In The Northwest: Oregon still
reeling from Goldschmidt sex scandal
By JOEL CONNELLY: SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER COLUMNIST
April 4, 2005
A real-life version of the Italian political melodrama
"Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion" reportedly has earned a
Portland alternative newspaper a spot amid finalists for the 2005
Willamette Week revealed last spring that former Oregon Gov.
Neil Goldschmidt began a three-year sexual relationship with a
14-year-old girl while serving as mayor of Portland and engaged in a
cover-up that lasted nearly three decades.
The story was a bombshell. Its aftershocks aren't over.
It blew holes in Oregon's close-knit power structure, sidelined
the state's premier backstage fixer, embarrassed its dominant daily
newspaper and damaged Gov. Ted Kulongoski. Kulongoski was a Goldschmidt
"Most politicians and officeholders in Oregon appear to have
been terrified of Neil and his web of influence," said Dan Meek, a
Portland consumer attorney.
The downfall of Goldschmidt shorted out an electrical power play.
The state's public utility commission recently denied an
application by Texas investors to absorb the Portland General Electric
Co. from its bankrupt corporate parent Enron. Goldschmidt had lined up
a prestige set of Oregon citizens to front for the Texas Pacific Group.
Editor and co-owner Mark Zusman sees a curious twist of fate in
that Willamette Week revealed the ultrasecret of Oregon politics.
"To some degree, the success of this newspaper rests in that we
live in a city that works -- and works because of Neil," he reflected.
Neil Goldschmidt was Oregon's superstar. As Portland mayor in
the 1970s, he torpedoed the proposed Mount Hood Freeway, championed
light rail development and created a glorious waterfront park along the
He left Portland to become U.S. secretary of transportation,
came home to take a top job at Nike and was elected governor of Oregon
in 1986. He shocked the state by leaving after one term, but stayed
active backstage through a vast network of former aides and
"Oregon is a small state and does not produce many celebrity
leaders. Neil was in a class by himself," said Stephen Ponder,
University of Oregon communications professor.
In more ways than one, it turned out. Goldschmidt started having
sex with the 14-year-old, baby sitter to his children and daughter of a
political supporter, in 1975. The relationship continued until he went
off in 1979 to become transportation secretary under President Carter.
Once an honor student, the young woman went on to a troubled
adulthood. She battled drug dependency, served time in federal prison
and was victim of a rape. Goldschmidt began paying her money in the
1990s to head off a lawsuit.
Willamette Week is a rare "underground" publication, born in the
Age of Aquarius, that hasn't become shallow in news coverage and supine
to its entertainment advertisers.
Zusman and publisher Richard Meeker have owned "WW" since 1982
and raised families in Portland. Meeker even belongs to the same
synagogue, Beth Israel, as Neil and Diana Goldschmidt.
The "ultrasecret" was known to a circle of Goldschmidt
associates. According to Willamette Week, rumor of the relationship
wafted into The Oregonian -- the state's major newspaper -- as early as
"A web of relationships protected the story," said Steve
Forrester, publisher of The Daily Astorian. "It was a giant case of
co-dependence. People depended on Neil in various ways, for contracts
and personal meaning and memories of the best days Portland ever had.
An offshoot of co-dependency is often denial."
Willamette Week began examining documents a year ago. Once calls
began, the story instantly reached the Goldschmidt network. Four days
later, Meeker's voice mail had a message: "Rich, this is Neil
Goldschmidt. I'm at the airport, but I'd love to get to lunch with you
They did get together at Carafe, a popular Portland bistro,
after declining Goldschmidt's invitation to a private dining room.
"It was like having another, silent person at the table: He didn't
mention the subject on all of our minds, and we weren't going to touch
it," Zusman recalled.
"On the street outside, Goldschmidt looks at me, takes my hand
and then said 'Go get 'em!' I wonder to this day what he meant."
Willamette Week finished its research. It contacted
Goldschmidt's attorney and said it had documentary evidence of his
sexual relationship with the 14-year-old.
Goldschmidt had one final gambit. On the eve of WW publishing
the story, his publicist called The Oregonian. Goldschmidt went to the
paper, confessed to an "affair with a high school student" saying it
lasted for nearly a year, and apologized "publicly and completely."
The spin briefly worked. The Oregonian described Goldschmidt's
relationship with the 14-year-old as an "affair." It ran an unctuous
editorial headlined "Goldschmidt's tragic choice" and termed his
decision to leave public life "an incalculable loss to the state." (The
Oregonian had been a cheerleader for the Texas Pacific deal.)
Instead, however, The Oregonian found itself enmeshed in
criticism -- and blasted by one of its own columnists -- for its choice
of words and gentle treatment of Goldschmidt.
The episode revived memories of how in 1992 The Oregonian failed
to pursue reports of womanizing by then-Sen. Bob Packwood, although an
inebriated Packwood had planted an intimate kiss on the lips of a
Washington, D.C., reporter for the paper.
As with Oregon's greatest natural eruption -- the blast that
blew the top off Mount Mazama and created Crater Lake 12,000 years ago
-- the dust from Goldschmidt's collapse is taking a long time to settle.
"The ramifications of all this are not fully played out yet,"
said Tim Hibbitts, Oregon's leading pollster.
Or in Zusman's words: "It has created a power vacuum the likes of which
has never been seen in this state. There was Neil, and then five floors
down was the next tier of leadership in this state."
P-I columnist Joel Connelly can be reached at 206-448-8160 or