planpdx.org: Interview with Dave Yaden
Date of Interview: August 20, 2001
Interview By: Ernie Bonner
Location: Dave Yaden's home
DY = Dave Yaden
EB = Ernie Bonner
EB: So Dave, why don't you just start off by telling us a little bit about how you actually got to Portland?
DY: All right, Ernie. I actually was born in Portland. My folks had moved to Lake Oswego in 1942 from Klamath Falls so my dad could work in the shipyards. I went to high school at Lake Oswego and went on to Portland State in 1960, thanks largely to a scholarship provided by then state senator Monroe Sweetland. Those were the days when you could get a state scholarship, and it was vitally important to me to be able to afford even Portland State.
I fell in with Marko Haggard and that crew at Portland State. Portland State in those days was a wonderful place because it was still peopled with ex-Korean War era vets who were a little more serious, but also knew how to have fun in a robust way: people like Ed Westerdahl and Dick Feeney and Denny West and I, plus Ed Grosswiler and an interesting cluster of people around speech professor Ben Padrow, who later became a County Commissioner, and Marko and some others. So it was an exciting time at Portland State.
I did a little bit of work with a syndicated columnist and author by the name of Sam Lubell, who wrote a column called The People Speak, which appeared in over 135 newspapers at one point. I worked with him in 1964 when he was covering the Oregon primary election, and he taught me the art of going into a precinct and conducting interviews with people in their homes, on their doorsteps, and the power of actually listening very carefully to people and letting them talk in their own words about the changes that were going on around them and how they were reacting to them. That became a central focus of what I did later in life. It was a contrast with the standardized interviewing that gets done.
EB: Was there an academic discipline of that kind at PSU that you could attach to?
DY: Not at all. Lubell had an ongoing feud with George Gallup and the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan, which were then the dominant players in the business of survey research and public opinion analysis. He thought they put far too much emphasis on statistical sampling and far too little on actually listening to people. I came later to characterize standard polling as like the French definition of statistics: a means of being precise about matters of which they remained ignorant. Lubell was very much interested in trying to really understand how people were trying to make sense of politics.
So it was terrific training, but it was just happenstance that I began working with him. He needed somebody to drive him around the state. Marko picked me, and Lubell and I hit it off. I had an ongoing relationship with him over the years after that. Even though he wanted me to take over his business, I didn't.
EB: What kind of a degree did you get from Portland State?
DY: I just got a plain old B.A. in political science.
EB: They didn't have urban affairs or anything at that time?
DY: They actually were just beginning, but my real interest was politics and political science, government generally, not necessarily urban affairs.
In 1965, after leaving Portland State, I went on to a one-year internship with Senator Maurine Neuwberger. The Neuwbergers, Dick and Maurine, had done these fellowships, these internships, since Dick had been in the Senate. They were wonderful, a wonderful institution, very competitive. Each college or university in the state put up one candidate, and then there was a competitive set of interviews, and it was quite an honor to receive these. In fact, the last three Neuwberger internships were Neil Goldschmidt, Don Bonker, and then I was the very last one. So that was a terrific year in D.C.
Then I was drafted, spent a little bit of time in the Army, came out, and did a little work with Don Bonker in Clark County as the Deputy County Auditor, where Mr. Bonker's chief claim to fame was pushing the brand-new vote technology called punch card voting, which he has since come to rue.
At any rate, I then went on to graduate school at Claremont.
EB: Now, when did you get out of the Army and come back here?
DY: I went into the Army, actually, in '67. I came back after just a one-year stint in the Army because my father had died. I was on orders to go to Vietnam at the time for the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes, but was released early and came back in late '67.
I then went to graduate school in Claremont in '68. So I had very little connection with the city or much of what was going on.
EB: You weren't around for the '68 election with Kennedy and...
DY: Actually, I was here. Dick Feeney roped me into doing some work for Bobby Kennedy, and I recall specifically I had to put out a little campaign newspaper for them, plus organize a train trip down the valley.
I remember that when it came time to pay for the train trip, I was told to go to a particular room in--I can't recall which hotel specifically--but I remember going up to this room, explaining what I needed to pay for this train that they had rented to go down the valley. They had all this cash laid out there on the bed, and they peeled off enough cash for me to go pay for this train trip.
So I was engaged in that May primary, but then that September I went off to graduate school.
EB: Many others talk about the '68 campaign as sort of starting them off in their political careers.
