The morning after a big election, reporters usually hunch over their coffee, sift through the returns and try to make sense of the results. But this sunny Wednesday morning, they instead found themselves on the riverbank watching the mayor-elect arriving to his first post-election news conference in a canoe.
Portland had awakened May 16, 1984, to learn it had ousted a longtime city insider and instead elected a tavern owner as mayor. Bud Clark came by canoe just to show how different a mayor he would be.
Clark, a longtime neighborhood activist, had the night before beaten Mayor Frank Ivancie by 13 percentage points, a victory few saw coming. His victory tested the idea that an everyday guy could step into City Hall and bring its power closer to citizens.
Ivancie had been one of the last conservatives in City Hall, gaining his political support from police and fire unions and right-leaning precincts in East Portland. He had spent years spitting on the reforms Mayor Neil Goldschmidt brought to the city. In 1980, Ivancie won election as mayor. He fought innovations such as Pioneer Courthouse Square. He proposed anti-crime ordinances his own lawyers called unconstitutional. He often was petty and fearsome, and no one of any political weight was willing to take him on as he sought re-election.
Enter John Elwood "Bud" Clark Jr., 52, a joyful and at times goofy owner of the Goose Hollow Inn. Clark chafed that people described him as "just a bartender" when he saw himself as a cost-conscious small businessman. He was mainly known for having flashed a nude statue in the 1978 "Expose Yourself to Art" poster and for shouting out his trademark "Whoop! Whoop!" (The cheer was Clark's imitation of a male guinea pig trying to mate.)
Clark beat the overconfident Ivancie with an impressive grassroots campaign that few people took seriously. (One exception was WW, which endorsed Clark's candidacy.)
Clark made national news, mugged with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and in 1985 declared a "Dress as You Please Day." Clark, wearing rainbow sandals and shorts held up by green suspenders, turned the event into a parade. More than 2,500 people showed up.
Not everyone liked the lighthearted style. Clark hired mostly unexperienced staff and soon went off the rails. His hiring of the first woman to run a big-city police force ended badly (see the April 20, 1985, entry), and he burned through four more police chiefs during his two terms.
"Bud Clark was a breath of fresh air," wrote historian E. Kimbark MacColl, "but when he got to City Hall, he was like a steamboat captain who suddenly gets put in charge of the Queen Elizabeth."
But Clark forced the city to confront the problem of homelessness, forever making housing and social services a centerpiece of the city's political agenda. He turned around a city budget depleted by Ivancie's generous contracts to police and fire unions. He personally intervened to avert a TriMet drivers strike. And he led the successful 1986 campaign to build the Oregon Convention Center.
"Bud was transparent, collegial and collaborative," says then-Commissioner Mike Lindberg, "and became a good mayor."
At 80, Clark still frequents the Goose Hollow Inn, where recently he said he considers the city's focus on community policing and homelessness the lasting differences he made.
1974: Mt. Hood Freeway Killed
1978: Bill Walton Sits Down
1995: Bicyclists Sue Portland
2009: Sam Adams Admits Lying
2011: Occupy Portland