and with a long list of the state’s leading politicians, including as a staffer for Gov. Bob Straub, and Portland Mayor and Gov. Neil Goldschmidt and adviser to Oregon Supreme Court Justice Betty Roberts, Multnomah County Commissioner Gladys McCoy, City Commissioner Charles Jordan and Mayor Vera Katz.
He counseled many others, officially and unofficially. Although Bergstein kept saying he was retiring, he never really did.
Anybody who knew him got a taste of his insatiable curiosity and puckish sense of humor. His regular lunch partner, former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, was among many who reacted with sadness today at the news of Bergstein’s passing.
“Len and I came to Oregon around the same time and have been friends for over 50 years. We had our differences and have been opposite sides of issues but it never affected our friendship,” Kulongoski said. “He was a wise counselor and I enjoyed his company very much. I feel like a part of me is missing.”
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) paid tribute to Bergstein on Twitter.
“Len was instrumental with my start in public life by helping me earn a place with Gov. Straub on Oregon’s board of nursing home administrators,” Wyden wrote. “I’m eternally grateful for his presence in my life and will miss him greatly.”
Gov. Kate Brown, who was traveling on state business in Asia when she learned of Bergstein’s death, echoed Wyden’s thoughts.
“I was truly heartbroken to hear the news about Len,” Brown said. “I counted him as a friend and mentor. With his buoyant spirit and forward-looking optimism, he left an indelible mark on Oregon. He had a firm belief in each of us that, by working together, we could make Portland and Oregon a better place. He will be greatly missed.”
A graduate of Wesleyan University and the New York University School of Law, Bergstein represented, at various times, many of the state’s leading companies: TMT Development, Columbia Forest Products, the Zidell Companies, Hanna Andersson, Sokol Blosser Winery, Zoom+Care, Greenbrier and Intel, to name just a few.
Bergstein was an enthusiastic Portland booster who advised local political campaigns and nonprofits, including, mostly recently, the Albina Vision Trust, which is seeking to revitalize Portland’s historically Black neighborhood.
AVT board chair Rukaiyah Adams, who worked closely with Bergstein, said she was “devastated” at the news of his death.
“How do you say goodbye to a person who was everything? He was steady, focused and kind. Len was quick to smile and, on more occasions than I can count, we shared belly shaking laughter,” Adams said.
“Len taught us that the way to achieve ambitious things for Portland, this community that we love, was to begin with humility. Today, we mourn with his family and send him deep love for the walk home. Thereafter? We will continue the work that he so skillfully guided in tribute to our dear friend, Mr. Len Bergstein.”
Over the past decade, Bergstein became a familiar face through his work as a political commentator for KGW, which first reported his death this morning. He had been looking forward to being part of the station’s coverage of the Nov. 8 general election.
“Len was one of the sharpest political thinkers I have ever known. He kept me on my toes and gave me grief whenever he thought I deserved it—which was pretty frequent!” said Sandy McDonough, the former CEO of Oregon Business & Industry.
“But the Len I will remember most is the family man. He was an incredibly loyal and loving husband, father and grandfather and a wonderful friend. I will miss him very much.”
Bergstein is survived by his wife of 38 years, Betsy Bergstein, two brothers, three children and four grandchildren.