DY: Well, and I suspect a remarkable number of romantic matches and pairings that were based upon the divide: one in the Gene McCarthy camp, one in the Bobby Kennedy camp. I'm trying to remember whether Anne Kelly Feeney was working for Gene McCarthy at that time, and Dick was working for Bobby Kennedy.
EB: That was a great campaign for a lot of people. So you went to graduate school?
DY: I went to graduate school in government at Claremont for two years.
In 1970, getting ready to come back to Portland, I did take time to run a congressional campaign for a Democratic candidate against a then-notorious John Bircher by the name of John Russelot, and the Democratic candidate happened to be Myrlie Evers, now Myrlie Evans Williams, who was the widow of Medgar Evers. She now lives in Bend. I think we got 34 percent of the vote, which was two percent more than any Democrat had ever received in the district.
But then I came back to Portland in late 1970, ostensibly to look at a job teaching at Reed. Reed and I pretty instantly and mutually decided that would not be a good fit.
I was doing some work on a temporary basis for the Portland Planning Bureau at that time. I came back to do a specific assignment on the Northwest District Plan, which was to do a, quote, social analysis. Well, I didn't know for sure what that was, and I don't think anybody else did, but everybody's heart was in the right place, wanting to do the right thing and be sensitive to the district. So I did prepare as much information as I could about the social composition of the district, went out and did some interviewing with people, worked especially on the problem of low income and SRO housing, where it was threatened by the freeway.
EB: That was I-405?
DY: Yes. I worked on that for a relatively short period of time. Can't remember the number of months, but my basic recollection is I was only working on that for about five or six months before another opportunity came along, which we'll talk about in just a second.
But the one memory I really do have from that time is getting a call from an assistant to a city commissioner who I didn't really know named Neil Goldschmidt--and I have no idea why this phone call came to me--that Ed Westerdahl, then the director of the Port of Portland, had decided that the Port ought to have an income tax. So I get this call saying, "Commissioner Goldschmidt wants to know if you think the Port of Portland ought to have an income tax." And I said, "No, I think that's a terrible idea. A special purpose government shouldn't have an income tax. The City of Portland should have an income tax."
So they said, "Good, you go with Commissioner Goldschmidt to see Westerdahl." I'd never met Neil Goldschmidt in my life.
So off we troop, and I remember walking into Westerdahl's office, and of course I knew Ed because of the Portland State connection, but Ed was a pretty gruff - he liked to use his persona as part of his power.
EB: He had such a baby face, he had to be gruff, you know.
DY: Yes, but he always liked to speak in stentorian tones. He was really a marvelous public servant, but I remember walking in and Neil just announcing to him, "You're not going to have an income tax; if anybody's going to have an income tax, we're going to have an income tax," and it went from there, and it was a very impressive introduction to Neil because he saw an issue, went to the heart of it very quickly, dove into it, and of course I was an immediate fan.
I then moved to take advantage of an opportunity that had been presented to me by a wonderful citizen of Portland, Roger Bachman.
Probably most people don't know Roger, but he's been one of those wonderful Portland families. He and his wife Eve have just given a lot in a lot of quiet ways to the city.
Roger was an advertising man who was vitally interested then in school finance and had been involved in a lot of school finance efforts. He was dissatisfied that they really had any means of knowing what was going on, of surveying voters and keeping up, so he in some way had become aware of this work I had done with Lubell, and offered to put up some money if I would go into business, which I gladly did, and we created something called Campaign Information Counselors, which other than Roy Bardsley was the only group away doing any public opinion research. Roy was the old man of the business and had been doing it for years.
But at any rate, I launched the business, and pretty quickly was doing a lot of interviewing around a lot of different issues, both political candidates, Democratic candidates for the most part - although not exclusively; I did some work for Clay Meyers when he was thinking about contending with Vic Atiyeh in the Republican primary. Did some work for the Young Republicans through Tuck Wilson. Did work on school finance.
People forget that school finance was then a huge issue because the Portland School District did not have a tax base, so they were living hand-to-mouth from school levy to school levy, and this was considered the "school funding crisis" of its day. So school funding, I have come to appreciate, shall always be with us in one guise or another.
But among the jobs I took on was doing the public opinion work for Neil's race for Mayor in 1972. In fact, I dug out one of the reports that I had done for that, which is kind of funny. Let's see if I can find it because I thought I had summarized in it what the issues were looking back, and I thought, "Well, this will be kind of fun."
