Oregon Democrats’ conspiracy of silence culture that protected Wu

by Dan Lucas

Suzanne Bonamici’s role in the conspiracy of silence to protect David Wu
A three-part series for the special election to replace disgraced Democratic Congressman David Wu

Part 1 – The troubled history of David Wu (link)
Part 2 – Oregon Democrats’ conspiracy of silence culture that protected Wu
Part 3 – Suzanne Bonamici’s role in the conspiracy of silence to protect Wu (link)

Click here for a PDF of the entire 3-part series

Part 2 – Oregon Democrats’ conspiracy of silence culture that protected Wu

Oregon has a history of powerful politicians who are sexual predators, and a culture that enables and protects these sexual predators with a conspiracy of silence. A culture articulated poignantly by Steve Duin about the silence for David Wu, and by Nigel Jaquiss, Fred Leonhardt and Margie Boulé on the repugnant conspiracy of silence around Neil Goldschmidt’s serial molesting of a 13-year-old girl.

When David Wu resigned from Congress, the Oregonian’s Steve Duin expressed his frustration with yet another teen victim of sexually aggressive Oregon Democrats; his frustration with Wu and fellow Democrats Sam Adams and Neil Goldschmidt. Duin expressed his concern that the next teenage victim would face the same surreal journey through “shame, outrage and the smug, selective morality of the state’s Democratic Party.”

“While mayor of Portland, Goldschmidt raped his 14-year-old baby sitter, beginning an extended and twisted relationship that destroyed her life. In 2005, current Mayor Sam Adams had — at the very least — sex with an 18-year-old legislative intern, then lied repeatedly when rumors of the relationship threatened his political career.

Wu? Oregon’s seven-term space cadet sexually attacked an ex-girlfriend at Stanford in 1976, even using a pillow to muffle her screams, then resigned last week when the 18-year-old daughter of a political supporter accused him of a similarly coercive sexual encounter in 2010.”

Duin wrote that the thing that connected these travesties, these sexual victimizations of teens, was “the willingness of Democratic Party stalwarts to minimize or ignore them in order to maintain their near-monopoly on political power in this state.”

Oregon Democrats were often aided in maintaining their conspiracy of silence culture by the Oregon media, and especially by the state’s largest newspaper, the Oregonian – where someone with a conscience like Steve Duin was the exception.


Limited bandwidth for politics

The average Oregon voter is busy with life. They have a job, family members to care for, school, groceries, car repairs, homes and yards to maintain, illness and injury, kid’s soccer practice, pets to care for, etc.

Even the small amount of bandwidth voters are able to dedicate to politics is stretched thin by the sheer number of elected officials that the average Oregonian has to track: for school board, water board, fire district, the city councilors, mayor, county commissioners, county auditor, judges, Metro councilors, state representatives and state senators, state treasurer, secretary of state, state attorney general, state labor commissioner, governor, U.S. representatives (like David Wu), U.S. senators, and the U.S. President.

Out of necessity, most voters rely on the media to vet and monitor elected officials, and they rely on their political party to self-police its members.

Unfortunately for voters, Oregon has a decades old history of failing. A tragic history of the fourth estate failing in its role to vet and monitor elected officials, and an equally tragic history of political parties failing to self-police their members.


Conspiracy of silence for Neil Goldschmidt

Eugene-born Neil Goldschmidt became an Oregon Democratic wunderkind. He was elected to the Portland City Council when he was 30, Portland Mayor when he was 32, appointed U.S. Transportation Secretary by President Carter when he was 39, and he was elected Governor of Oregon at the age of 46. Even after leaving public office, he continued to be a powerful force in Oregon politics as a lobbyist, dealmaker and kingmaker.

But Goldschmidt had a dark secret. While he was Portland Mayor, 34-year-old Goldschmidt began molesting a 13-year-old neighbor girl, the daughter of someone who worked for Goldschmidt. The girl sometimes babysat for Goldschmidt. The molesting went on for years. As she got older, the once bright and intelligent girl turned to drugs and alcohol and led a very short, troubled life. She died last year at the age of 49.

Before she died, she lamented to Margie Boulé that Goldschmidt and his enablers minimized the abuse and tried to blame the victim, and they tried to make her sound like a throwaway person. But she was not – she was a talented photographer, with an extensive vocabulary, and she was generous to her friends and loved animals. She was a real person who was broken by a monster and his vast network of self-serving enablers.

And that vast network included some of the most powerful people in Oregon. As Nigel Jaquiss reported in December 2004, “WW [Willamette Week] has established that dozens of Oregonians–many of whom today work at the highest levels of business, government and the media–knew something about Goldschmidt’s secret.”

