It's the kind of phone call candidates hate to get: The morning after you've planted your flag as the campaign frontrunner, after you've blown away the all-time fundraising record with six weeks still to go before the election, how would you like to talk about something that happened a decade ago? How about 40 years ago?
Alan Webber understandably sounded a little deflated.
Nevertheless, the candidate for Santa Fe mayor agreed to sit down face-to-face and talk once more about the man he's called a mentor and a friend … and now calls a criminal.
In the 1970s, when Webber was about 23 years old, he worked for a rock star. Neil Goldschmidt was the young mayor of Portland, Oregon. He had new ideas about urban development and, in an era of booming automotive transportation, said no to the Mount Hood Freeway and yes to investing in parks and public transportation. Webber has cited his role in the freeway decision as an example of his progressive bona fides at campaign events.
When Jimmy Carter asked Goldschmidt to head the US Department of Transportation, Webber went along as a special assistant. The two parted ways professionally in 1981 after Ronald Reagan's election. Goldschmidt later became Oregon's governor.
In 2004, Goldschmidt's world came apart as SFR's sister paper in Portland, Willamette Week, published a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories that detailed his sexual relationship with the daughter of a campaign staffer. At the time of the abuse, Goldschmidt was 35. She was 14—maybe younger, making it statutory rape. If the wealthy Oregon power broker's life was unraveling, the woman's once-promising trajectory had long since flamed out. She lived with mental illness for years and battled substance abuse and PTSD her entire adult life. She died in 2011 at age 49.
"It was a gut punch," Webber tells SFR this week. "The revelation in Willamette Week came as a total shock to me."
There's no evidence to suggest otherwise. Webber points out that Goldschmidt passed whatever vetting the Carter administration did prior to his DC appointment. After breaking the 30-year secret, reporter Nigel Jaquiss later showed many people had learned of the crimes by the time Goldschmidt became governor in 1987. Webber's name wasn't mentioned.
"I would characterize it as rape and a crime," Webber says. "It came as a total betrayal."
Why a betrayal?
"Well, why are the women who worked with Matt Lauer feeling betrayed?" Webber offers. "You think you know somebody and you think you understand who they are, and then suddenly you are forced to confront the fact that you don't."
This isn't new. Webber has talked about it in this campaign and he dealt with it as he ran for governor four years ago. But there's also the matter of a blog post called "Empathy for Eliot" that he wrote in 2008 after another Democratic rising star, Eliot Spitzer, resigned as governor of New York in the wake of a prostitution scandal. Webber considered him a friend.
Webber says he was trying, personally, to make sense of Spitzer's downfall. He referred to Goldschmidt's undoing as a "sex scandal" and wrote that, while there was "real damage, to be sure," no one had died in either case. He wondered if both men had self-destructed as a function of their own insecurity.
Reflecting now, he says, "I would have written more feelingly for the victim." He has stayed in touch with the former Goldschmidt staffer whose daughter was victimized. Webber says she's a friend.
"Mostly [the blog post] was me mulling over in writing something that I could not understand and still don't understand," he says.
Webber has drawn fire—or as close to it as this gentle campaign has come—from Kate Noble and some supporters for pandering. He has suggested creating a women's advisory commission at the city to advocate for equal treatment and representation in all city policies. He's pledged to make women half of his senior staff. He's invoked the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements in his appeals to voters.
It's an authentic suggestion, he says, and he expects to be questioned about it if he's elected and doesn't follow through. As a start, his local paid campaign staff is comprised entirely of women.
"The only way you can convince someone is by what you do and what you say. I spoke out because I think it's important to lead," Webber says.
While he's still the same person who was taken aback by Goldschmidt's crimes and Spitzer's downfall, Webber says, "I think I've grown a lot in terms of seeing the underlying nature of the problem and its source and its depth. I talk about it differently, I understand it differently, I appreciate it differently. I have a much more informed and better-shaped understanding. I think the whole society does."