This was again with Neil running against Bill DeWeese, who was the establishment candidate at that point, and this was my report to Neil as of May 15, so just basically a week before the primary:
"The dominant effect of the campaign thus far has been to reinforce the first survey weak vote intentions for both DeWeese and Goldschmidt. The effect of the 'peace march' and Goldschmidt's handling of it was positive for Neil."
Now, I can't remember too much about the peace march myself, but it must have been some help to Neil.
"Three, prior to the switch in tone of his campaign, DeWeese was bolstering as many Goldschmidt supporters as he was gaining for himself due to the perceived negative tone of the advertising.
"Four, the central issue for undecided voters and weak voters at this point is Neil's age and experience.
"Five, the visibility of a low-key, apolitical, positive media campaign in conjunction with the canvass is crucial in maintaining the solid Goldschmidt support. One of the nuances that flows from the last series of interviews is that people are reassured to see Neil's campaign working in some fashion that is not blatantly political. The contrast with DeWeese's original campaign has been beneficial."
Now, what I remember also out of this was that the Hallocks were Neil's advertising agency, and I remember battles royal with Ted over a very strong recommendation that I had made, which was that Neil should use radio to reinforce a lot of the little things that he had done as a city commissioner because people saw Neil as this big idea guy, you know, bright and energetic, but they were wondering, "Is he solid?" So I said, "We've got to reinforce that this is a guy who gets the little stuff done and is really a solid performer." And I remember just terrible battles with Ted over that; he wanted something a little more zingy.
But at any rate, I told Neil on the day of the election that he was going to get 57, 58 percent of the vote, and that's exactly what he got, and that sort of solidified my reputation. I did do a good job of at least doping out the campaign.
EB: Sounds like you listened.
DY: Yes. So that was a very high experience for me because I knew I had actually really contributed to the campaign, and it was just such an exciting time.
EB: And he also was running against more than just DeWeese, right?
DY: Yeah, there were more candidates, but DeWeese was the only serious candidate, and Neil did win a sufficient number of votes in the primary so that it was over.
EB: So the rest of 1972 he was effectively the mayor.
DY: Yes. And I had very little to do with him at that time. You know, I had done his political stuff, and I was not part of the City Hall crowd.
EB: But you were still in business with Roger at the time?
DY: I was in business with Roger. Bob Straub had been a client, and I actually found a nice letter from Bob when I was going through this stuff. It was really nice. He said it was the best campaign decision he made.
One of my other clients was Don Bonker, who had run for congress in 1974 and won, and then I went on to become Don's administrative assistant in his congressional office in D.C. So in '75 we moved back to D.C.
The only other real connection I had with Neil and the city at that point - well, there were two things. I did a survey for them about crime and attitudes about crime, which was a very big issue. I did a very clumsy job with it. It wasn't a particularly satisfying effort in many respects, except that I did nail down pretty clearly that objective fear of crime correlated less with the kind of punitive measures that people wanted than did a sense of crime as a political issue. The hard-liners on crime were people who didn't necessarily feel personally threatened, but thought that crime represented a dissolution of society and the traditional societal bonds and morality and so on. So what was really driving the reaction, the sort of hard right reaction to crime, was not deep down real fear of crime, so much as it was the sense that this is some kind of a loosening of the bonds of traditional morality and so on. Perceived increase in crime was the issue, not fear of crime.
Well, I don't know how helpful that was, except to the extent that it helped prevent doing crazy things in reaction to this ostensible fear of crime that was sweeping the country.
EB: Might have given them a sense of reality about it. Now, in Pittsburgh, the further you were from the high crime areas, the more you feared crime. It was so irrational, this fear.
DY: And again it wasn't the fear of crime when you really bored in on it. This is one of the bones that I've always had with traditional survey research, they're not actually listening carefully to people. Because they're using these structured questionnaires and nobody's actually listening, things like fear of crime get picked up as that's what we're talking about; whereas if you listen closely to people you realize, no, there's a real distinction.
This is a story I've told, that I was out interviewing on a doorstep - I think it was '72, I can't remember for sure - but I asked a woman a traditional question from survey research, "What do you feel is the biggest problem facing the country today?" And she said, "Crime," and I said, "Well, what makes you feel that way?" And she said, "I read the newspaper this morning, and the Gallup poll says that most people are worried about crime, so I guess that must be the biggest issue."
