THE JIG IS UP, CLOWN Neil Goldschmidt, Circa 1978 James Blair
"It is the worst-kept secret in Oregon," one longtime political insider told me. She was referring to Neil Goldschmidt's confession last week to an affair with a 14-year-old girl. The year-long tryst occurred 30 years ago, during which time Goldschmidt was the "golden boy" 35-year-old mayor of Portland.

To many longtime political insiders, the news was not exactly shocking. During his 1986 gubernatorial campaign, there were ongoing murmuring reports about affairs. But those reports were quickly quieted.

Last week, however, those rumors emerged as truth. In Friday's Oregonian, Goldschmidt offered a come-clean confession admitting he had a year-long affair with his 14-year-old babysitter. It is believed his confession was prompted by a potential story in the Willamette Week. On Friday, both The Oregonian and the Portland Tribune ran extensive front-page coverage about the revelations, beating the Willamette Week to the punch.

Until last Friday, details about the affair had been sketchy. There had been rumors floating around for decades about affairs--and about one in particular with a teenager. During his 1986 run for governor, rumors swirled, but the media did little footwork at that time to chase down any leads. In 1994, Goldschmidt even managed to broker a deal with the victim of his underage affair without attracting any media scrutiny or attention.

But if the information--or at least rumors about the information--was known and available for so long, the question arises: Why now? Why has the story, which has been simmering for decades, suddenly been brought to the public's attention? Why did The Oregonian and Willamette Week reporters fail to pursue the story when he ran for governor in 1986?

Bolstered by his charisma and enthusiasm, Goldschmidt became the nation's youngest big-city mayor in 1972. His vision for light-rail and revitalized downtown spaces catapulted him into the position of secretary of transportation for President Jimmy Carter.

After returning to Oregon from D.C., Goldschmidt spent six years in private practice before handily winning the governor's election in 1986. He served one term.

Goldschmidt re-emerged as a leading political figure four months ago when Gov. Ted Kulongoski appointed him to the Board for Higher Education. Goldschmidt also emerged as an outspoken opponent to the Public Utility District initiative last fall. With the ownership of Pacific Gas & Electric up for grabs, the PUD initiative asked voters to form a publicly elected board of directors. In turn, that board would have looked into the feasibility of acquiring PGE and transforming it into a municipally owned utility company. Goldschmidt was widely quoted as opposing the PUD. He even appeared prominently on mass-mailed glossy brochures. The day after the PUD ballot measure was defeated, it was revealed that Goldschmidt was in cahoots with Texas Pacific, a privately held company intent on buying PGE. To purchase PGE, Texas Pacific needed local representatives. Goldschmidt's participation satisfied that requirement.

After the vote, many felt that Goldschmidt had pulled a fast one by helping defeat the PUD for his own financial benefit. To some, this act confirmed that Goldschmidt was more interested in his financial well-being than civic interests.

This background is important because it was not until the tide of public opinion began to turn against Goldschmidt that the media suddenly smelled blood in the water, and only then took action. The very same information about Goldschmidt's affair was available 30 years ago. But at that time, he was the city's "golden boy." Why didn't reporters follow up on the rumors then? Were they playing favorites? It wouldn't come as much of a surprise, considering Portland city government's penchant for shutting out reporters who print negative stories. Regardless, the timing of this particular scoop is nothing if not curious. This 30-year-old "breaking" story effectively takes Goldschmidt out of the game and harms Texas Pacific's bid for PGE. Is it only coincidental that the Willamette Week has publicly opposed Texas Pacific's buyout of PGE?

Obviously the story of Goldschmidt's indiscretions should have been revealed. Regardless about how much time has passed, his actions are indefensible. He committed statutory rape. But it is also important to consider why the news was broken now--and not sooner. It's information that could help shine light on the biases and motivations that govern our local media.