Oregon: A State Proud of Its Firsts : Women Hold Top Posts in Politics, Law Enforcement

Times Staff Writer

The husband of the new police chief of this city laughed when asked what effect his wife's new job was having on their lives.

"Well, I don't see as much of her as I did before. And, she quit cooking when she became chief," replied policeman Gary Harrington, 42.

His wife, Penny Harrington, 43, in her "penthouse suite" office on the 15th floor of Portland's new Justice Center overlooking this Pacific Northwest city chimed in:

"Do you know a police chief that cooks?"

Penny Harrington, the 5-foot-6, brown-haired, hazel-eyed veteran of 21 years on Portland's police force, Jan. 24 became the first female police chief in the history of America's 300 major cities.

Oregon is a state with a history of many significant firsts, of numerous political and civic leaders and individuals who have been mavericks in their own way.

So, Penny Harrington's selection by Portland's new colorful populist Mayor Bud "Whoop Whoop" Clark, was not totally unexpected. It fit the Oregon pattern.

Detective Jeff Barker, editor of the Portland Police Assn.'s in-house monthly Rap Sheet, in an editorial wrote: "Chief Harrington was not appointed as part of a flamboyant stunt.

"It is fair to say that if an election had been held to select a new chief throughout the bureau (department), Penny Harrington probably would have won it."

For Harrington, being selected chief from the force of 710 men and 86 women was a culmination of a struggle combating sex discrimination every step of the way.

She was the city's first woman police sergeant, first woman detective, first woman lieutenant, first woman captain and now the first woman chief in the bureau's history. It required the filing of 42 sex discrimination suits for Harrington as she moved along through the ranks of Portland's police department.

More than 9,000 letters have been mailed to Harrington at the Portland Police Bureau congratulating her, letters mainly from policewomen throughout the nation, from women in other jobs, especially those affected by sex discrimination and from young women aspiring to work in law enforcement.

"I have the letters in grocery sacks in my home," said the police chief. She has been asked to address womens groups in nearly every state. "Of course I can't. I have too much work to do running the department," she added.

"I'm glad my appointment inspires other women," she continued. "Many women accept discrimination because they fear that if they file sex-discrimination suits and win they might face reprisals."

Her top priority is to put more officers on the street walking beats, to get police talking to people in a positive way, to have them become more involved with the community "rather than just citing them. Police should not be viewed as an invading force.

"People tend not to know the police. They are uncomfortable with the formal attitude of many police. The 'Yes sir. No sir.' posture. They want officers to be more sympathetic and understanding."

Permitting Beards

She has relaxed the forces grooming code, permitting beards, goatees, mustaches and long hair--"no purple hair. Our officers have been so military-like, so out of touch. Now they will look like everybody else. They will be more comfortable. People will be able to relate to them better."

She is emphasizing politeness. "I will not tolerate discourtesy, using inappropriate force."

Harrington is asking all of her officers to suggest ways to improve the department and she's looking for new crime-prevention techniques.

"I think it is good for a large city to have a woman police chief," said Harrington. "There are many added benefits. I am friendly. I am here to help, to work more closely with the citizens of this city."

The previous police chief and three deputy chiefs, all with nearly 30 years service, retired long before Mayor Clark appointed a committee of five--a black woman, a nun, a businessman, a former city attorney and a professor of political science--to select four finalists from a field of 18 officers from the city aspiring to the job.

Committee members gave oral and written tests to the candidates, then met with Clark who appointed Harrington, "not because she is a woman, but because she is an extremely well-qualified police officer with the respect of her peers. She knows the turf," said the mayor.

Yes, Bud Clark fits the Oregon mold. He has captured the imagination of the nation, mainly because of the "Expose Yourself to Art" poster he posed for seven years ago, showing a bushy-bearded man in a flop hat, no visible trousers, socks and shoes, opening his coat as he stands before a statue of a nude woman in downtown Portland.

When no one chose to run against incumbent Mayor Frank Ivancie last year, Clark, owner of the popular Goose Hollow Tavern, threw in his hat and sounded his campaign cry--"Whoop. Whoop." Then he did what most people of Portland thought was impossible--the saloonkeeper won. Ivancie thought his reelection was a cinch and hardly campaigned. Clark had never run for or held political office before.

Oh, he has served on several committees and boards over the last 15 years in his efforts to improve the city he loves and has lived in his entire life--except for three years he spent in the Marines. His wife, Sigrid, has been a member of the Oregon Symphony for 23 years. She is the orchestra's first violinist. They have four children.

For years "Whoop. Whoop." has been Clark's way of greeting customers at the Goose, a highly successful tavern with 20 employees, where he worked daily as bartender and sandwich-maker until he became mayor. Now he exchanges his "Whoop. Whoop." with the officials and ordinary citizens he encounters in city hall and on the streets.

He rode his 12-speed bike to his inaugural and continues to ride a bike the two miles each way from his home to city hall. In the window of his office in city hall, an office he had never visited until becoming mayor, is a large silhouette of a goose reminding him of his roots.

Founded Newspaper

Clark, 5-foot-10 and weighing 190 pounds, also owns a duck hunting shop, the Mother Goose Antique Store and the Aardvark Pest Control Co. He founded a neighborhood newspaper, which he has since sold.

Since his inauguration last January, Clark has brown-bagged it at a lunch every Thursday in city hall. Citizens from all walks of life bring their lunches and share their ideas about how to have a better Portland. With a tight budget facing him, he has told heads of all departments that city spending has to be cut. "There will be no sacred cows," he warned.