Now, this is a wonderful story. Here's a pollster talking to a pollster, basically, Gallup talking to Yaden. So I asked her, "Well, what are you worried about yourself?" And she was much more worried as a Catholic parent about the double taxation she faced sending her kids to a Catholic school.
So it was, click, one of those things that went off in my head and told me that you have to pay a lot of attention to what you actually think you're measuring.
So that was the crime survey. I still was doing quite a bit of work with schools, school funding and those kinds of issues.
On my own I had taken a look at the 1970 census data, and wrote a little piece that actually appeared in the Portland State newspaper, student newspaper, in essence saying...
EB: Called The Vanguard then?
DY: Yes. ...saying here's what's happening to the population of the city: losing families, especially families with kids, concentrating our elderly and special needs population, and these are trends that you don't want if you're a city because here are the consequences.
This was in late '72, actually between the primary and Neil actually taking office, and evidently that turned out to be a help to Neil and the City Hall gang for giving some coherence to what they were about. It apparently became a bit of a center of gravity for what they were talking about, and it came to be called the population strategy or the family strategy or whatever.
Then I was off in D.C. from '75 until '79, late '78, running Don Bonker's congressional office. So we had periodic dealings with the city, but not too much. Late '78 Neil made one of his trips to D.C. and came by the house, and planted the seed that I ought to come back, we ought to come back to Portland because he was at that point contemplating should he run for a third term as mayor, should he run against Bob Packwood for the Senate, should he run for governor, should he get out of politics, and he really wanted somebody that had had some experience back there to at least be able to talk about what is it that a senator does, and to help give some perspective. Plus he had an opening in the Mayor's Office, and "You can come back and get back into what the city's doing."
So after five years with Don, which is about the time I spend with any job...
EB: Especially with a congressman or a senator.
DY: Bonker was terrific. I mean, he and I were good friends, and he treated me very well, and it was a very heady experience. I was right in the middle of then the hottest political issue in the Northwest, which was Indian fishing rights and the so-called Bolt decision which allocated 50 percent of the catch, particularly in the state of Washington, to the Indians, and I got to work with Magnusen and Jackson, and then a very powerful Tom Foley. Very powerful terrific Washington delegation, so it was a heady time, and it was a very good experience.
But nonetheless we thought we'd be ready to come back, and we packed up and came back in early January of '79. Drove a U-Haul truck full of our goods and our young kids through the ice storms, ended in Portland I think right in the middle of that terrible ice storm then. It was really miserable.
I had just really gotten started working in Neil's office. Len Bergstein had also been hired, and there was a lot of talk then even in the Oregonian about what are these two political types doing in the Goldschmidt office.
EB: Right. It was all over City Hall.
DY: I was really just getting my desk settled and finding out what was going on, and I remember that Neil had asked me to go to work on the Pioneer Place proposal, and I remember being slightly over my head because I didn't understand in the same way that Neil did, instinctively, how the downtown urban core and urban retail works and the significance of how you put those pieces together. As I reflect back, that still strikes me as one of the things that Neil understood in depth and breadth in a way that I can't even begin to comprehend - how he knew the importance of keeping a Nordstrom's, how he knew the right feel and mix of public spaces and dynamic private investment, what you needed to really make that private investment work without just giving away the store. Those were things that I just - I couldn't quite get them all in my head at one time, and Neil always did, and that has...
EB: From day one.
DY: From day one, and as I reflect back even to the Bill DeWeese campaign I realize Neil didn't ever blink with these guys, he didn't give them an inch, he beat them at their own game, and then he turned out to be better in some respects at that game, that is, urban retail and urban commercial life and urban real estate, than they did. And I thought, "This is remarkable. Here's somebody who didn't kowtow to them, but really believed in the importance of it all."
EB: And this is a guy who less than five years before was working in a legal aid office in the Southeast, so that's what's amazing about that man.
DY: Yes. To me it was the most amazing - it wasn't the neighborhood, the determination to make neighborhoods part of it, it wasn't the transportation decisions, it was more that sense that this guy understood the city as an organic whole, as an organic entity where if you tweaked one thing, it had effects throughout the rest of the organism. He just seemed to have a command and intuitive grasp of that that exceeded anybody who worked for him, I think probably including you, and you're a pretty smart guy.
EB: Oh, definitely.
