Former Oregon Gov. Neil Goldschmidt has died

By Jeff Mapes (OPB)
June 12, 2024 9:46 p.m.

Goldschmidt, once a towering figure in state and national politics, admitted sexually abusing a teenager and attempting to cover it up.

Former Oregon Gov. Neil Goldschmidt, one of the state’s most powerful figures before revelations that he had sexually abused a teenager, died Wednesday, two days before he would have turned 84.

Neil Goldschmidt stands at a podium during his gubernatorial campaign in 1986.

FILE: Oregon gubernatorial candidate Neil Goldschmidt reacts to the announcement that he won the endorsement of the Oregon Education Association In Portland, Ore., in this 1986 photo. Goldschmidt died on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.


As the young mayor of Portland in the 1970s, Goldschmidt was an electrifying figure. While many American cities were falling apart, he presided over a flurry of innovation in the City of Roses. He helped kill a freeway and launch a light rail. Under his watch, inner-city neighborhoods were lavished with money and attention. Buses sped passengers for free through a downtown transit mall.

Portland historian Carl Abbott said Goldschmidt showed early in his political career that he was a consummate power broker: “Unlike some other people who think they are dealmakers, he could actually see common points among disparate interests and see how you could pull them together — find something they could all agree on.”

Goldschmidt vaulted to national prominence as President Jimmy Carter’s transportation secretary. He returned to Oregon and won the governorship in 1986 and eventually morphed into a powerful behind-the-scenes consultant.

By the early 2000s, he was asked to take charge of efforts to remake Oregon’s system of higher education. And he was the front man for a Texas firm’s audacious deal to buy Portland General Electric — the state’s largest utility.

Then came the news in 2004: Goldschmidt admitted abusing a 14-year-old girl while he was Portland’s mayor.

The girl was the daughter of a Goldschmidt friend and one-time aide.

Willamette Week reporter Nigel Jaquiss broke the story. He tracked a secret $250,000 settlement that Goldschmidt had reached with his victim in 1994.

“He was a big part of what made Portland, Portland,” Jaquiss said. “So it was, yes, very hard to square with the public image of this successful politician, hard to square with anybody really. I mean, we’re talking about an unspeakable crime here.”

Goldschmidt apologized, closed his consulting firm and left public life. Because too much time had passed, he was protected from prosecution.

Abbott, the historian, said many Oregonians found it hard to even talk about this man who had once been so central to Portland and the state.

“I think it’s only in the last few years that people are willing to really say Neil Goldschmidt out loud again, as opposed to ‘he who shall not be named,’” he said several years ago.


Goldschmidt was born in 1940 in Eugene. He attended the University of Oregon, where he was student president. Afterward, he spent time in Israel and in Mississippi with the Civil Rights Movement.

He later settled in Portland, worked as a legal aid attorney and surfed a rising tide of civic activism.

He was elected to the Portland City Council in 1970 and became mayor two years later. Goldschmidt was the best of salesmen for vibrant, remade cities. As he said in 1976, speaking on PBS: ”The housing programs and the interstate highway act after World War II subsidized the suburbs. And when the cities come back now and say, ‘Look we have a transportation problem,’ we’re charged with asking for a handout.”

For all his ease with neighborhood activists, Goldschmidt also was quick to build ties with the business community. He worked at Nike in the early 1980s and came to idolize the company’s co-founder, Phil Knight.

Goldschmidt was a Democrat. But in some ways, he ran to the right of his Republican rival, Norma Paulus, in their heated 1986 race for governor.

In office, he championed regional economic development plans. He poured tens of millions into prison construction. And he launched a children’s agenda proclaiming: ”We guarantee to every child in every region of our state a greater chance for a decent life.”

Goldschmidt sometimes struggled to get things done as governor. But it was a shock in 1990 when he suddenly announced he wouldn’t run for re-election. He cited the personal turmoil of a planned divorce from his wife, Margie.

Only years later did it appear more likely that Goldschmidt feared his secret would be exposed.

Once out of office, Goldschmidt opened his own consulting firm with a long list of well-heeled clients, including Nike, Weyerhaeuser and billionaire Paul Allen. He also started a well-regarded nonprofit that helps children learn to read.

He appeared to relish his new role and the money that came along with it.

“Finances were certainly part of it,” said Tom Imeson, Goldschmidt’s chief of staff as governor and later a partner in his consulting firm. “Because he wouldn’t have done most of these things if they said, ‘Would you just do it.’ But the challenge of a project was something that got his juices flowing too.”

He also attracted many enemies as he amassed power. His years of hiding the truth were coming to an end.

“He wanted to keep it a secret, but in order to keep it a secret, a lot of people had to find out about that. I mean, there were people giving her cash payments,” said Margie Boulé, a former TV newswoman who first met Goldschmidt in the 1970s.

In 2011, Boulé wrote a story for The Oregonian recounting a series of conversations she had with the victim before the victim’s death at the age of 49.

Goldschmidt’s victim had suffered from years of drug and alcohol abuse and said the abuse from Goldschmidt lasted much longer than he had claimed.

“I thought a lot of her problems were a direct result of what had been done to her by Neil Goldschmidt,” Boulé said. “And she did. She thought that too.”

Goldschmidt issued a statement when that story came out. He said much of the victim’s account was fabricated. But he said he wasn’t “trying to defend myself because there is no defense.”