His first two priorities are to find shelters for the homeless and jobs for unemployed youths. His inaugural ball was one of the biggest bashes in the city's history, attended by 14,000 who paid $10 each to jam the Coliseum for an evening of dancing to rock 'n' roll, jazz and big-band music on seven stages.

"I know what it's like for a little guy struggling to pay taxes," said the mayor over a beer at Benjamin's across from City Hall. "The former incumbent lost touch with the people. He did not represent blue-collar workers. I know what it's like to be a small businessman. I'm going to run the city on a business basis. You only go around once. You've got to get involved. This is my chance."

"We have had marvelous characters like Bud Clark all through the history of this state," observed Cecil L. Edwards, 79, Oregon's unofficial historian who maintains an office in the Capitol at Salem. Edwards, a fourth generation Oregonian, has been working for the Oregon State Legislature continuously since 1933. He served as chief clerk of the House of Representatives and secretary of the state Senate. His title now is Senate historian.

He mentioned Charlie Packhurst, a pistol-packing, one-eyed stagecoach driver before the turn of the century, who was the first woman of record to vote in Oregon. "No one knew Charlie was a woman until the undertaker made the discovery," said Edwards, who noted that Victor Atiyeh (Ah-tee-ah), the present governor is the first U.S. governor of Arabic descent and Vera Katz is the only woman currently serving as Speaker of any of the state legislatures.

"We're up to our armpits in firsts," mentioned the venerable historian (the 1983-84 Oregon Blue Book, the official state directory, was dedicated to Cecil Edwards "who lives and breathes Oregon political history.") He rattled off several Oregon firsts:

"First state to implement the initiative, referendum and recall (1902). First state to elect U.S. Senators by vote of the people. First presidential preference primary. First state to declare ocean beaches as a public resource. First to earmark 1% of state highway funds for construction and maintenance of bicycle paths. First state to prohibit the sale of non-returnable beverage bottles and cans (Bottle Bill). First state with statewide land-use plan. And on and on."

Edwards leaned back in his chair and recalled some of Oregon's other mavericks of the past. "When Sylvester Pennoyer left the governor's office in 1895 he became mayor of Portland and one of his first acts was to fire the whole damn police force."

Dave Talbot, 51, state parks and recreation director the past 21 years, talked about an extraordinary bill passed in 1967 by the Legislature that guaranteed public access to all 362 miles of Oregon's scenic coastline.

He opened a book published by his department entitled "Oregon's Beaches, A Birthright Preserved" and stopped at the foreword by former Gov. Bob Straub, which read:

"Oregon's majestic ocean beaches now and forever will be preserved for free and uninterrupted public use. The 1967 Beach Bill established once and for all that the public has acquired recreational rights by custom to Oregon's 362-mile coastline.

"To me and thousands of other Oregonians, the prospect of 'Private Beach--No Trespassing!' signs was not just unacceptable it was unthinkable."

Talbot cited the Beach Bill as a tribute to the commitment by the people of the state to a vigilant stewardship of a "truly wondrous natural environment." The book about beaches, published by his department, notes that in Maine about 3% of its 4,000 miles of coastline are public property; in Massachusetts, only 10 miles of a 1,300-mile coastline is in public ownership.

Much of Florida's coast has been claimed by hotels and exclusive beach clubs, said Talbot, adding: "Along the Gulf Coast, 90% of beaches are in private ownership and in California less than one-fifth of the 1,200-mile coast is open to the public."

But in Oregon all of the beaches, headlands, tide pools, sand dunes and sheltered coves are open and accessible to anyone who cares to enjoy them.

Oregonians are proud of their 225 state parks, 100 of them along the Pacific seashore, of the Willamette Greenway from Eugene to Portland, of the 100 miles of Deschutes River scenic waterway. They take great pride in the cleanliness of their state, made possible by the Bottle Bill and by funds from custom license plate sales.

Every summer youths 16 to 21 are hired to pick up litter along the freeways, highways and byways of the state. The 1% of highway department revenue--$1.5 million last year--goes to maintaining and building a network of bike trails throughout the state.

Victor Atiyeh, 62, governor for the past six years, mused aloud in his office in the State Capitol:

"Sure, every governor figures his state is special and every state is, of course, but there's something about Oregon and the people who live here that is different.

"Innovator. Pace setter. Maverick. Populace state. Is all of that why are we different? It's a question I'm trying to answer myself. You know we have no sales tax. This is the first state with air-quality laws in America. Our water-quality law in 1967 was well in advance of most other states."

He talked about the pioneers coming to Oregon in covered wagons. About his parents who came from Syria at the turn of the century and his father and uncle starting an Oriental rug business in Oregon in 1900. He was president of the rug company until he became governor. He is still on the board of directors.

Atiyeh served in the Legislature for 20 years before becoming governor.

"It's traditional for Oregonians to get involved. We have one of the highest percentages of voter turnout each election. Oregonians care. I've traveled 170,000 land miles throughout the state since becoming governor to keep in touch, to find out what the public is thinking. I owe it to them. Every day at noon I'm available to anybody who wants to come in and talk to me."

Vera Katz, 51, a New Yorker who came to Portland 16 years ago, has been in the House of Representatives 12 years and is now its Speaker, echoed the sentiments of Atiyeh, historian Edwards, Mayor Clark, Police Chief Harrington, Park Director Talbot and scores of other Oregonians.

"There is a special quality of life here. Oregon has the strongest environmental and land-use laws in the country. And women, I think have a better chance in Oregon. Norma Paulus is our Secretary of State. Here I am a transplanted New Yorker, Speaker of the House. I could never have done this in New York," said Katz adding:

"Oregon doesn't have the old-boy network as so many other states do."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World