DY: And that to me was what really was striking, and actually it was a bit of a contrast when he became governor, because trying to figure out what a state is - a state is a very artificial entity, and I think Neil had more trouble actually in trying to put together how an artificial entity like a state works, in contrast to his again instinctive grasp of what Jane Jacobs and others sort of have known, that a city is a very different special kind of place, with both more opportunities and more challenges.
EB: Maybe so. Well, you know, I'd like a little of your feedback on a kind of a hunch that I have about Neil, which is that he gravitates to projects, and he - as a matter of fact he's expressed on certain occasions, you know, how much he's not very much interested in policy or comprehensive plans or things like that, but he seems to - he sees the connections between things and among things very quickly, and he gravitates to projects, and when he gets into a project, then he is ferocious and he's determined. But one of the things that Ron Buell said in his interview was that he talked about the day that Ron was driving Neil back from City Hall after work, and Neil just said to Ron out of the blue, "You know something? I think I know how this is done now. I think we should run for mayor."
This was in the first year he was a commissioner. So he definitely was starting to see it, although he doesn't show up much in terms of development things in the first year. He's still into the personnel - not personnel, but more of the social issues. He did the Bureau of Human Resources - is that what they named it? - but anyway, he started to set up this bureau to deal basically with social issues.
But it wasn't very long until he got into development in a hurry. He didn't seem to have much interest in policy, but he sure knew how to set a tone, which is in a way a much better way to set policy is to put something on the ground, than it is to put some words on paper. So I don't know, I think he had almost a bully pulpit, using projects instead of words, and that set the tone.
But at any rate, I have an idea he's complicated enough that nobody's ever going to really be able to nail him down.
DY: Well, the two things that I do know about him, from my experience at least, one is the level of energy that's required and that he has, certainly had, in abundance, the capacity to remain enthusiastic about things and to manage an incredible amount of conflict and contention and keep pushing things along, or run fast enough that everybody else has got to run to keep up with you. So that level of energy, and that's I think characteristic of real political leaders.
The other thing is that I've worked with a fair number of smart people, and I think out of all the political figures I ever worked with, Neil is honestly the only one I could ever say who I thought on all fronts and in all circumstances was going to be smarter than I was. I've seldom felt that.
EB: I think that a lot of people could say that.
DY: So at least those two characteristics.
EB: Now, when you went back to work, by that time they had been developing for several years a certain set of policies that started with your work, and their efforts started I think closely after that period of time, and I think in many ways were led probably by Alan Webber. But outside of a schools policy, you don't remember much coming of that, and I don't remember that policy being applied sort of like to different bureaus or any sense of trying to make the whole city act differently, but more a sense of, "This is what we believe. We don't care what you do, sort of, but this is what we believe. This is what we're about, and we're going to do things." More kind of like that, a more academic kind of approach to it.
DY: I was not actively involved, Ernie, and that's an interesting perspective from somebody who was there in the middle of it all trying to make things work. As it got played back to me, it was more that the emphasis was particularly on the importance of getting the housing mix in all circumstances, and the danger of letting neighborhoods and areas drift off into single use. So, one, getting a housing mix, making sure that you really did have housing in places that maintained citizen activity, people out walking, whatever. And then the other thing was, and I don't know how this played out, but it did at least get played back to me, the importance of families. You know, if you're not keeping families with kids in the city, you're losing.
Now, how that played out, I don't really know.
EB: Well, I actually don't remember particular programs sort of mounted on behalf of that, although I don't have the best of memories, either. But in my experience, it didn't seem like that happened. It was more like this is a goal, and not much was done in terms of getting it down to policies and objectives, so you could actually do something and measure what you'd done and that kind of thing.
But Charlotte Beeman, for instance, makes the comment that when she was working on the schools policy with some people from the Bureau Neil was always saying, "Well, what are you doing that for?" You know, he didn't see the use of that, and of course he was more right than wrong about that, for sure. If you're not going to go ahead and press anything, what good is it, you know? So I think he turned out to be more right than wrong about planning.
DY: Probably true. You know, one of the raps about Franklin Roosevelt had always been that this was a guy who didn't really have a program, he just had an enormous appetite for experimenting, and that the whole New Deal was kind of a jury-built rig that shifted course every few months, tried something, and it failed or ran into political opposition, so he'd try something else.
