May 6, 2004: Goldschmidt exposed…

In January 1990, then-Gov. Neil Goldschmidt stunned Oregon with the announcement he would not seek a second term.

Goldschmidt, a Democrat, was the golden boy of Oregon politics. He'd won election as Portland mayor in 1972 at the age of 32. In City Hall, he persuaded Nordstrom to build downtown. He led the fight to stop the proposed Mount Hood Freeway and instead built the city's first MAX line. And he converted an expressway along the downtown seawall into Tom McCall Waterfront Park. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter named Goldschmidt as his U.S. secretary of transportation.

He won the governorship in 1986 after years as a Nike executive. All along the way, Goldschmidt exhibited an ability to bring talented people from the private and public sectors together in ways that other politicians could only dream about.

"He was dynamic, charismatic and a real dealmaker," says Carl Abbott, an emeritus professor of history at Portland State University. 

In 1988, midway through Goldschmidt's term, then-Washington Post columnist David Broder singled him out for praise. 

"Few governors," Broder wrote, "have more impressive records in their past and present jobs."

That's why his sudden abandonment of the governorship in 1990 made little sense. He claimed he wouldn't seek re-election because his marriage was breaking up. But Goldschmidt had never been one to relinquish power.

The real reason: While mayor of Portland, Goldschmidt had repeatedly raped the 13-year-old daughter of a neighbor, a girl named Elizabeth Dunham, whose mother worked for Goldschmidt.

Goldschmidt continued the assaults for at least three years. Dunham's friends say Goldschmidt's treatment scarred her. She went from being an honor-roll student at St. Mary's Academy to a federal convict who suffered from substance abuse and mental illness for decades. According to what she told people later, Goldschmidt maintained a sexual relationship with her over the years, including during his time as governor.

Many people around Goldschmidt knew his secret and helped him keep it to protect him and their own careers.

In 1990, Dunham, then 29, talked to friends about the possibility of suing Goldschmidt over the abuse that had taken place more than a decade earlier. With that threat hanging over his head, Goldschmidt left the governor's office.

He then established himself as the state's leading power broker, building a multimillion-dollar consulting business and representing clients such as Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen, Bechtel Corp., Weyerhaeuser and PacifiCorp.

In 1994, he reached a private settlement with Dunham, paying her $350,000 in damages and requiring she remain silent about his abuse.

Goldschmidt avoided the public spotlight until two major events took place in 2003.

First, then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a Goldschmidt protégé, named Goldschmidt to the State Board of Higher Education—as its president, of course. And in the fall of 2003, the Texas Pacific Group, a private equity firm, tried to buy Portland General Electric. Texas Pacific knew the transaction would present political and regulatory challenges that only somebody of Goldschmidt's influence had a shot at overcoming. Goldschmidt was named chairman of the corporation that would take over PGE.

Goldschmidt's re-emergence caused his secrets to bubble to the surface.

In March 2004, WW started an investigation into rumors that Goldschmidt had been involved with a young girl. By May, the newspaper had established his long-term abuse of Dunham.

In the face of WW's findings, Goldschmidt abruptly announced on May 6, 2004, that he was quitting the higher-ed board because of health problems. WW quickly reported that Goldschmidt had actually resigned as a result of the newspaper's investigation. Goldschmidt rushed to spin his version of events to The Oregonian. Six days later, WW laid out the story, including his efforts over the years to keep the crime covered up.

By the time Goldschmidt's secret came to light, his crimes were well beyond the statute of limitations. He closed his consulting firm, resigned all his public positions, quit the state bar and was forced out of the Multnomah Athletic Club. The Legislature took down his portrait in the state Capitol.

Dunham died in 2011.

Over the past decade, Goldschmidt, 74, has divided his time between Portland and France, keeping a low public profile, even as the city he helped convert from a sleepy, Republican-dominated backwater has risen to national acclaim.

From the Archives:
May 12, 2004: "The 30-Year Secret"

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW’s journalism through our Give!Guide Fundraising page.