Neil Goldschmidt, Portland Mayor Who Abused Teenager, Dies at 83


Neil Goldschmidt, a transformative figure in Oregon politics who as mayor of Portland in the 1970s reshaped the city into a vibrant, progressive, pedestrian-friendly urban area — a period when he was sexually abusing a teenage girl, he later admitted — died on Wednesday at his home in Portland. He was 83.

A family member said the cause was congestive heart failure.

As mayor of Portland, and then as governor of Oregon from 1987 to 1991, Mr. Goldschmidt earned a reputation as a visionary architect of urban renewal. His ideas for making cities more walkable and less dependent on cars became templates for municipal officials across the country.

In Portland, he fought off federal plans for a highway that would have cut straight through the city, diverting funding for the project to the creation of downtown parks and a light-rail transit system. He also poured money into restoring blighted neighborhoods and backed mixed-use developments combining housing, retail and offices.

“He understood that if you attract new families into older neighborhoods, you provide a labor force and customers for downtown businesses,” Carl Abbott, a historian at Portland State University, said in an interview. “And if downtown businesses are strong and downtown is interesting and exciting, then that makes people want to live there.”

In 1979, after Mr. Goldschmidt served two terms as mayor, President Jimmy Carter appointed him transportation secretary. After Mr. Carter left office in 1981, Mr. Goldschmidt joined Nike, one of Oregon’s most prominent companies, as a senior executive. He won election as the state’s 33rd governor in 1986.

Viewed as a rising star in national politics, Mr. Goldschmidt stunned political observers in 1990 when he announced that he wouldn’t seek a second term and that he was separating from his wife, Margaret Wood, after 25 years of marriage.

Rumors of extramarital affairs had swirled around Mr. Goldschmidt for years.

“Serving the state I love has come at a cost to another love, my family,” he said in announcing his decision not to run.

Mr. Goldschmidt started a consulting firm and served on the Oregon Board of Higher Education.

Then, in May 2004, a scandalous 30-year secret was exposed.

Willamette Week, an alternative newspaper, reported that Mr. Goldschmidt, while serving as Portland’s mayor, had sex numerous times with a teenage girl over a three-year period beginning when she was 14. He had reached a financial settlement with the victim in 1994, the newspaper reported.

As Willamette Week was about to publish its story online, Mr. Goldschmidt confessed to reporters from the daily newspaper The Oregonian during a 50-minute interview. He said the girl, a neighbor, was the daughter of someone who had worked on his campaign for mayor.

“I’m just living with this personal hell,” he said. “The lie has gone on too long.”

He also acknowledged that rumors about extramarital affairs weren’t just rumors.

“If people work hard enough, I think you’ll find indiscretions,” he told The Oregonian. “But nothing as ugly as this.”

The statute of limitations on any criminal charges that might have been brought against Mr. Goldschmidt, including statutory rape, had expired decades earlier. The woman he abused later gave a series of interviews to Margie Boulé, a columnist for The Oregonian, describing her relationship with the mayor.

The woman said the abuse first began when she was 13, on her mother’s birthday. It virtually destroyed her, she said. She attempted suicide at age 15 and later become addicted to alcohol and cocaine. She died in 2011.

“I had so much potential,” she told Ms. Boule. “I was so bright. I loved to read, I loved to learn.”

Neil Edward Goldschmidt was born on June 16, 1940, in Eugene, Ore., to Lester Goldschmidt, an accountant, and Annette (Levin) Goldschmidt.

After graduating from the University of Oregon in 1963 with a degree in political science, he moved to Washington, D.C., and worked as an intern for Senator Maurine B. Neuberger of Oregon.

Mr. Goldschmidt left Washington after a year and moved to Mississippi to work on a voter-registration drive with Charles Evers, the brother of the civil rights activist Medgar Evers.

After several months in the Deep South, he enrolled in law school at the University of California, Berkeley, and graduated in 1967. Rather than joining classmates who went on to earn large salaries at big law firms, Mr. Goldschmidt worked for the Legal Aid Society in Portland.

In 1970, he won a seat on the City Council. He was elected mayor in 1972 and served two four-year terms.

Mr. Goldschmidt married Diana Snowden in 1994. She survives him, along with his children from his first marriage, Rebecca McMillan and Josh Goldschmidt; two stepchildren, Kirsten and Neilan Snowden; his brother, Steve; and eight grandchildren.

After his confession, Mr. Goldschmidt spent the rest of his life out of the public eye.

“Although he battled many health issues for years, he was actively engaged with family and friends in discussions about school, business, politics and wine until the day of his passing,” his family said in a statement, adding that they hoped people would remember the “significant positive contributions he made to our community.”

Political figures in Oregon have struggled to define his legacy.

“In what he has done and what he has meant for this state, Neil belongs among the political icons of the past 50 years,” Angus Duncan, a former aide to Mr. Goldschmidt, told The Washington Post after the sexual abuse was disclosed. “He was a larger-than-life creature who left a durable impact on the landscape.”

After his death, the assessments were less charitable.

“Neil Goldschmidt’s abuse of a young girl destroyed her life, a horrific act that should make any other discussion of his political career moot,” Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said in a statement. “The best response to this news would be to contribute to organizations dedicated to preventing sexual abuse, such as the Oregon Association for the Treatment and Prevention of Sexual Abuse.”



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