There's enormous strength in that for somebody who has the political energy and will and capacity to stand up to the failures and then move on to something else, and in some respects I think Neil was a little bit like that. The only thing I would add about the absence of an overarching policy and planning is that Neil, because he did understand the organism of the city and he knew what the effects of - if you played with the schools, he knew what that meant in terms of transportation in Southeast, so he could draw those connections - he had a context and a grasp of those connections that I think was the functional equivalent and probably better than a, quote, comprehensive plan, because it was real and it was based on a sense of these connections, and I think that's a much better place to be than the, quote, plan.
EB: I couldn't agree more.
DY: So I guess that's the only other thing I would say is that he didn't suffer from want of a "plan."
I had one other just anecdote about Neil just to throw in for the record. In 1979 I remember getting a call from the White House, a friend in the Vice President's office who said, "Carter has let most of the cabinet go, or a good chunk of the cabinet, and Neil's going to get a chance to be - probably he'll have his choice of either HUD or Transportation." And I remember Neil thinking not too long about that and saying, "I think transportation has more to do with what is going to happen with cities in this country than HUD does right now." So his choice of transportation was really based on where can you do more for cities and urban areas.
[End of Side 1, Tape 1.]
EB: Can you talk a little bit about some of the other people in the city you remember, some of the experiences. Maybe we can talk about some of the people in the Mayor's Office and in the Council that you recall.
DY: I don't have strong memories of a lot of people. I got to know Lloyd Anderson a little bit because my good friend Denny West, who has been a very close friend since our days at Portland State, was working with Lloyd. I remember sort of being rather amused that these two guys, Goldschmidt and Anderson, who were so together on what ought to happen in the city, sort of butted heads at a staff and personal level for whatever reason. I always ascribed it to just a certain amount of two very large, talented people and egos in a confined space. But there was clearly something that went on, particularly between the staffs, but I was an outsider to all of that.
I can understand, looking back, how it would appear to people who were as thoughtful and organized and reasonably quiet about doing their business as the Anderson staff, that the Goldschmidt staff was a bunch of animals who had mistakenly been let out of the zoo to run loose on the streets. A very different style, and what I do remember from, again, Neil's office, the '75 experience and then the brief experience in '79, was the delightfully contentious sort of locker room, almost gladiatorial style. The ideas that survived, to some extent, were those that you cared enough about to bleed over, because you were going to bleed in that office. People had sharp elbows, and they weren't above personal attacks and other things.
But it had a way within that office of strengthening folks, seemingly. It didn't seem to get in the way of either the functioning of the office or of the kind of personal regard and respect that people had for each other.
EB: Remember anything about Mildred or Connie?
DY: You know, not well enough to be very certain and not well enough to know what is of recent construction in my memory versus what was really going on there. I recall that it was sort of minimal high regard for other people. I don't recall much sense of putting together permanent coalitions and really cultivating a coalition in charge of things, more a sense of you've got particular votes coming up, what combination of muscle and whatever else do you use to get the Council lined up on this particular vote. But my sense was not, again, of here's a governing coalition within the Council, because there just wasn't enough respect for...
But again, I want to be a little cautious about that.
EB: No, I understand. Well, if you don't remember that much, there's not that much to say.
What about Frank Ivancie? Do you have any memories of him?
DY: Again, filtered more through Neil's office than through any direct experience that I had, but sort of the Spiro Agnew of Portland, as far as the Goldschmidt crowd was generally concerned; I mean this was evil incarnate.
EB: But you didn't have any real personal dealings with him?
DY: I didn't have any real personal dealings with him, no.
EB: How about people in the City itself? You knew Anderson's staff, you knew people - Don Barney and Denny West over there. Lynn Musolf, people back up at Portland State?
DY: I knew Lynn a little bit, again primarily through Denny and Ken Gervais, who had been associated with the Urban Studies Center. I had not been directly associated with the Urban Studies Center all that much, so I got to know Lynn a little bit more through them.
EB: The Urban Studies Center maybe got started after you had left Portland State?
DY: It did, actually. Just as I was leaving it was taking shape. I think that's right. So I don't have strong memories of it, and the people in Neil's office - again, I don't have strong memories of them. I didn't have that much day-to-day business with the Mayor's Office in '75, before I left in '75.
EB: How would you compare now with then, what's happening in the city now versus then, maybe in a bit more general terms than just what's happening in City Hall, but how would you compare Portland now with then?