Oregonian Silence & Enabling

The Oregonian botched several opportunities over the years to break the story of Goldschmidt’s abuse. Going back at least to 1984, there was talk in the Oregonian’s newsroom of “Neil Goldschmidt, a girl..a rape.” Then in 1986 the Oregonian’s nationally syndicated cartoonist got solid information from a credible source about Neil Goldschmidt’s dark secret. The information was relayed to an editor at the Oregonian, but the story didn’t come out for another 18 years, when it broke in Willamette Week in May 2004 – and that was five months after the Oregonian had AGAIN failed to follow-up on a November 2003 extensive revelation to them about Goldschmidt’s molesting. Like the child of alcoholic parents, the alternative weekly, Willamette Week, had to become the adult when the story required taking on entrenched power Neil Goldschmidt. Breaking Oregon Democrats’ conspiracy of silence culture and taking on entrenched power has definitely not been the Oregonian’s forte – and it’s something they struggle with to this day.

It’s not clear why those who knew at the Oregonian dropped the ball from 1986-2004. Did they lack the journalistic instincts to know a true story when it hit them? Did they lack the journalistic skills to pursue a story of this nature? Did they lack the courage to pursue a story of this nature? In the end, the exact reasons or excuses don’t matter. They were the perfect dance partners for the conspiracy of silence.

Things Got Worse For The Oregonian

When they realized they’d again been caught flat-footed, the Oregonian did what they always did; enabled Neil and threw the victim under the bus. They ran Goldschmidt’s version of things in an attempt to hide the fact that they’d been majorly scooped by Willamette Week. They called the molesting of a 13-year-old “an affair” and a “relationship”. It was sleazy, enabling and a complete betrayal of journalistic integrity that the Oregonian ran Neil Goldschmidt’s “confession”. “They essentially wrote his [Goldschmidt’s] press release as their story,” said Frederick Taylor, a former executive editor of the Wall Street Journal. The Oregonian should have told Neil to do his “confession” to Willamette Week, where all the work had actually been done, and where they weren’t sugar-coating his abuse.

A few days later, the Oregonian went on to run two editorials supporting Goldschmidt and criticizing those exposing his dark secret. One of those editorials blew up in the Oregonian’s face when it was revealed that the author was someone who had received political favors from Goldschmidt for being one of the “handlers” in trying to keep the victim quiet. Oops. The other editorial is a testament to the Oregonian’s disgraceful enabling of Goldschmidt: Oregonian Associate Editor David Reinhard wrote: “[T]he news of Goldschmidt’s relationship with a high-school girl wasn’t what was so sickening… What’s truly sickening is that some sewer dwellers would dredge up and publish this ‘news.'” So to David Reinhard, the serial molesting of a 13-year-old girl by Democratic wunderkind Goldschmidt wasn’t sickening, but REPORTING about it WAS sickening?

Democrats’ Silence & Enabling of Goldschmidt

There was a despicable, decades-long culture of silence around Goldschmidt’s dark secret by Oregon Democrats. It’s what the Oregonian’s Steve Duin was referring to when he wrote about “the willingness of Democratic Party stalwarts to minimize or ignore them [these sexual victimizations of teens] in order to maintain their near-monopoly on political power in this state.”  The list of people who reportedly knew prior to the May 2004 Willamette Week exposé reads like a Who’s Who of Oregon Democrats, including other former Oregon governors and a U.S. Representative.

Beyond maintaining political power, Goldschmidt’s former speech writer, Fred Leonhardt, expanded on why people were willing to be part of that culture: “For the privilege of being in on “The Deal;” for the money made from corporate takeovers, condo developments and light rail extensions; for the cushy executive position with all the perks; for the high political office; for the entry to the Arlington Club; for the skids greased and the backs scratched; for nothing more than an occasional pat on the head from the Great Man himself; for a young girl’s life — the best and the brightest looked the other way.”

Even after Goldschmidt’s abuse became public, Oregon Democrats (and even a few Republicans like Dave Frohnmayer) still stood by him, and lamented Oregon’s loss of a great leader much more than they lamented the devastation to a 13-year-old girl. As Leonhardt wrote in 2007 “They still attend parties in his honor. To this day, they are lost without him telling them what to do. “People like Neil don’t come along very often,” former Gov. Ted Kulongoski reminds us.”

Beyond those who prospered by keeping silent, Oregon may never fully know how much collateral harm was done by those who in one way or another coerced or blackmailed Neil Goldschmidt with their knowledge of his dark secret.

