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Portland: People, Politics, and Power, 1851-2001 Hardcover – September 1, 2003
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""The standard reference for individuals interested in basic facts about Portland's development."
About the Author
Jewel Lansing served as the elected City of Portland Auditor from 1983 to 1986 and as Multnomah County Auditor from 1975 to 1982. She is a founder of WIN-PAC, a political action committee supporting first-time Oregon women legislative candidates.
She is the author of five other books, including two about women and politics, and a murder mystery set in Portland City Hall. She and her husband, Ron, a law professor at Lewis and Clark College, have lived in Oregon for more than four decades.
Top customer reviews
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Author Jewel Lansing knows the city government from the inside; she served a term as the elected auditor. Since her retirement from elective politics, she's devoted considerable energy to researching all facets of the city's history. The story unfolds chronologically, with the 42 men and two women who have served as Portland mayor providing the thread of continuity. The text weaves together the political, business and cultural forces that have shaped today's city.
It's an often lively story. At the dawn of the twentieth century, Portland was known as a wide-open community where corruption and vice flourished. Men who ventured too close to the wrong areas of the waterfront would find themselves shanghaied for service aboard oceangoing ships. Lansing covers the wave of reform that swept the city and state shortly thereafter, and many of the great battles that dominated the ensuing decades, such as the fight over public vs. private power in the 1920s and the siting of freeways in the 1950s.
Lansing's prose is clear, straightforward and rarely given to flights of fancy or rhetorical flourishes. Exhaustively researched, well-organized and profusely illustrated, this volume is among the best ever to appear telling the Portland story.--William C. Hall
To date my standard reference works on Portland's development have been E. Kimbark MacColl's three books on some of the same topics. They are not out of date but unfortunately they are out of print. Access to city records has greatly improved since the 1970's when MacColl wrote his books and there is now a professionally organized records management system operated by the City Auditor.
Mrs. Lansing has taken full advantage of these public resources, of Dr. MacColl's original research papers (which he generously loaned), the works of many other professional historians and original materials to construct a comprehensive history of the development of our city government. There are three main areas of focus: the personalities, the issues, and the deals.
The format is fresh. Although the book is divided into sequential chapters covering 150 years of history, the flow of text is often interrupted with sidebars and boxes of additional information, an anecdote, or even a small chart or table. These enhance the main text, but can also be used to latch onto the primary narrative, if you are a reader who avoids beginning a book on page one and plowing purposefully through to the end. You can make a meal of the appetizers as it were, or they might lure you on to the main course.
While events are organized in chronological order, contents are equally tasty, for the author has an eye for quirky, intriguing morsels. For instance she describes the matter-of-fact approach of reform Mayor Allen G. Rushlight (from the Midway area of our neighborhood), a professional plumber, who was elected in 1911 for a two-year term:
"The mayor used his plumbing background to taxpayer advantage. When the city's "balky" crematory kept acting up (he) donned his old overalls and climbed inside to repair it..."
Or a comment made by pugnacious East-side developer Ben Holladay in 1869:
"Immediately after he arrived in town...he bought a large plot of land east of the river and declared that the city of the future would be on that side, that the grass would soon be growing on Front Street, and that he would make a rat-hole out of west-side Portland."
Reading a book about the city's history over a 150-year time period makes you realize that the same issues just keep coming back - where to get water, how to improve transportation, eliminate drug dealing and prostitution, pay for education and do it all without raising taxes. And we are never satisfied with our elected officials:
"Was there ever a city government managed in such a worthless and imbecile manner as this our city of Portland? We have not a continuous street that is passable with a well loaded vehicle. Current revenue is sixteen thousand dollars. What becomes of this money?" The Oregonian,1860
The book pulls no punches when it comes to contemporary issues, since Mrs. Lansing was an elected official herself between 1975-1986 (county, then city auditor) and reports as an insider on activities at City Hall under the direction of Mayors Frank Ivancie and Bud Clark and council members Schwab, Lindberg, Strachan, Jordan and Bogle. As the first city auditor to be a certified public accountant, she also describes the improvements she successfully implemented and the resistance to those changes in City Hall.
As a quick reference source, the book is invaluable for its lists in the back of the book of city officials, including dates served and in some instances place of birth, occupations, dates of birth/death. The text of the City Charter (1851) and locations of city halls (there were 18 others before our current building) are also included. Finally, there are those (foot) notes: They don't get in the way! Along with the index they are at the back of the book and constitute almost a fourth narrative that enhances the main text. As an auditor might phrase it, this is great value for the money ($30.00).
Treat yourself to an interesting read about your city, as well as a valuable reference book. Or buy it for someone on your holiday gift list. I think you will find it full of information, stories, insights and memories. It's a good read!
However, a few mistakes snuck through despite the research and footnoting effort. Nothing too bad, several typos, listing one date for an event and then listing another even in the same chapter. Nothing that couldn't be fixed by going through the book again with a different editor and cleaning up the text. It did make me wonder about the editing process she used, because the lengthy fact-checking and researching is one of the main claims of the book yet obvious errors snuck through.