Growing Up in City Hall, Part II

My mother and I were always following the politics at City Hall.

When you walked into City Hall, especially from the Fifth Street entrance, you felt like you were walking into a palace. There were big impressive columns on either side of the great hallway on each floor. When you walked up the stairs, they were marble steps. You felt like you were going to visit a monarch.

Indeed the Monarchs were on the Third Floor: The City Commissioners: Mildred Schwab, Frank Ivancie, Connie McCready and Charles Jordan and the Mayor had offices there on the Third Floor. Both Connie McCready and Frank Ivancie would both later become future Mayors of Portland.

Charles Jordan would later become the Director Of Transportation and of Parks and Recreation for the City Of Austin, TX.

Mildred Schwab was quite a character. She would always have a cigarette holder like FDR. She brought her German Shepherd dog to work with her. You would go into her office to use the dictionary and her dog would either glare at you or come over and lick your hand.

Mildred was a stickler for the budget. One time a City Of Portland employee retired, and Mildred saw an invoice for gifts and she exclaimed:

"Two Rose bushes and a cake!"

Of course our favorite leaders were Neil Goldschmidt and Bill Naito. Neil was the Mayor of Portland and he was a genius. He later became Transportation Secretary in the Carter Administration and then Vice-President for Marketing at Nike. I felt sad years later when I learned that Neil's career ended due to the affair he had with his fifteen year old babysitter.

When I was in college, I worked and campaigned hard for Neil Goldschmidt's re-election as Mayor and for all of the wonderful things that he was doing for the city of Portland.

When Neil was Mayor, he changed the landscape of downtown Portland. He got federal grant and block grant monies to develop the Portland Transit Mall downtown and became a major proponent for mass transit and what would become light rail.

Neil was also visionary regarding the economy and what would happen to people and their standard of living. Forty years ago Neil said that if inequality between the wealthy and the poor was not addressed, and that if the country did not help those who were trapped into poverty, then we would be creating a permanent new underclass.

Bill Naito was a very progressive Portland developer. He instrumentally changed the face of downtown Portland by creating the Portland Waterfront Park development environment which is now home to the Rose Festival Fleet Week and the Portland Blues Festival.

My mother and I are indebted to Neil Goldschmidt.

In 1974, when I was in college at Portland State University, and at the height of the Middle Eastern Oil Embargo crisis, there was a proposal on the table to build the infamous Mount Hood Freeway.

The proposed route for the freeway would have gone directly east from downtown and would go through our neighborhood and take out our family home, a modest four bedroom house located at 3627 SE 66TH Avenue , one block south of Powell Boulevard.

There was a big public hearing for this proposal that was held in the City Council Chambers regarding the freeway proposal. I remember an eight year old girl who pleaded with the City Council to turn down the proposal.

Mildred Schwab said to her after the girl finished her address

"You're going to be a good lawyer."

I remember I also testified that day before the Portland City Council to advocate that the proposal to build the freeway not be approved.

I remember that day that the freeway proposal was defeated by the vote of the Portland City Council.

We had won. We had saved our home.

Our home and many homes of other people would have been lost and it was very doubtful if our family and others could have received comparable housing at that time.

During August 2013, while visiting my family in the Portland, Or Vancouver, Wa area, I visited City Hall.

The building is still there but it is different now.

A food vendor trucks sits outside of the portico on the Fourth Avenue side.

Inside there is a giant open space with a glass dome skylight. It brings a lot of light into the building. But now everything is quieter. You have guards at all of the entrances.

There were few people out and about in the building the day I was there, nowhere near the number of people I remember as a child. I was able to locate my mother's last office space where she worked before she retired, just off the Fifth Avenue entrance on the second floor of City Hall. It is now a part of City Commissioner Dan Salzman's office.

On the day that I visited, the Commissioner's office staff let me explore the office space.

I went up to the Mayor's office on the Third Floor, Mayor Charlie Hales, to talk about my concern seeing all of the homeless youth camped out on various street corners downtown and informing them that they need to work with the Downtown Church Alliance which was also addressing the problem of homeless youth.

As I was leaving City Hall that day I exited on the Fourth Street side of the building. Across the street was the Federal Plaza and in the plaza camped out were members of Occupy Portland.

Also, right out in front of City Hall was a news crew from KATU, the ABC News affiliate in Portland.

I remember that I walked across the street that late lovely summer, August sunny afternoon and I talked with members of Occupy Portland. I told them that it was important for them to outline and develop a platform of concerns and ideas for policy change, particularly as it relates to lack of housing and lack of jobs that effect poor people. I told them that Paul Krugman and Joseph Stieglitz might be helpful as inspiration to get the policy position platform statements drafted and submitted to the Mayor's office.

I then walked back across Fourth Avenue and talked to the KATU News crew.

One of the guys with the crew said to me:

"What are you doing talking to them, there are just a nuisance."

I replied to them:

"What are you doing? You are the media. You are the watch dogs. You need to be addressing the Mayor's office and ask what are they doing to help solve the problem of homelessness, particularly with homeless youth, in Portland ,Or ? "

"We have previously," they said.

I replied: ' Then I suggest you try harder.

Your job is to advocate and to speak for the public.

Your job is also to challenge the powers at be to do the right thing. "

I'm sure that I made their day.

Two days later, I walked again in front of the Fourth Street entrance to City Hall and I looked across at the Federal Plaza.

The area was now completely cleared of Occupy Portland protestors.

There was now a chain link fence that was stretched around the entire perimeter of the Federal Plaza.

I thought to myself " this is scary. They are forcibly evicting these people and then fencing the entire area with the unspoken message:

Don't come near here.

What would Jesus, Moses, Buddha or Muhammad have to say about this condition ?

For that matter, what would Emma Goldman, Dorothy Day, Joe Hill, Dorthea Dix, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriett Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Rush, Mary Bethune, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeker, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X or Nelson Mandela say about this situation ?

Then I reminded myself

"Well, the struggle continues."

When I got back home after my trip to Portland, Or

I wrote Chad Stover, Policy Assistant to Mayor Charlie Hales regarding the homeless youth challenge in downtown Portland, Or.

I need to write him again and see what follow-up progress has been made.

I'm glad that I grew up in City Hall.

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