Little Has Changed

It is somewhat discouraging to see that the culture that protected Goldschmidt still exists. A culture that knew enough to remove Goldschmidt’s portrait from the Capitol in March of last year – after the woman who’d been molested as a 13-year-old died – but then let the child molester himself come into the Capitol several months later for Mark Hatfield’s memorial service. That happened just four months ago. After decades of covering up for, downplaying and enabling, it showed that little has changed in that culture in Oregon. There was no outcry when the molester came to the Capitol, no sense of outrage at the horrific irony of removing the man’s portrait but not the man. The man’s portrait didn’t molest the 13-year-old, the man did. The same man who said “It’s nice to be back” when he visited the Capitol four months ago.


Conspiracy of silence for David Wu

The same culture that maintained the conspiracy of silence to protect Goldschmidt also protected David Wu. Sometimes, it was more than the same culture – it was the same people. People like major Democratic donor and major Democratic insider Win McCormack. McCormack, a co-founder of Mother Jones magazine, told Willamette Week he learned of Goldschmidt’s dark secret in 1990 – 14 years before it came out. Despite Mother Jones’ reputation for investigative journalism, after McCormack learned of Goldschmidt’s secret, he did NOTHING – because “I didn’t feel like it was my business…I didn’t want to destroy him”. No thoughts of other possible victims, just concern for the perpetrator. And there were reports of other victims.

McCormack also knew of problems with David Wu from the start – from when Wu first moved to Oregon. McCormack was the chair of Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart’s Oregon steering committee in 1984 when Wu arrived claiming to be the Oregon campaign manager for Gary Hart. McCormack thought “Something about Wu didn’t add up.” McCormack, who came to believe Wu was trying to pull one over on the team, said “He came into the state under false pretenses and tried to hoodwink us.” Despite those early reservations, McCormack went on to donate thousands of dollars to David Wu’s campaigns. McCormack’s contributions continued long past the Oregonian’s 2004 reporting of Wu’s attempted rape in college.

And now, the same Win McCormack is a major contributor to Suzanne Bonamici’s campaign.

While little changed with Oregon’s Democrats in the conspiracy of silence culture, there was some improvement in the Oregonian – but with some notable lapses.

Oregonian Does Better With Wu – But Still Struggles

Stung by major past failures that had made them a national laughingstock when the Washington Post broke the story on Bob Packwood in 1992 and when Willamette Week uncovered Goldschmidt’s dark secret in May 2004, the Oregonian made an all-out effort in the fall of 2004 to uncover the truth about David Wu’s 1976 attempted rape in college. With their will and resources behind the effort, they found the information to be able to run the story. Despite threats from David Wu’s lawyer, the Oregonian showed real courage and ran the story in October 2004. They took real heat from Wu’s enablers and from those deeply embedded in the culture of silence or those deeply influenced by that culture. In defending Wu, the then chairman of the Oregon Democratic Party complained “The Oregonian is on a political jihad.”

More Wu victims? Shortly after Wu’s resignation announcement in July 2011, the former managing editor of the Oregonian wrote about the October 2004 story “Over the next few months, we heard other stories from other women. None was willing to go on the record. It appeared to us that Wu’s aggressive conduct with women may have continued deep into his adulthood. But we were unable to prove it.”

Oregonian Backslides On Wu Attempted Rape Story

Criticized the story themselves – shortly after the story ran in the Oregonian in 2004, Willamette Week wrote “On Sunday, the paper’s [Oregonian] ombudsman, Michael Arrieta-Walden, himself slammed the story. “Too many hurdles loom for me and many readers,” wrote Arrieta-Walden.”

We wrote it, but don’t quote it – Jack Bogdanski blogged about how the Oregonian bizarrely asked Wu’s 2004 opponent for Congress, Goli Ameri, to stop quoting the Oregonian’s story. Check out the current CD-1 ads to see how often the Oregonian gets quoted in ads on both sides. It was a bizarre request.

Wu puff piece – the Oregonian backslid again into their role as sycophant to entrenched power when they ran a flagrant puff piece for Wu April 2010, and then later denied his Republican opponent access to publish an op-ed because “he was a candidate.”

Suzanne Bonamici’s Husband’s Role

The lawyer who threatened to sue the Oregonian to try to shut down their 2004 exposé of Wu’s attempted rape in college was Suzanne Bonamici’s husband, Michael Simon. Simon was ferocious in his efforts to silence witnesses and the Oregonian, on behalf of David Wu, who ended up confessing to “inexcusable behavior” once the exposé ran.

Simon went on to serve as Wu’s lawyer for seven more years – resigning in 2011 just prior to Simon being confirmed as a federal judge and shortly before his wife announced she would run to replace Wu. Simon reported a net worth of nearly $4.3 million in 2011, which Jeff Mapes noted gave Bonamici the ability to contribute to her own campaign.

One of the witnesses for the exposé on Wu’s attempted rape in college was an 83-year-old woman who was dying of cancer – Leah Kaplan – a very credible former assistant dean at Stanford – a prominent Stanford figure who later became known for her work in rape education and for developing Stanford’s policies on sexual harassment.