DY: I'm a believer in the thermodynamics school of politics, that everything that happens is largely a reaction to something that's happened before, and that at times the circumstances of any particular reaction can bring together a set of influences that are pretty happy, a pretty happy accident. To some extent that's what happened in the '70s, the contrast with what had gone on before, the sense of drift and disquiet over the smugness of, you know, "We don't really need to do anything" - and I understand that's an overstatement because of what was going on to look at the transit situation, people were working on making sure that there was transit to survive, but nonetheless a sense that, man, something's got to happen! And the role of leadership first and foremost is to crystallize the vague discontents that are out there and make sense of them, and Neil's role in that was absolutely superb. But in much the same way as the minute World War II was done the British got rid of Winston Churchill because he no longer fit the times, there is a sense in which leadership really does fit the times, and we had, I think, an extraordinary set of good luck in some ways for leadership that fit the times.
Consistent with what was generally happening at that time there was still a strong sense of potential and possibility. We hadn't run through the string of disappointments with the government and leadership that then fed the '80s and the '90s - the reaction that then happened in reaction to the '60s and '70s. So the sense of possibility was still very high, and also that the city was the center of things. There was an awareness of what was going on in the region, but city-county consolidation was the issue. CRAG was interesting and all of that, but the emphasis upon consolidation of services, and the sense that what happened in the city was the center of gravity. To some extent it was the sun of the region.
Today I think the city of Portland still struggles to find its role within the region, the larger region, and has a much more unsettled relationship it hasn't come to yet fully grasp. And I don't think anybody in the city necessarily really takes on the issue, other than Charlie Hales. But even with Charlie his approach is largely still protecting the City's interests within the institutional framework of Metro.
Metro, incidentally, I think is one of the greatest of happy accidents. You probably could never put it together again, having fallen into it.
EB: Do you think the same is true of LCDC?
DY: I don't know as much, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's the case.
Portland partakes in the difference then and now nationally, and almost internationally in some respects. I've actually been impressed as I've thought about it with the arguments in Robert Putnam's book, Bowling Alone, about the generational differences, and this is something that Lubell was also very fascinated with. He always wanted me out interviewing college students to see what choices students were making about the career path they'd follow, in contrast to their parents. He said this is a very sensitive barometer. If you see college students, or young people generally, making career choices that differ from their parents', and particularly in terms of whether they're involved with the public sector, some kind of teaching, government work, helping versus going into hardcore business, that's a very sensitive barometer to where society is going.
So I've come to have my own beliefs about the solidifying, that we are going through a generational period right now where politics is in fact much more self-centered, and we're going to have to live through this. I don't know what the next era will be.
So Portland is just part of that great national tide. So that is a national difference that makes things different today, and clearly one of the biggest issues is getting the younger generations, the boomers and the X-ers, really engaged.
EB: That's something that I have a lot of difficulty with, deciding whether or not I'm just getting old and crotchety, or are things getting really different, and foreboding in a way, in terms of a kind of sense that an individual has about himself and his community, and it seems to me it's becoming more and more turned in, less and less turned toward to the community for a lot of reasons, and no responsibility taken on the part of individuals for much anymore.
Of course, that to me was sort of at the heart of the family or the population strategy is that if you have people n the city who are responsible citizens, who are nurturing children and taking care of schools and their house and their neighborhood, you'll have a successful city. If you don't, I don't think you have a successful organization of any kind.
DY: I recall, Ernie, reading a little bit about the - I can't remember whether it was the Charlotte and Ogden Beeman interview - and incidentally, let me be on record of saying how significant these interviews are, and thank you for doing them - but a comment that either one or both of them made about the transformation of the original neighborhood organizations, which really arose as these things should and do as protest movements, out of a sense of aggrievement. But they have become bureaucratized and institutionalized in ways which get in the way of things, and of course this is the normal path of "progress," or regress, for these things.
I do believe right now we're living through a period in which there is a fundamental ambiguity, which our politics has not yet resolved. On the one hand we are going through a period in which politics is less important for people, that we are more self-centered, however you want to characterize it, in a more materialistic, individualistic, withdrawn era - I think the evidence is pretty strong that that's true - and yet underlying that is the sense that, particularly on the environmental front, we can't continue to just have more, more and more.
People appreciate that at a societal level, but have a great deal of difficulty coming to grips with what that means for them, personally. But I think there's this underlying ambivalence or ambiguity, tension, between the sense of individual right to be pursuing the lifestyle I want - This is a self-centered, you could say selfish era - and the sense but there are some limits out there. We see it on most measures of people's vague discontent or worries on the environmental front. That's the one place where it continues to show up, and I think that's going to be the big test of our politics now is coming to grips with that, and it's a challenge for something like the cities because they don't know to do this, either. I mean, that's very different from project work, or let's make the neighborhoods work, or whatever.
