One thing I remember is that grin, or smile, or greeting, or barely contained laugh, a movable feast dancing from sheepish to mischievous to curious to friendly to pleased-to-see-you, twitching beneath that marvelous moustache; a smile almost, or so it seemed, on the verge of bursting out in song.
I remember it the time we caught each other, on an otherwise deserted downtown street, jaywalking, not too long after the city, of which he was mayor at the time, had announced a crackdown on that dastardly misdeed. We shrugged, amused: No traffic was in sight, and it was the quickest way to get to the opposite side of the street. I remember it as he tootled around the city streets on his bicycle, nodding in a friendly way to people as he passed by. His eyes, of course, were part and parcel of what seemed the utterly genuine effect, smiling and laughing to beat the band.
I’m not special. Thousands of longtime Portlanders have their own memories of Bud Clark, the publican who became mayor, and who died on Tuesday from congestive heart failure, at age 90. Dee Lane has written a superb obituary for The Oregonian that’s well worth reading, whether you were here for Bud’s glory days or moved here later and want to know more about the city’s history and soul.
Bud broke things open. He was a barkeep, first at the Spatenhaus and then at the Goose Hollow Inn, a still-running tavern that in the 1970s and ’80s was a convivial meeting-place for politicos, news hounds, architects, college students, and anyone who dropped in (and which one prominent columnist of the time routinely referred to in print, dismissively, as “The Hollow Goose”). When he decided in late 1983 to run for mayor against a conservative incumbent, few people took him seriously: He was known mostly, after all, as a character-about-town, a guy who’d break out at a moment’s notice in his trademark “whoop-whoop!” and who, in 1978, starred in a popular poster as a guy flashing a nude downtown statue, with the motto “Expose Yourself to Art.”
But Bud talked to people, all sorts of people, all over the city, and he won. Twice. He was mayor from 1985 through 1992, and for the first time in a long time gave ordinary citizens the sense that they had a champion and a voice in City Hall. During that time, as Lane points out, he got the Oregon Convention Center rolling, expanded the late, lamented downtown free transit zone, and shifted the city sharply toward community policing.
He had his tiffs, especially with a string of early police chiefs, one of which only added to his legend. I remember, when my sons were young, showing them the booth at Multnomah Village’s Fat City Cafe where the famous “Read My Lips” exchange between Clark and Chief Jim Davis took place, and Davis found himself walking out without a job.
He was no magician. He made mistakes, as all politicians do: Anyone who goes into the game not understanding they’ll get things wrong and often fail should quit before they begin. But from dressing in lederhosen to canoeing through the city along the Willamette River to starting the enormously popular Bud’s Ball with its multitude of local bands to just being himself, he also brought people together and made them believe his city was their city. And maybe that was a magic trick, after all.
“The tenure of the tavern owner turned mayor wasn’t always smooth canoeing,” Lane perceptively writes. “He lurched through three police chiefs in less than three years. He started programs and then dropped them, lost his temper, then calmed down. He didn’t always wear the appropriate clothes or say the appropriate words. He was sometimes blunt, sometimes bawdy, but always honest. …
“In one view, Clark was the transition to a new era, the weird mayor who led Portland to cultivate weirdness. … But weird oversimplifies a man who was more complex, and in some ways more conservative. He was a Republican who became a Democrat, but really was a populist who didn’t give a rip about party politics. He was a businessman who took apart budgets and insisted on line-item accountability. He was a Marine, with values of personal duty and civic commitment.”
It’s all too easy to be nostalgic for a time in the city’s history when it was possible to be poor or starting out and still have a good life, without paying outrageous rent for a cubicle in an anonymous mid-rise apartment box. Bud rode those times, and helped make them. And, as much as he cultivated his “man of the people” mystique, his concept of “the people” was wide-ranging and not unsophisticated: His wife, Sigrid, after all, was a longtime violinist in the Oregon Symphony Orchestra.
Bud loved his city, and nudged it along. His city, for the most part, loved him back. And that suggests a life well-lived.