In reflecting on the 2004 exposé, the former managing editor of the Oregonian wrote “Wu hired a lawyer who ferociously counter-attacked, threatening to sue the Oregonian if any story were published. Neither Wu nor the lawyer would answer questions about the incident, but they contacted [83-year-old] Kaplan’s family and made it clear they were prepared to hold the dying woman legally accountable for her conduct.”

In April 2011, the Oregonian’s Janie Har wrote about the 2004 exposé “Wu had refused interview requests for months and hired Simon to aggressively attack the paper’s reporting and seek to stop publication. When the story ran three weeks before the election, Wu quickly apologized for his “inexcusable behavior” and was re-elected.”

In writing about someone who was consulting for one of Suzanne Bonamici’s opponents in the primary to replace Wu, Steve Duin wrote “[he] is hardly alone in thinking Simon went over the top in representing Wu, who confessed to “inexcusable behavior on my part” once the story was published.”

Democrats’ Silence & Enabling of Wu (viewed him as a useful “tool”)

Oregon Democrats knew for years about David Wu’s problems, but completely let down the voters in Oregon’s first congressional district. They failed miserably at any form of self-policing when it came to David Wu.

The Oregonian reported in 2004 “Versions of the [Wu’s Stanford 1976 attempted rape] story have circulated behind the scenes among Democratic insiders since Wu’s first run for Congress in 1998″.

The Oregonian also reported in 2011 that “Among fellow Democrats, Wu’s political and personal limitations increasingly became embarrassing. Many looked the other way for years.”

On July 26, 2011, in a story announcing his forced resignation, the Oregonian quoted a former Wu campaign manager and vice chair of the state Democratic Party saying many “bear responsibility” for not speaking up sooner about Wu’s troubles.

Wu’s 1998 campaign manager said “There are far too many of us on this long journey with David over the last 12 years that kept our mouth shut when we should not have. And ultimately, we bear some responsibility in allowing him to be a member of Congress.”

Steve Duin at the Oregonian summarized his frustration with Wu’s Democratic self-serving enablers:

“Wu saw no reason to evolve, insulated as he was by enablers who knew he was a tool but considered him a useful one.

They ignored his sins, just as they dismissed Goldschmidt’s, because they jammed avarice and ambition into the place reserved for a moral compass. They had careers to advance, checks to cash, cover stories to prepare or gubernatorial campaigns to win.

And when they compared the retirement benefits of Fred Leonhardt, the guy who finally called bull on Neil, with those of the opportunists who stifled a yawn, they realized silence is golden.

Remind me, again: The Atlantis space shuttle has how many seats? Because the Democrats who climbed into bed with Wu years ago deserve to go out with their champion in style.”


NEXT: Part 3 – Suzanne Bonamici’s role in the conspiracy of silence to protect Wu

Part 3 will appear in Oregon Catalyst on Thursday.


Information on the Special Election

As a result of David Wu’s resignation, there is a special election to replace him in the U.S. Congress for the last 11 months of his term: February 2012 through early January 2013. This special general election will be held on January 31, 2012, and ballots will be mailed starting January 13. The special election is being held using the existing first congressional district (CD-1) boundaries.

The winner of this special election at the end of this month will serve only a few months before they have to hit the campaign trail again to run in the May 2012 primary and then in the November 2012 general election. The May 2012 primary and November 2012 general elections will use the new CD-1 boundaries from last year’s redistricting.


NOTE: Goldschmidt’s victim was 13: While a number of reports identified the victim of Neil Goldschmidt’s molesting as a 14-year-old, the victim herself told Margie Boulé, Willamette Week and others that she was 13 when Neil Goldschmidt first molested her. She was born 5/12/1961 and told Margie Boulé that [34-year-old] Goldschmidt first molested her on her mom’s birthday in January 1975. She wouldn’t have turned 14 until 4 months later. In his 2011 Willamette Week articles, Nigel Jaquiss has been reporting her age as 13. Additionally, based on the victim’s account to Margie Boulé, Goldschmidt’s serial molesting of the 13-year-old may have been preceded by several years of grooming, from the time his victim was 7 or 8:

“In her earliest memory of her abuser, she remembered standing beside him in an elevator. She must have been very young, because she had to reach up to hold his hand.

They were in a hotel, or some other big building. In just a moment he would lead her into a room and a crowd of people would cheer. She couldn’t remember why she was by his side on this exciting night — was it an election night?

But she remembered this: As the elevator descended, the man squeezed her hand. She might have been 7 years old, perhaps 8. But she was old enough to understand she was special. Of all the little girls in the world, she believed, Neil Goldschmidt had chosen her.”