It's one of those things that you wait for somebody like a Neil Goldschmidt or a Tom McCall to come along and say, "Well, first of all, look, here's the problem." That's the first thing a leader does is say, "Here's the problem," put into words and crystallize in some way these vague discontents that people have, our sense that something's not quite right, and we can't quite put our finger on it, that things are pretty good, but...
So that's my own sense. Things are pretty good, but we've got some stuff that's just below the surface that nobody's yet found a way to bring into political conversation. I don't think Vera has. I don't think any of our regional leadership has. I'm a great David Bragdon fan, and I think David potentially has it within him to do that, but he's got a lot of nitty gritty institutional stuff to deal with, too.
EB: Very definitely. He's really got a challenge. I agree with you, I think he's really a responsible young man, and capable. He's got guts, too. He seems to be willing to do things, try things.
Well, let's see, what else can we talk about? Anything burning down deep inside you to say about the '70s in Portland?
DY: I was fascinated with Neil's willingness and capacity to attract very bright, energetic people from around the country to come. I do remember you. I remember Gary Stout. I can't remember where Doug Wright came from.
EB: He was working for me in Cleveland, so when I came out, he came.
DY: Oh, is that right? Okay.
EB: I asked him to come out here.
DY: Okay. Maziotti. You know, just an extraordinary collection of people and a willingness to go wherever and do it, without being hung up on anything other than do they have the capacity to move. Again, a sense of momentum and energy.
I guess the only thing that I really would hammer home is the point you to some extent started with, which was there wasn't, quote, a comprehensive plan, but there was what I call a driving dream - you know, something that's a fairly simple fundamental idea that can be powerful enough that it gives a tremendous impetus and momentum, and continued focus and energy, to what you do. And that's terribly important. If you want government to be muscular and powerful in the good sense - not big and smothering, but effective, that's the most important secret, and that to some extent I think is what we had in the '70s was this driving dream, not the comprehensive plan.
EB: Right. One of the major ingredients, I thought, of that driving dream that Neil constantly not only emphasized but exemplified was this combination of public and private investment. Strategically, he tried to put those two together, so that the private investment complemented the public and vice versa, making much more out of it than the two of them alone. That also taught me to 'follow the money.' Plans are not that important unless money is there to carry them out.
DY: Very good point, and I think yet to be explained is the way specifically in which Neil understood and saw the potential for public-private partnerships and how they unfolded because I think the overall record on "public-private partnerships" is that for the most part they've been a means for private interests to get their hands on public subsidies. In an awful lot of places the notion of "partnership" has been a means of enriching some people, rather than achieving something that really was better for the public. So I think there was something unique in some ways or different about the way you and Neil and other people understood that in Portland, and that would be a worthy subject of its own, because I think it's in contrast to a lot of experiences in other places.
Going back, Ernie, to the point about Neil's willingness in the FDR style to do government by experimentation and not be afraid of that, I remember at some point, I can't remember when, but Neil told me that when Doug Wright took to him this strange notion of light rail, which he'd never heard of, that what he thought that was all about at that point in time was a labor saving device, that you needed fewer people driving the train than you did the buses, so it was going to be a means of having a more efficient transit system. But he didn't have a clue at that point about the land use consequences and what we have since come to either understand or make up or believe about the role of light rail in preserving cities and density and concentration and so on. Fascinating. Light rail is a labor saving device.
EB: Well, probably it also could be said that I don't think Neil ever felt he couldn't do anything. So that kind of confidence really is a help. Part of the reason why lots of people were willing to work with Neil, lots of people, was because in a way they need some confidence, too. Even though they might be pretty damn savvy at what they do, they need the confidence of knowing somebody else thinks this is a reasonable idea, too. So that confidence really - you know, if you can instill that, which he was able to do, among thousands of people, hey, you've got a marching army there.
DY: Yes. That's also a very good point, Neil's ability to stand up and tell jokes and not be afraid of all this stuff was very empowering. I think that's absolutely right.
EB: Right. The day he showed up in the Council with the viking helmet on, when he was getting beat up by everybody. Everybody got a laugh out of that.
[End of Interview]